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An archive conservator carefully repairing a document

Building a Healthier City - funded by the Wellcome Trust

The Wellcome Trust awarded Bath Record Office £138,000 to catalogue, conserve and make available records of the history of public health in Bath.

Building a Healthier City enabled researchers to discover how the health of people in Bath was improved from the 1700s to the 1900s, through the introduction of amenities such as paved streets, lighting, safe drinking water, sewerage and rubbish disposal as well as the creation of the night watch and the building of the Pump Room.

The project ran from 2018-2020. Archivists catalogued 72 metres of unique documents while a conservator repaired and re-packaged them. New information about the collections is now available through online catalogues and the documents are preserved for researchers to use for years' to come.

You can watch a talk on Bath's early water supply records, given in collaboration with Bath University's Water Innovation and Research Centre: 

We also held three free lunchtime talks on Zoom in November 2020, on the theme of past improvements to public health in Bath. The talks are now available to watch.

Filthy, verminous and unfit for habitation: Dr Charles Barter, Bath's first Medical Officer of Health - Wednesday 18 November 2020

250 years of Bath’s water supply, from the Georgian era to modern day - Wednesday 11 November 2020

The Building a Healthier City Project and the Bath Improvement Commissions - Wednesday 4 November 2020

You can download our current exhibition featuring the Building a Healthier City project

The project team has written up a fascinating account of their work. You can read it here.

The records relate to three aspects of Bath City Council's work.

1. Improvement Commissions

During the eighteenth century, Bath grew from a small market and spa town into a fashionable resort for the aristocracy and gentry - the tenth largest city in England.  As a result, the provision of amenities such as paved streets, street lighting, rubbish removal and watching (policing) became an important issue, both for the convenience of the inhabitants and to serve their high class visitors.  However, the Corporation did not have powers to do this work or to raise money to fund it.  In the first half of the century it obtained private Acts of Parliament to give it such powers, and also tried to devolve the duties onto parish authorities. Both approaches met with limited success, and the Corporation turned to the solution adopted by other cities: the setting up of Commissions for specific purposes and covering specific, small areas.

The records of the Improvement Commissioners are a rich source for the study of the provision of public health. The records include the minutes of the Commissioners; accounting and financial records; and operational records such as volumes recording ‘nuisances’ which individuals were required to abate. They provide information for researchers on the ways in which the public health challenges of the second half of the eighteenth century were perceived and the systems which were put in place to deal with them. They show how successful the Commissions were in meeting their objectives, and how they laid the foundations for mid-nineteenth century public health developments.

Interesting documents include:

  • Rotas of night watchmen from 1766 onwards
  • Report books of lighting inspectors
  • Plans for Bath's 1790s Pump Room
  • Records of street-widening and the creation of new streets
  • Records of street watering to control dust
  • Watchman's truncheon decorated with the City Arms

The online catalogue to the Bath Improvement Commissions is available here.

You can read our Georgian Street Improvements leaflet here.

2. Water supply

Bath Corporation was unusual in providing a piped water supply to the city from the middle ages, first to the city centre and later to a far wider area. Records include eighteenth-century water rate books showing the area covered by the supply and amounts paid by users; reports and policy documents from the 1840s to the late twentieth centuries; legal and financial papers concerning the setting up of new works; records relating to the construction and maintenance of reservoirs, pumping stations and pipelines; and detailed operational records such as daily reports on the state of reservoirs.

These records enable researchers to study the ways in which the supply of water was extended to different parts of the city; the serious engineering challenges of providing a water supply to a city with a rapidly growing population, expanding ever further up the steep hills surrounding the city centre; and the management of water supply at an operational level. They also reveal much about the politics and finances of providing a water supply.

Interesting items discovered include:

  • Regulations to prevent the waste of water, 1792, 1881, 1889
  • Survey of water closets 1820s
  • Record of water flow from springs
  • Over 200 engineers' reports

The online catalogue to the Bath water supply records is available here.

3. Sewage and waste disposal

The Council gained responsibility for sewerage and waste disposal in the mid-nineteenth century, under the 1851 Bath Act.  Records include a large quantity of material relating to the work of the sanitary engineer W H Radford, who was engaged by the Council in the early 1900s to develop the city’s sewerage system.

Interesting records include:

  • Sewer plans 
  • Records of sewer construction
  • Analysts’ monthly reports on the sewage works
  • Reports on the use of sewage as fertiliser to increase crop production during the Second World War
  • Specifications for the waste ‘destructor works’

We have produced a leaflet for researchers interested in the project's eighteenth-century records: Building Healthier City A4 leaflet WEB.pdf

A guide to Public Health Records at Bath Record Office is available online. 

A 4-page leaflet is also available to download as a pdf: Bath Record Office Public Health Records Guide, and can be sent to you in hard copy on request.

Funded by:

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