Black and white photograph of sewage tanks Show image info

Sewage tanks at Bath City Sewage works at Keynsham, 1914. (From a pamphlet issued to commemorate the opening of the works, 1914)

Records of public health infrastructure: sewers and drainage, 1851-1974 and environmental services, 1851 to date

The Public Health Act of 1848 permitted the setting up of ‘Local Boards of Health’ to tackle issues of basic public health infrastructure. Bath City Council took the opportunity to constitute itself as the Local Board of Health for Bath by the Bath Act of 1851. Following the 1872 Public Health Act, it became the ‘Urban Sanitary Authority’ – successor to the Local Board of Health – for the city. From the early twentieth century the Council became directly responsible for public health. 

As a consequence, almost all of the records relating to sewers, drainage and environmental services are to be found among the records of the Council. They are a rich resource for studying the development of sanitation in Bath, detailing the very lengthy struggles – political, practical and financial – to establish and maintain an effective sewerage system in the city.

1. Minutes of the Council and relevant committees

  • Minutes of the 1851 Bath Act Committee, 1851-1871 (BC/2/1/8)
    Until 1871, all matters relating to the 1851 Bath Act were dealt with by the 1851 Bath Act Committee. The committee reported to the full Council.
  • Minutes of the Council acting as Urban Sanitary Authority, 1871-1905 (BC/2/1/5)
    A major change took place in 1871, when the 1851 Bath Act Committee was abolished, and its functions divided between the full Council meeting as the Urban Sanitary Authority (USA), which dealt with high-level matters, and two new committees, Sanitary and Surveying (see below), which dealt with operational matters. 
  • Minutes of the full Council, 1905-1974 (BC/2/1/1/21-27)
    In 1905, the Council again changed the way in which it dealt with its public health responsibilities, and stopped holding separate meetings of the Council acting as Urban Sanitary Authority. The last meeting was held on 28 March 1905. From this date, all the Urban Sanitary Authority functions were dealt with at the quarterly meetings of whole council, with the Sanitary and Surveying Committees reporting to these meetings in the same way as other committees.
  • Minutes of the full Council, 1974-1996 (BC/2/2)
    In 1974, responsibility for sewers and drainage passed to Wessex Water, but the City Council retained responsibility for environmental services such as refuse collection. The meetings of full council for the period 1974-1996 are not yet catalogued in detail but are available on request.
  • Minutes of the full Council (Bath and North East Somerset), 1996 to date (BC/2/3)
    These minutes are not yet catalogued in detail but are available on request. Minutes from 1998 are available on the Bath & North East Somerset Council website.
  • Minutes of the Surveying/Public Works Committee, 1871-1974 (BC/2/1/8/7-36)
    In 1871, this committee took over part of the detailed operational work of the 1851 Bath Act Committee. It dealt with pitching, paving, lighting, scavenging, watering streets and roads. The Surveying Committee was renamed the Public Works Committee in 1968.
  • Minutes of the Public Protection and Works/Environment Committee, 1974-1996 (BC/2/2)
    Successor to the Public Works Committee; its name changed in 1987. The minutes are not yet catalogued in detail but are available on request.
  • Minutes of the Sanitary/Health Committee, 1871-1974 (BC/2/1/8/7-22 and BC/2/1/9)
    In 1871, the Sanitary Committee took over part of the detailed operational work of the 1851 Bath Act Committee. It dealt with sewers, nuisances, slaughter houses, common lodging houses, smoke nuisances, offensive trades, and unwholesome food. From 1871 until 1906, the minutes of both the Sanitary and the Surveying Committees can be found in the same volume; from 1906, they are in separate volumes. The Sanitary Committee was renamed the Health Committee in 1920.
  • Sub-committees of the Sanitary and Surveying Committees, 1855-1968
    A large number of permanent and ad-hoc sub-committees were set up to deal with specific aspects of the work of the committees. Some of the most significant are:                                                           
  • Sewers sub-committee, 1855-1868 (BC/2/1/11)
  • Sanitary subcommittee, 1881-1920 (BC/2/1/28) These minutes contain detailed information on sewers, drains and nuisances.
  • Scavenging and Cleansing Arrangements sub-committee, 1890-1926 (BC/2/1/19)
  • Street Improvement sub-committee, 1890-1914 (BC/2/1/20)

Other sub-committees can be found on our online catalogue (BC/2/1/10-BC/2/1/42)            

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  • Ad-hoc committees, 1892-1914
    These committees were set up to deal with specific issues:
  • Rivers Pollution Prevention and Floods Committee, 1892-1900 (BC/2/1/44)
  • Sewage Disposal Committee, 1907-1916 (BC/2/1/46)
  • Printed minutes of the Council and Committees, 1895-1996 (available on open access in the searchroom)
    These minutes are sometimes less detailed than the signed minutes, but contain indexes and are the best starting point for research.

