Environment 1901

C.pre1939 Workers at Burcher’s Electricity Works, Stowmarket (was Stowupland). © MEAL
Workers at Burcher’s Electricity Works
in Stowmarket (was Stowupland)
C.pre1939 © MEAL
The start of the twentieth century saw the end of the agricultural slump that had beset Suffolk on and off since the 1850s. Industry in the parish was expanding rapidly. By 1901 the area of the parish near the river Gipping was full of new and expanding businesses. There were at least 11 malt houses, cattle pens, a timber yard, a large chemical works, a sewage farm, the gas works for Stowmarket and a leather works. There was also a Finings Manufactory which produced finings used to improve clarity or adjust the flavour/aroma of wine, beer and other beverages. The finings were made from blood, eggshells, milk or chemicals such as copper sulphate. A note on the 1871 census links the population increase in Stowupland and Stowmarket after the 1850s “to the establishment of gun-cotton works, malt kilns, paper works and a manure factory”.

All of these businesses were polluting the surrounding area in some way or another especially into the river along which they were all situated. More of the people living in the parish were employed in industry – a great leap from 3% in 1851 to 24% of the population in 1901. This provided other problems. Across the UK male death rates rose due to occupational injury and toxic substances. Locally those employed by companies such as the Chemical Works or gun cotton factory would have suffered from exposure to the toxins used in production. Stowupland men employed at the sewage works would have been exposed to cholera, typhoid and many other water borne disease.

Disease and Sanitation

C.pre1939 Workers at Burcher’s Electricity Works, Stowmarket (was Stowupland). © MEAL
Workers at Burcher’s Electricity Works in
Stowmarket (was Stowupland) C.pre1939 © MEAL
Diseases such as pulmonary tuberculosis (often called ‘consumption’) were widespread in the closely packed terraces of the cities but were also found in smaller towns and parishes. Other conditions such as cholera could turn into a frightening epidemic. British scientists had been measuring and mapping illness and death rates throughout the Victorian era. They managed to prove a connection between pollution and disease. This led to new environmental health measures being introduced. Between 1847 and 1900 there were 50 new acts linked to the environment. In the home, sanitation improved as the indoor water-closet began to replace the traditional outdoor privy. This was not true everywhere in Britain and in Stowupland; life had not changed very much since the 1850s. Most of the homes still had no running water or sewage facilities. They did not have indoor toilets and most people still disposed of their own rubbish. Homes were also overcrowded with, in some cases, 13 people living in a two bed roomed house.


This exhibition is part of a wider sustainability project delivered through the Rural Museums East Partnership. It is funded by Renaissance East of England.

Site designed and built by Ugly Studios