Ecclesiastical and social map of Liverpool showing a cholera map of 1849. Courtesy of Liverpool Record Office


Liverpool Journal

November 24th, 1849

A walk through the Cholera Districts of Liverpool

In brief

FREEMASONS ROW, [a narrow passage leading from Marybone to Vauxhall Rd] here the cholera had established a depot. There were not many cases at the end, next Marybone, a number of Tan-pits front that part of the street. The first fatality announced was the wife of John ANDREWS, a plasterer, who died eleven weeks ago. The survivor intently bent on repairing his loss: "He is [said a neighbour] getting married again today "the old rogue!" The "courts" in this street defy description. The senses powerfully repelled approach; interior gained I found human inhabitants closely mixed up in a strange and sad confusion, with ruinous privies and cesspools of the worst and most offensive kind.

Before the door of one of these houses the visual range extends 3 yards, bounded in front by the back of filthy Banastre St, and right and left by abominations of every kind.

A cholera bed dragged out of one of these wretched hovels by a new tenant, and emptied into the channel to lie there till the, "muck cart" should come around.

ORIEL ST, was next surveyed, here we were shocked to remember that the very first court was the scene of CULKINS Murders, - one of the most melancholy episodes in cholera history. Nearly all that side of the street had escaped the disease, but some courts of the worst class on the other side had yielded a lamentable proportion of deaths. There are cellars beneath the houses too damp and offensive even for storage, serving hitherto, to generate disease.

Mr SIMMS, Coal merchant owns two or three of these courts, rents vary from 2/6d to 3s a week. Fever has quickly trodden on the footsteps of the cholera, prevalent at the time of our visit. It was dark and some idea of the poverty of the people may be formed in the fact that, in scarcely a single house was there a candle burning, figures could be seen sitting or moving about in the dusky glare, of which a scanty fire could afford. The male adults returned from work and sat to tea in darkness, what wonder that the wretched inmates occasionally change their dark dwellings for the happy Brilliante of the tap room "the cheerful fire of mine host," and seek in the seduction of a muddy beer a in their toilsome and unhappy lot.

Back PORTLAND ST, [branching from Limekiln Lane to Vauxhall Rd] suffered severely from the malady, not to be wondered at as it is an unflagged, ill paved street, very narrow and abounding in courts. The mortality was greater towards the bottom. The cholera was very prevalent in Paul St, considering that it had been recently drained.

There were 40 cases in Clement St, a pretty wide but ill paved street, branching towards the canal. The peculiarity here being that while the front houses suffered, the courts nearly escaped.

The same wretchedness described in Banastre St was everywhere to be found. The majority of the residents were Irish, some of the poor creatures smitten had not been here many days.

A Night watchman engaged on the Tithebarn St, Railway extension, informs us that during August when the long funerals blackened all the way, he could always tell when the disease was more intense from the number of poor distracted creature who came up to him at all hours of the day, inquiring where the nearest Priest or Doctor could be found.

Before leaving the Vauxhall district, the Rev Dr HUME, visited nearly every house [two years ago] and recorded theses statistics:-

In Chisenhale St, there are, 36 courts, with a population of not less than 1539

111 families resided in the front houses, and double that in the courts.

Labourers in full employment were but a third.

There were 3 taverns and 7 beer shops in the street.

186 heads of families were unable to read nor write.

Of children of suitable age for education only 95 attended school.

350 children received no education whatever

The street had, 1,289 Irish, 222 English and 5 Welsh. There were no Scottish or Manx residents.

We next go to streets extending from Marybone to Byrom St and Scotland Rd. These were the headquarters of the plague. There was an immense number of people who obtained a living there by Hawking and crying different commodities, through the street. A pale faced Cobbler or Tailor might be seen at work, and a chance day labourer had here his castle, but with these exceptions the entire population lived by hawking. "Do you want any chips?" such is the plaintive but unmusical cry, which resounds throughout our streets, occasionally verging on midnight. Poor little ragged urchins, the vendors.

Here are two streets, Addison St and Hodson St, one half of the population engaged in this "timber trade".

I made inquires anxious to know more. "Indeed the chips were a good system once." Said the man whom I addressed. "But there are so many sell them now its hard to get a market or make a profit." A boy on average makes 2d / 21/2d pence a day, wood has to be bought, resin barrels cost 8d, cheaper wood can be got from old buildings being pulled down. From the competition now, 24 bundles sell for 1d, twice the number that formerly satisfied. Whole families engaged in this calling, condemned cellars being their workshops. Fathers make the chips, Mothers tie the bundles and the children are sent to hawk them.

