Thomas Hawksley, the son of John Hawksley, a manufacturer, and his wife, Mary Whittle Hawksley, was born at Arnold, near Nottingham, on 12th July 1807. He was educated at Nottingham Grammar School and in 1822 was articled to Edward Staveley, architect and surveyor. He eventually became a partner in this business. (1)
Nottingham was a town that had changed dramatically. It had a population of about 10,000 in the middle of the 18th century and it was described as "a garden city, with well laid out houses, surrounded by orchards and gardens in the midst of parkland and open spaces". By 1831 the population had risen to about 50,000 but the people were packed into very much the same ground area as had been occupied a hundred years before. It was now "a chequer board of mean streets, alleyways and courts". (2)
This was supported by an official report published at this time: "I believe that nowhere else shall we find so large a mass of people crowded into courts as in Nottingham... The courts are almost always approached through a low-arched tunnel of some 30 or 36 inches wide, about 8 feet high, and from 20 to 30 feet long... In these confined quarters, the refuse is allowed to accumulate... until it has acquired value as manure... It is common to find the privies open and exposed to the public gaze of the inhabitants... The houses are three stories high, side by side, back to back." (3)
Nottingham became one of the first towns in Britain to pipe fresh water into all homes. Thomas Hawksley was appointed as chief engineer and in 1844 he was interviewed by a Parliamentary Committee about his work: "Before the supply was laid on in the houses water was sold chiefly to the labouring-classes by carriers at the rate of one farthing a bucket; and if the water had to be carried any distance up a court a halfpenny a bucket was, in some instances, charged. In general it was sold at about three gallons for a farthing. But the Company now delivers to all the town 76,000 gallons for £1; in other words, carries into every house 79 gallons for a farthing, and delivers water night and day, at every instant of time that it is wanted, at a charge 26 times less than the old delivery by hand." (4)
In 1847 the British government proposed a Public Health Bill that was based on some of the recommendations of Edwin Chadwick. There were still a large number of MPs who were strong supporters of what was known as laissez-faire. This was a belief that government should not interfere in the free market. They argued that it was up to individuals to decide on what goods or services they wanted to buy. These included spending on such things as sewage removal and water supplies. George Hudson, the Conservative Party MP, stated in the House of Commons: "The people want to be left to manage their own affairs; they do not want Parliament... interfering in everybody's business." (5)
Supporters of Chadwick argued that many people were not well-informed enough to make good decisions on these matters. Other MPs pointed out that many people could not afford the cost of these services and therefore needed the help of the government. The Health of Towns Association, an organisation formed by doctors, began a propaganda campaign in favour of reform and encouraged people to sign a petition in favour of the Public Health Bill. In June 1847, the association sent Parliament a petition that contained over 32,000 signatures. However, this was not enough to persuade Parliament, and in July the bill was defeated. (6)
A few weeks later news reached Britain of an outbreak of cholera in Egypt. The disease gradually spread west, and by early 1848 it had arrived in Europe. The previous outbreak of the disease in Britain in 1831, had resulted in the deaths of over 16,000 people. Faced with the possibility of a cholera epidemic, the government decided to try again. This new bill involved the setting up of a Board of Health Act, that had the power to advise and assist towns which wanted to improve public sanitation. (7)
In an attempt to persuade the supporters of laissez-faire to agree to a Public Health Act, the government made several changes to the bill introduced in 1847. For example, local boards of health could only be established when more than one-tenth of the ratepayers agreed to it or if the death-rate was higher than 23 per 1000. Chadwick was disappointed by the changes that had taken place, but he agreed to become one of the three members of the central Board of Health when the act was passed in the summer of 1848. However, the act was passed too late to stop the outbreak of cholera that arrived in Britain that September. In the next few months, cholera killed 80,000 people. Once again, it was mainly the people living in the industrial slums who caught the disease. (8)
By 1853 over 160 towns and cities had set up local boards of health. Some of these boards did extremely good work and were able to introduce important reforms. Thomas Hawksley, for example, after his success in Nottingham, was appointed to many major water supply projects across England, including schemes for Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Leeds, Derby, Oxford, Cambridge, Sunderland, Lincoln, Darlington, Wakefield and Northampton. (9)
Thomas Hawksley was consulted in 1857 about the London main drainage scheme. Hawksley was also involved in the building of the Thornton Park Reservoir (1860), Dale Dike Reservoir (1864), Bradgate Reservoir (1868) and Waskerley Reservoir (1872). He was also president of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1876–7, and became a fellow of the Royal Society in 1878. (10)
Thomas Hawksley died on 23rd September 1893 at his home, 14 Phillimore Gardens, Kensington, at the age of eighty-six.
