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The majority of the dwelling houses in Bacup were in very poor condition, many families were huddled together in cellars and houses with little or no ventilation and drainage. With very few privies available open cesspools at every corner were a common scene. What was known as the night soil cart would make its rounds between 6 am and 8 am, in some areas it came once every fortnight. Emptying the overflowing pail which was then put back into place without either being cleaned or disinfected.  Water was hard enough to come by for drinking so the thought of using it for washing or bathing in was just unheard of.  The water in 1870 is described as either the colour of Worcestshire sauce or blue milk. One person commented that the smell emanating from some Bacupains was just overpowering. Not to mention the smell that permeated the streets between the hours of 6 am and 8 am which is when the night soil cart did its rounds. A report appeared in the Bacup Times July 1865, which read “ There are hundreds in our locality who are possessed of so little self-respect as to almost neglect the practice of bathing. I would entreat those who are restrained by fear and nervousness to put away unmanly timidity, assuring them that intimacy will engender confidence. Those who may be deterred by indolence merit no sympathy.” It is hardly suprising given the descriptions above that many of the families in Bacup and Stacksteads suffered ill health. Up until recent years, many of the diseases that killed off our ancestors were thought to have been virtually eradicated, scarily some of these are coming back. Scarlet fever, for instance, caused thousands of deaths during victorian time, at this time it was better known as Scarletina, due to the red rash that would cover the victim's body. Diseases like cholera, typhus, typhoid, dysentery, consumption and influenza were more or less endemic at the time, erupting into epidemics when the right climatic conditions coincided with periods of economic distress. The frequency of concurrent epidemics gave rise to the belief that one sort of disease brought on another; indeed, it was widely believed that influenza was an early stage of cholera. Smallpox was a prevalent disease throughout the Victorian era but despite government attempts to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated the uptake was low. After a particularly bad epidemic, an Act was passed in 1853 making vaccination compulsory for all children born after 1st August 1853. Many people however still did not share the enthusiasm for vaccination and declined to have their children vaccinated, preferring to pay a fine in respect of each unvaccinated child. In 1867 more legislation removed this ‘escape route’ and the Boards of Guardians (which looked after health and some other matters in each area) had to prosecute parents who did not have their children vaccinated. Any unpaid fines would lead to imprisonment or to the seizure and sale of the person’s possessions. The process would then be repeated until the person complied. In 1898 a new law was passed giving parents the opportunity to object and obtain an exemption certificate for their child. A report in the Bacup Times of April 1898 reads “ I hope the Government will compel the Guardians to be vaccinated first, that they may have some idea of what a child has to suffer”. The Guardians were the Poor Law Guardians whose job it was to administer the vaccinations. Anyone in the Bacup or Stacksteads areas suffering from smallpox was sent to the isolation hospital at Sourhall situated 3 and half miles from Bacup and 1 mile from Todmorden. A former two storey mill, it was opened in 1874 as a isolation hospital the costs being shared by Todmorden and Bacup Local Boards.
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