Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: February 15, 2018
Webpage updated: February 15, 2018

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The following information is taken from the Eighth Report of the Medical Officer of the Privy Council by Doctor Hunter and was published in the Western Daily Mercury in 1866.  It has been broken in to small paragraphs to make it easier to digest.


Devonport Corporation was responsible for action under the Nuisances Removal Acts but it was not allocated any extra money for the purpose and consequently the drainage was still imperfect.

No actions had been taken under the Labourers' Lodgings Acts.

Mr Bartlett, the borough surveyor, had been appointed as Inspector of Nuisances and Sanitary Inspector but without any separate salary.  He carried out his duties personally.  He seldom had to trouble the committee with any cases of nuisances and had not carried out any prosecutions.  He was assisted sometimes by the Beadle of the Commissioners.

The houses in Devonport were let in single rooms on a three-month tenancy.

There was a case of a house with eight rooms holding 40 people.

Generally there were four or five persons to a room.

Cases of unlawful crowding were rare but one or two notices had been served in the worse cases.

Although good water was available the cesspools were said to be 'peculiarly disagreeable' because they were liable to overflow.

Action was about to be taken against a neighbour who kept fowl in an upstairs room.

All the property in Devonport was leasehold from the Saint Aubyn Estate and it was noted that 'the owner of the freehold is not willing to improve the property held of him under lease'.  As the leases were held on life, the occupiers felt unwilling to carry out improvements suggested by the surveyor.

Samuel's Court was said to be an example of the worst situation in the Town*.  There were ten houses let in tenements of two rooms for 1s 6d or one room for 1s.  They were then listed as:

Number 1 had 3 rooms, 3 families, 5 adults and 5 children;

No. 2 had 4 rooms, 3 families, 5 adults and 7 children;

No. 3 was unoccupied;

Numbers 4 and 5 had a rag and bone store on the ground floor, with two rooms over it, containing two families of eight people;

No. 6 had 2 rooms, 2 families; 3 adults, 3 children;

No. 7 had 2 rooms, 2 families, 2 adults;

No. 8 had 2 rooms, 1 family of 1 adult;

No. 9 had 2 rooms, 2 families, 3 adults, 2 children;

No. 10 had 6 rooms, 6 families, 10 adults, 3 children.

An ordinary room measured 11 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 6 inches and 6 feet 6 inches high.

There was no inspector of "common lodgings".  Mr Lynn, the superintendent of the Devonport Borough Police claimed that there were no common lodging houses in the Borough and not a tramp sleeping rough in the Town.

There were no figures of the numbers of houses and residents for 1861 given in the Report.

In all three cases, of Plymouth, East Stonehouse and Devonport, the rents were taken either by a collector in the case of non-resident owners or by the owner themselves; or it is taken by one of the occupiers of one of the rooms, who farms the whole house.  'The rent seemed a precarious income, and ownership seemed often under dispute' Doctor Hunter concluded.  


  * Mr Kevin Ross has kindly drawn my attention to an extract about Samuel's Court (sometimes spelt Sambell's or Sammul's Court) from Rawlinson's Report for 1854: 'This Court is entered by a covered passage out of Pond Lane and Tavistock Street.  It is closed on all sides.  The surplus drainage passes beneath the floor of a shop fronting to Pond Lane.  There is only one privy and cesspool to about 60 persons and one water tap. There is a well in which a small child was drowned.  Paupers 9.'  Kevin's Great-great-great-grandfather lived in Samuel's Court in 1861.