 

2. Records relating to sewers, drainage and floods, late nineteenth century to 1987 (BC/7/2)
Administrative and operational records relating to sewers and drainage, including plans. Some are currently catalogued as 0128, but this reference number will change to BC/7/2. Most are not yet catalogued in detail. Of particular note are:

  • Plans and papers relating to the work carried out by W H Radford and Son on the city sewers from the late nineteenth century to the mid twentieth century
  • A series of twentieth century filing on sewage disposal
  • Bath City Engineers Dept. Flood reports and related papers (current reference 0128/2/4, will change to BC/7/2)
  • Papers relating to a dispute with Bathavon Rural District Council concerning sewers
  • Levels of the Great Flood 25 Oct 1882. Volumes listing markings of the water levels (current reference 0128/2/2, will change to BC/7/2)
  • Papers relating to the River Avon, 1824-1880 (uncatalagued)

 

3. Records relating to waste disposal, c.1880-1968 (BC/7/3)
A very small amount of operational and administrative records relating to waste disposal. These are not yet catalogued in detail.

 

4. Town Clerk’s Letterbooks relating to Urban Sanitary Authority matters, 1878-1905 (BC/3/4)
Bath City Council acted as the Urban Sanitary Authority (USA) for the city from 1872 until 1905. The Town Clerk was also the Clerk to the USA, and kept a separate series of letterbooks for USA matters. In 1905,when  the Council stopped holding separate meetings as USA, the Town Clerk stopped keeping a separate set of letterbooks. The letterbooks contain detailed information about a range of public health matters, including sewers and other environmental concerns.

  • In-letters (letters received), 1892-1905 (BC/3/4/6)
  • Out-letters (copies of letters sent out), 1878-1905 (BC/3/4/2)

Abstracts of some of the in-letters can be found at https://www.batharchives.co.uk/abstracts-bath-town-clerks-letter-books

 

5. Building Regulations records c.1860 to date (BC/8/7)
From the mid-1860s Bath City bye-laws regulated building standards for new or altered properties; these bye-laws included the provision of adequate sewage arrangements. An extensive series of plans and associated papers has survived, recording building regulations approvals for individual buildings and showing sewers and in some cases sanitary arrangements. The records are not yet catalogued in detail but staff can help to provide access to relevant material. Note that access to all records less than 30 years old, and to paperwork (not plans) less than 80 years old, is restricted to comply with UK data protection legislation.

 

6. Records of funding appeals for flood relief made by the Mayors of Bath, 1875-1968 (BC/9/3)
Floods occurred fairly regularly in parts of Bath. As part of his civic duties, the Mayor co-ordinated appeals for relief funds.

  • Correspondence, accounts, minutes and bills related to funds raised for the relief of 1875, Nov 1875 - Dec 1876 (BC/9/3/24/2)
  • Posters, bills, accounts and correspondence relating to funds raised for the relief of the floods of 1894, 1900 and 1901 (BC/9/3/24/19)
  • Mayor of Bath's appeal for funds for Flood Relief 1925-1968 (BC/9/6/4/46)

 

7. Records of Petty Sessions/Magistrates' Courts, mid-nineteenth to late twentieth centuries (0136 and uncatalogued)
Those charged with contravening public health bye-laws and regulations appeared before the magistrates at Petty Sessions. However, the magistrates dealt with very many other types of case, and the registers are indexed by name not offence. The researcher will therefore need to spend a considerable amount of time searching the volumes for public health offences. Note that access to registers and papers less than 85 years old is restricted under UK data protection law.

