Yards were a breeding ground for ill health

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The annual meeting of the Morpeth Dispensary for 1899 took place early in the following year.

In his annual report, the House Surgeon Dr De Jersey described a deplorable state of public health in the yards and courts where many people in Morpeth lived:

“The number of cases treated during the year and entered in the book number 701, those treated during the two previous years 1898 and 1897, being respectively 559 and 528.

"Those figures only show approximately the number of cases treated during the year, as numbers of patients came for tooth extraction and minor accidents, and even people who have had treatment for a length of time, but have not procured tickets and so their names have not been inserted in the book.

"There are a great many people who come who could pay a little,...but usually some feeble excuse is made and treatment is given.

“The following table shows the distribution of cases in the various localities:

"Bell’s Yard and Union Street 84, Forrest Yard 44, Oldgate 90, Turk’s Head, King’s Head, George and Dragon and McGill’s Yards 34, Hillgate 34, Goosehill 4, Dogger Bank and Buller’s Green 42, Newgate Street 107, Back Riggs, Walker’s Buildings, and neighbourhood 20, Corporation Yard and Square 17, Alma Houses 13, Dam Side, Mill Square and Low Stanners 42, Manchester Street 25, Post Office, Chattos’ and Lumsden’s Yards 38, Cutter’s Buildings 11, Stanley Terrace 11, other places 82.

“The number of deaths recorded during the year number 27...which is very low considering the nature of some of the cases, the inability for careful nursing, and on account of the immediate surroundings.

"There were 7 from phthisis pulmonatis, 4 from teething, 2 from heart disease, 1 from cirrhosis of liver, 2 from general tuberculosis, 1 from Bright’s disease, 1 from whooping cough and bronco pneumonia, 1 from obstruction of bowel, 2 from bronchitis, 1 from influenza and pneumonia, 3 from diarrhoea and convulsions, and 2 from apoplexy.

“You will see that the largest number treated came from Newgate Street. 31 out of the 107 for that district came from Bilton’s Court, showing that yard to be deficient in surroundings beneficial to health.

“Of all the places in Morpeth, Union Street, including Bell’s Yard, and Oldgate are the worst. Oldgate stands highest with 90 cases. This is exceptionally high, especially as nine-tenths of the cases came from the north side of the street, showing that side to be the bad one.

“All the yards on that side want to be entirely done away with and new blocks built with proper thoroughfares....

“Union Street with its two ‘stately’ blocks of buildings facing east and west, being thereby completely shut out from all hope of ever receiving the all life-giving sun rays which are so essential to health, accounts for 84 cases, 25 of these being due to lung affections.

“There were in it 14 cases of bronchitis, 7 of pneumonia, 4 of phthisis pulmonatis, and 7 of diarrhoea.

“Forrest Yard stands pretty low as regards the amount of sickness, considering what a dirty place it is. This is to be accounted for by only being built upon on one side so that a reasonable amount of sunshine and fresh air get into the various tenements.

“Dogger Bank and Bullers’ Green, Dam Side and Low Stanners, Post Office and Chattos’ Yards, Hillgate, West Yard in Manchester Street, in virtue of their low-lying locality or in their closed-in condition, are all more or less unsuitable for a healthy life, especially West Yard, Lumsden’s Lane, and some yards in Hillgate, where the sun’s rays are rarely, if ever, seen.

"Some of the yards along the south side of Bridge Street are in a very bad state, especially in wet weather.

“You will see there is a large percentage of lung affections and diarrhoea, especially among infants....There were 27 deaths during the year, 8 of these being infants under 1 year. Surely this is deplorable.

“I must say one word about the Cottage Hospital and the District Nursing Staff, both of which are doing really good work. My death-rate would have exceeded 27 if I had not had the opportunity of sending 2 or 3 very bad cases to the hospital, where they were pulled round by careful nursing.

“The external nursing is doing much good; patients can be well looked after and benefit much by the careful attention bestowed upon them by the visiting nurses.

"I must say the beef tea provided by various ladies has been a great benefit to many of the poorer patients who were unable to provide it themselves.

“Much is being done by the sanitary authority, but there is much left to be done.

"Some of the yards in Oldgate would do with a freer drainage to carry off a large volume of surface water, and paving them from end to end would do away with much discomfort as it would keep them very much cleaner, and healthier.

“The amount of overcrowding in some parts of the town is bad, as it tends to spread infection.

"I hope the ashpits and privies that are such an eyesore in some of the yards will eventually be done away with as they are certainly a source of danger to the inhabitants living in the immediate neighbourhood.”

Some of these places, including Forrest’s Yard, Bell’s Yard and Union Street, no longer exist.

The rest have been improved out of recognition and have become desirable places to live or work.