Some days nothing is earned, happy is the night a shilling is made.

The cholera was very bad in Addison St, the front houses having suffered equally with the courts. With one exception, "Regents buildings." A clean, wide, and not very ill-ventilated court.

In Addison St the cholera raged in every house and carried off about 30 people. Some children left helpless still occupying the house where their Father died, not able to earn a living. One child was taken to hospital that morning with fever, induced by sheer hunger I would say.

HODSON ST, a small street that has the unenviable distinction of having suffered more from cholera than any other in the town. Here I took shelter in the cottage of a labourer, he had been out of work for 16 weeks, he was a Hod man, or Bricklayers labourer and could earn 18s a week when in work. He had, had good times when the tunnel was working, but could now get nothing. I asked how he had lived for the past 16 weeks, his melancholy reply was too pull out an old tea cup from the cupboard, it was full of pawn tickets, at this his good wife started to weep. They had to part with article after article to exist, and now with the best work, it became hopeless to hope they could ever be redeemed.

We next inspect LACE ST, reputed in police estimate, the very worst in the town. The character improved however, - all the worst characters I was told, either, "dead or transported." Nine tenths of the people were from Connaught, the population in 1847, was 1,110.

Time was when street fights were a daily occurrence, even now residents enjoy an occasional brush with the, "North men."

The cleaning of the cellars has bettered the street, the new chapel at the corner is crowded at every service, the schools connected to the chapel have 600 children on their roll, the charge for education being 1d a week, no charge is made to the poorer families , from one third of the population.

The courts are by no means the worst and rent at 3s, the cholera which appeared on the street early did not stay long. The paving is in a villanous condition, deep cavities exist filled with water. The depth of the cavities may be judged by a cart which had fallen into a rut and had broken a water pipe which was in the course of repair. There was not five families in the street that were not hawkers. Men work when work is had, if not wives and children go out with something to procure, "the bit."

It is worthy of mention here the change in diet the potato famine has caused, that in nearly every house, oatmeal porridge was the meal in preparation, more Scotch than Irish.

Prices of lodgings in the street varied from 3 half pence to two and a half pence, a night.

I inquired into the earnings of some of the various dealers.

A man selling oysters will make an average of 8d to 1s, profit a day.

A hawker selling apples will profit by 4 to 6d a day.

An, "Old Clo" man will earn as fate may determine from 1/6d to 7s a week, given fish are sometimes profitable, in "fresh herring time." A hawker will clear 1s to 1/6d a day.

Those who sell grit grain average 21/2d a day.

In making the latter inquiry I was invited into No 25, there Mary HORKEN, a widow, struggles for sustenance for her and her two children at this miserable occupation.

The stone is had from quarries and buildings, the competition is so great that what once was free, now has to be bought. Later I saw the poor woman entering the house with a basket full of stone on her head. "There," she cried, casting it on the floor, "it is two penny worth. I wish, I was in heaven, where the rest of my family are, for I am heart broken here."

She had brought the stone all the way from the new buildings in front of the Workhouse at Brownlow Hill, and to purchase it, had to wait for 4 hrs, so many grit dealers had been there before.

My attention was called to a condemned cellar under No 38, the contents of a drain had burst by the same aperture that admits a water pipe. It was so wet and foul it required caution where to tread. Here sat poor, Pat FARREL, mounted on a bench in front of what had been a window, now devoid of any vitreous material.

He was a Tailor, an Irish tailor, he was industriously engaged in ripping the seams of an old brown jacket, to renovate.

His employer was Mr John GORRAN, a clothes broker of the better class, who lived above, he paid Pat, 1s a day, out of this he supports a wife and two children. I made the remark his wages were little. "God bless you," was the response, he was very grateful for the work as when he first came here he only made three half pence a day, selling salt about the streets. His wife went out to make a morsel and was caught picking cotton and corn at the docks. She was sent to gaol for a month by Mr RUSHTON; she had not been released 3 days till she was confined.

The Irish famine which has so fearfully swelled the number of destitute in Liverpool, and brought an accumulation of disease and death into our worst streets, has established a new market. "Old Clo," men might perambulate occasionally there might be hundreds of shops to buy cast off garments at one counter and resell at another, "Better than New" But poverty has brought a new class into existence and Great Crosshall St now rejoices in a diurnal, "rag fair".