  • Petty Sessions registers and depositions, mid C19 – late C20 (0136; catalogue incomplete)
  • Police prosecution case papers, from 1905 (BC/3/5, but not yet catalogued in detail). The first two boxes of these papers, covering the years 1905-1910 have been indexed by type of case as well as by name; the index is available on request.

 

8. Miscellaneous

  • Papers of the Earls Temple concerning land owned by the family at Englishcombe, Twerton and Rush Hill and the Bath sewerage scheme, 1909-1911 (0525/2/1/1).
  • Photographs of floods: a number of photographs in the PX series show floods, especially PX 36, 37 (Avon Street), PX 89, 90, 91, 92 (Broad Quay): PX48 Back Street has previous flood levels annotated.  The website Bath in Time includes a number of these photographs.

 

9. Local Acts of Parliament (BC/1/2)
The Record Office holds a full set of all the local Acts relating to Bath; they are not yet catalogued, but can be produced on request.

 

10. Local newspapers
Local newspapers contain valuable information on the work of the Council in providing public health infrastructure, public attitudes towards their work and the political differences they could provoke.  They provide an alternative perspective to the official records. The Record Office holds various Bath newspapers, including the Bath Chronicle; details can be found in our research guide to newspapers.

The online British Newspaper Archive (BNA) at www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk includes the weekly edition of the Bath Chronicle 1760-1950. The BNA enables targeted searches to be carried out, and is the best place to start research in the Chronicle. The Record Office offers free access to the BNA; for more information see https://www.batharchives.co.uk/computers-and-internet-access

 

11. Books and other published sources

Captain Rowland Mainwaring, Annals of Bath, from the year 1800 to the passing of the New Municipal Act, 1838; includes references to floods of 1809 1821, 1823 and 1828 (PP/1212).

Health of Towns Commission. Henry de la Beche, Report on the State of Bristol and other large towns [including Bath], 1845  Also includes the first and second annual reports of the Bath branch of the Health of Towns Association. (Local Studies Collection, 1 1 0260517 4).

Health of Towns Association. Broadsheet ‘To the Inhabitants of Bath, especially the Industrious Classes’; gives notice a public meeting to propose a petition to the ‘Legislature’. February 1847. (Local Studies ref. 1 1 0419089 0).

‘Sanitary Conditions of Bath’: a number of pamphlets bound together, probably fairly soon after publication. Includes the first annual report of the Bath branch of the Health of Towns association; A Report on the Sanitary Condition of the City and Borough of Bath during the years 1867 and 1868 by C S Barter MOH; ‘The Wants of Bath’ by A Resident (S Sneade Brown), 1867, with copies of letters to the Bath Chronicle on the subject of water supply and sewers; ‘What Can Be Done? A Sequel to the The Wants Of Bath’, by S Sneade Brown, 1867; ‘How We Are Governed In Bath. A Sequel to the Wants of Bath and What Can be Done’ by S Sneade Brown, 1867; Memorial Relating to the Lansdown Water Supplies, 1868; Report on the purity of the Bath Water Supply, 1868; Report of the Cold Water Committee on the memorial on the Lansdown water supply. 1868 (Local Studies collection, 1 1 0260472 0).

Hatt, Alderman H T, Bath Sewerage and Sewage Disposal Scheme. Notes upon the history and progress of the scheme. Issued in connection with the opening of the works, 1914. Also includes ‘Description of Sewerage and Sewage Disposal Works’ by W H Radford (BC/7/2).

R Angus Buchanan ‘The Floods of Bath’ in Bath History vol. VII (1998).

Book of newscuttings on Bath Floods (Local Studies Collection, B551.57 BAT).

Reprints from newspapers concerning floods:

Reprint from the Bath Herald ‘A Record of the Great Flood in Bath and the surrounding district, Oct 25 1882’. Includes notes on floods of 1809, 1823 & 1866 (PP/219).

Reprint from the Bath Chronicle of 15 and 17 November 1894, 2nd special floods edition. Illustrated supplement. (PP/220).

Reprint from the Bath Herald ‘Record of the Great floods in Bath’, 13 and 15 November 1894 (PP/2010).

The Great '68 Flood  Copies of 'Bristol Evening Post' newspaper articles on 'The Great Flood of 1968' relating to Bath, Bedminster, Brislington, Cheddar, Frome, Keynsham and Pensford (PP/2288).