South Hill Parish

The Housing of the Working Classes in the

Liskeard Rural Sanitary District 1892


The Cornwall Record Office holds a report which is dated 26th January 1893 and is signed by William Nettle, Medical Officer of Health. It gives an interesting insight into the housing conditions of the working classes at the end of the 19th century and briefly mentions housing in the 24 parishes in the District.

In the introduction he notes that only one village in the District, Menheniot, had a public water supply with standpipes, most water being drawn from wells, private pumps or 'shoots'.

The disposal of sewerage in virtually every village was by depositing it on the land, this is usually the garden. Fortunately most dwellings had a large enough garden to enable the disposal of slop-water, etc. without ill effect.

In all villages the old fashioned privy and cesspit is the form of water closet in general use, although many were built of wood and described as being in a dilapidated state. They appear to have had no roofs as they were described as being without cover, other than possibly some furze or material of that kind, so most were open to rain and flies which greatly increased the nuisance. The contents were allowed to seep into the neighbouring soil and the inspector deplored that fact that they did not put ashes or other suitable material in them to absorb the noxious smells and reduce the risk of ill-health. A critical comment, notes that the Authority had not adopted any Bye-Laws on the removal of house refuse and the cleansing of privies, even though this was urgently required.

The quality of the cottages varied considerably, some houses being very dilapidated to the point that they were structurally defective and unfit for human habitation. The usual flooring was slate slabs laid on bare soil which was invariably damp and  the slabs were often cracked and there were holes in the floor. Bedrooms usually had no ceiling and the ground floor could be seen through gaps and holes in the flooring.  The windows were often a bad fit and the rooms were very draughty, so much so that a candle would not keep alight.  The walls could be very damp, especially if there was no form of guttering to carry rain water away, also the absence of a damp proof course did not help. Again the Inspector lamented that there were no Building Bye-Laws in place in the District.


Golberdon.  This is described as a village of about 20 houses of which seven had no closet accommodation. Most of the houses were found to be dry and in fair repair, but two were in a bad condition one deplorably so. This had a bad roof with rain coming in, the walls were cracked and bulging, the windows and doors were out of repair and the rendering was wet making the house wet and draughty. In the other houses the walls of the bedrooms were exceedingly wet owing to defective roofs. Water supply was from a village pump.

Egypt. This was described as having about 11 houses in fairly good condition. Some few were damp but not seriously so. Water supply was from private pumps and a spring in a field.

On the whole conditions in South Hill were no where near as bad as in the mining villages or as in the fishing towns. For example in Polperro the inspector examined 114 houses of which 70 had no closet at all.  Overcrowding was a considerable problem with up to 7 people sleeping in a room 15 x 9 x 7 feet. Sewerage was kept in the house during the day and disposed off in the river or harbour at night, however if you lived alongside the water all rubbish of all descriptions was simply thrown out of the window! The comments for Looe, another fishing port, were much the same.