GORRAN, finding the competition to large here has raised his prices and makes his purchases out of Liverpool, to Chester and Shrewsbury, and small towns that intervene.

NORTH ST, [out of Dale St], we next traversed. It was a one time even worse than, Lace St, but here, as there, death and transportation, weeded out the vicious.

Here on No 12 court rent had been reduced, as "times were slack," to 1/6d a week, while in the next court, for exactly the same houses, 3s a week was charged.

The first court the property of Mr SPENCER, the second Mrs DOYLE. The rent was according to the goodness of the landlord, I was told.

In a room on the top storey of No 25, cholera swept off an "Old Clo" man, named WELSH, he left a widow and 6 helpless children. He was Irish and had been here, 6 yrs and, "poor fellow," explained a neighbour, "He was a good provider when he was alive, I never saw him to drink a glass of ale, but he strove hard for his childer." The family still remain in the same room. The lower part of the window was gone, and the interstices were pasted over with paper, one of these apertures, that next to the bed, had burst in, and "chill November's surly blasts," had free access through the room. Amidst a bundle of rags or clothes in a basket on the floor, lay a pretty little infant asleep. The baby had awaked to a life of misery, within 3 wks of its Father's death.

Mrs WELSH is in receipt of 3s and 3 loaves from the parish weekly, out of this she pays 1s-6d, rent for the room. Her only other income comes from her two older boys, part of the juvenile crowd, who infest the streets, annoying respectable passengers, offering lucifers for sale. They pay 2d, a dozen for their boxes of matches and earn 2/3d a day. The neighbours, she said have been good to her, an instance of the strong sympathy the poor have for those, more distressed than themselves.

A "basket man" or fish hawker, residing in the next court told me, there were that many struggling for a living, that last year he made 3s, this year he only made 1s.

I saw a filthy underground passage across the street, Inquired were it led to, We call it, "The Slough," Sir was the reply. Not inappropriately named, this wretched entrance was to a human habitation, a court house of the worst kind.

Showing how the poor live and how trade accommodates itself in a low neighbourhood, to diminish the wants of the destitute, it was possible to buy goods in small quantities, a farthings worth of coffee and sugar, to serve the breakfast of many a one.

At SWEENEY'S Shop on the corner of, Standish St and Great Crosshall St, a farthings worth of milk can be had.

A Welsh woman, I was told who formerly occupied the shop, would retail for the smallest coin any grocery whatever.

It makes the poor creatures without a home, shelter in those houses which do not profess to keep lodgers, and what law can prevent a man entertaining or accommodating as many of his friends and neighbours as he may please.

All the court houses are notoriously overcrowded. In the first threshold I crossed in Lace St, I counted not less than 11 people in one room, all members of different families, how many absent, or upstairs would be impossible to tell.

GORRAN, in Lace St, formerly kept lodgers, 8/9 a night, an inspector of nuisances came around and was honestly told the premises kept lodgers, a surveyor then measured the premises and GORRAN, received an injunction that he would not be allowed to take more than 3 lodgers. A neighbour who does not profess to keep lodgers, sometimes has 60 people staying overnight.

We now turn to TOXTETH PARK, in some of the streets especially towards the close, cholera prevailed to a large extent. We started our walk in Brick St, a locality noted for disorder, here we met the first instance of building court within court. Which appears to be peculiar to the park. Front houses let for 5s-6d a wk and court houses 3s-3d a week.

Before going further, here there had been an attempt to levy rates, the idea of taxing the very destitute in support of pauperism being too preposterous to be for a moment entertained.

I observed that the whole system of Lodging house supervision, with the view to preventing overcrowding had been a miserable failure.

I inquired why so many of the front houses were unoccupied, I was told the Parish collectors had been serving notices, the poor had panicked and crowded into small back and court houses to avert distraint. Even there they are not safe, "There is a woman lives opposite us" was remarked to me in one of the courts, "Who had been served with a notice and is about to leave the house," but her landlord says she has no need to pay.

At the foot of Brick St, in No 6, court, a wretched retreat, a carpenter, Michael STANE, died of cholera leaving a wife, and 7 children. He was Irish and had been here 4 yrs. Two years ago the entire family was prostrate with the fever. All recovered, but Michael never did any good afterwards. He had pains in his knees and back and his eye sight was bad, he could not work much. The mother and all 7 children were now engaged in oakum picking.