Q: What is the number of houses to which water is supplied from the works which you superintend at Nottingham?
A: About 8,000, containing a population of about 35,000 persons. We find that one experienced man, and one boy of 18 years of age are, on the system of constant supply, quite sufficient to manage the distribution of the supply to about 8,000 tenements, and keep all the works of distribution in perfect repair...
Q: Now, do you find that tenants are apt, for the sake of the lead pipes, to cut off their own supplies of water; and what, under all circumstances, is your experience on the point?
A: We have some of the poorest and worst conditioned people in Nottingham, and we scarcely ever experience anything of the kind. In fact, the water at high pressure serves as a police on the pipe. The cutting off a cock with the water at high pressure is rather a difficult matter to do quietly: "knocking up" is too noisy; and when a knife is put into such a pipe, and a slit is made, a sharp, flat, wide stream issues, very inconvenient to the operator; and when the pipe is divided there is the full rush of the jet to denounce the thief. We have lead-pipes all over the town, in the most exposed places, and I can affirm that such an event rarely occurs out of the houses, and never within.
Q: What has been the effect produced on their habits by the introduction of water into the houses of the labouring classes?
A: At Nottingham the increase of personal cleanliness was at first very marked indeed; it was obvious in the streets. The medical men reported that the increase of cleanliness was very great in the houses, and that there was less disease.
Q: When, on the return home of the labourers' family, old or young, tired perhaps with the day's labour, the water has to be fetched from a distance out of doors in cold or in wet, in frost or in snow, is it not well known to those acquainted with the labourers' habit that the use of clean water, and the advantages of washing and cleanliness, will be foregone to avoid the annoyance of having to fetch the water?
A: Yes, that is a general and notorious fact. When the distance to be traversed is comparatively trifling, it still operates against the free use of water.
Q: Before the water was laid on in the houses of Nottingham, were the labouring classes accustomed to purchase water?
A: Before the supply was laid on in the houses water was sold chiefly to the labouring-classes by carriers at the rate of one farthing a bucket; and if the water had to be carried any distance up a court a halfpenny a bucket was, in some instances, charged. In general it was sold at about three gallons for a farthing. But the Company now delivers to all the town 76,000 gallons for £1; in other words, carries into every house 79 gallons for a farthing, and delivers water night and day, at every instant of time that it is wanted, at a charge 26 times less than the old delivery by hand.
Q: Under what circumstances do you consider the utility of the supply of water to be influenced by the defective state of the drainage?
A: Where one system terminated the other must commence. The use of water, however liberally supplied, will be limited and restricted by any inconvenience attending its removal. Its use as a means of cleansing and removing refuse, by the application of the water closet principle, will be directly dependent on the state of the drains...
My own observation and enquiry convince me that the character and habits of a working family are more depressed and deteriorated by the defects of their habitations than by the greatest pecuniary privations to which they are subject. The most cleanly and orderly female will invariably despond and relax her exertions under the influence of filth, damp and stench and at length ceasing to make further effort, probably sink into a dirty, noisy, discontented and perhaps gin-drinking drab - the wife of a man who has no comfort in his house, the parent of children whose home is the street or the gaol. The moral and physical improvements certain to result from the introduction of water and water-closets into the houses of the working classes are far beyond the pecuniary advantages (referring to the customary sale of night-soil. It was estimated that each tenement produced two good car-loads per annum), however considerable these may under circumstances appear.
(1) T. H. Beare, Thomas Hawksley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)
(2) J. D. Chambers, Modern Nottingham in the Making (1945) page 6
(3) J. R. Martin, Sanitary Report on Nottingham (1845)
(4) Thomas Hawksley, interviewed by a Parliamentary Committee (15th February, 1844)
(5) George Hudson, speech in the House of Commons (3rd July 1847)
(6) Michael Flinn, Public Health Reform in Britain (1968) page 31
(7) Roy Porter, The Greatest Benefit to Mankind (1997) page 411
(8) Henry Mayhew, Morning Chronicle (24th September 1849)
(9) Obituary of Thomas Hawksley, The Times (25th September 1893)
(10) T. H. Beare, Thomas Hawksley : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)