The ropes to be untwisted are are brought from a warehouse, kept by Mr KELLY, at the bottom of Warwick St. They give 1s for 10lbs weight of rope, if 10lb of oakum is returned they get, 1s-4d. If short, [the material in teazing loses weight] a reduction is made. Very often 2 to 21/2d is made. The average made by the family is 1s a day, rent for the house is 3s-6d, but a room let off contributes 1s-6d. The parish gives 1s and a loaf weekly. Several other families in the park are oakum pickers.

NEW BIRD ST, of like character to Brick St. A family in N0 12 court, everyone in the tenants make a living by selling chips. Henderson St, we looked at, here the cholera had been bad in the upper part. The courts only on one side of the street are by no means the worst kind. In one back house, to which a filthy passage was access, had been condemned and closed, here cholera carried off a man named MC KEE, his wife, mother and daughter.

We next walked down Crosbie St, which has, 24 courts with an average rent of 3s. Several labourers live here engaged about the railway, or casually at the docks. Inquiring at a Hucksters in the street, on the condition of the people, - "there is only one constant man up our court, he earns a guinea a week, but has 7 children to keep."

Were the employment is so precarious the small shopkeepers are compelled extensively to trust. The Mantel piece in the Hucksters shop formed the traders ledger. It was chalked over with mysterious hieroglyphics. A round O, meant 1s, straight stroke, a 1d, frequent crosses, farthings. "But you have no names, you will be apt to make mistakes." I remarked. O, dear no, never we know who they are scored against, from the parts of the mantel piece on which the marks are made.

GORE ST, or ALBERT ST as it lately has been christened, is probably the worst in Toxteth Park, only 3 yds wide, unflagged and has, 27 courts. During the 3 weeks the cholera prevailed, there were about 50 cases.

I addressed myself to Thomas DUFFY, the keeper of a coal vaults and marine store, and asked what was the smallest amount of coal he would sell. A pennyworth, he answered, "But indeed if I see distress, I make a halfpenny worth." Talking on the cholera he gave thanks he had been spared, his neighbours had fell on each side, like men in battle. The disease would go to the end of the street about to vanish, and then return to the courts for other victims it had left.

Tom DUFFY, is a philosopher. It was drink, he thought which made so many poor. On Saturday night when wheeling his coals about, there was a busy hum in the public houses. The very time a labourer would bring his wages home, the coolest calculations made to know how little amount to be best applied. He adduced as proof the fact that although he had bought rags from houses were fever, and cholera had been, he had suffered neither.

The courts in Gore St, dirty as they are, display some smartness in architecture. The roofs of the midden-steads are battlemented and the fronts embellished with a variety of blind arcades. The houses Rent from 2s to 3s. We found some small houses with not less than 14/15 people resident.

The streets traversed here, I was assured purity itself [ thanks to Inspector FRESH and his staff] No where did the poor complain of any deficiency of water, in all the worst districts the supply appeared to be on for 4 or 5 hrs a day. The Hose- washing, of the courts had been attended with the best effects, but then I found the houses filthy. Till we induce among the wretched, the love of cleanliness and regard for physiological requirements, it is feared that other sanitary measure will disappoint

Liverpool will still be subject to a periodical recurrence of those epidemics which shock and sadden humanity, and swell so fearfully the local rates. Poverty is the great curse! It is cold, hunger the "looped and ragged wretchedness!" which invite contagion, it is destitution which destroys the love of decency and induces recklessness to filth, unless some statesman, more profound than those at present can hit upon some happy expedient to alleviate, if not remove the festering mass of poverty at the base of society, there can be no true social progress, we may pay too dear for the whistle of mere, "sanitary" improvement.

Learning that West Derby guardians were to inquire to the occupants of Toxteth Park Refuge Asylum, we bent our steps thither.

The, "Refuge," is the large house above, High Park St, lent by the corporation as a cholera hospital. We found 61 inmates, the guardians had met that morning to diminish the numbers, as the workhouse was full, this could only be done by expelling patients and granting out-door relief, 15 persons thus disposed of.

We found the Guardians the most free and easy gentlemen imaginable, with a strong, cacoethes loqueni, but amiable, courteous withal. Under the supervision of, Mrs CAMPBELL, the Matron, the bedrooms were models of neatness and cleanliness.

We were shown into a room were children were gathered, it was, we think a school. It was distressing to witness so many poor orphans, on none has the paupers stamp yet been impressed. Four of the children were twins, one boy named, TURNER, aged 8, had not a hair on his head, and never had, had. On leaving the room we were startled to find all the boys suddenly raising their hands to their heads, it was only the mechanical salute that discipline had taught.



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