Oral History

Mr Thomas Cotterell life and times of a Hinckley Union Medical Officer

Please Note The figures at the beginning of the line, correspond with the numbers at the foot of each report; and the figures at the end of the line, refers to the MS. Paging of the Volumes arranged for The House of Commons.

Interviewed: Mr Thomas Samuel Cotterell

4506. You are a medical officer, I believe, of the Hinckley Union? --- Of the Hinckley district of the Hinckley Union.

4507. Have you been some time resident in Hinckley? --- I am a native of Hinckley, and have been resident in it nearly all my life, save three years I was practising at Dover, in Kent.

4508. Have you frequent opportunities of seeing the working classes here, particularly of the framework knitters, at their own houses? --- Yes.

4509. Will you be good enough to state what you find to be the general condition of their dwellings? --- The abodes are very indifferent indeed, generally speaking, occupying the worst parts of Hinckley; generally speaking, up lanes and narrow passages.

4510. Are their dwellings properly ventilated? --- Oh dear no, they are very badly ventilated, and the cesspools in the neighbourhood of their houses have the windows overlooking them frequently. It is impossible to open them to get any fresh air; they must get the effluvia of decomposed animal and vegetable matter going on. Generally the majority of them work on the ground floor; and the majority of them are brick floors, and very frequently they are very damp; and they are a weak race of men, the Hinckley framework knitters. Their food is decidedly insufficient, and I should say their clothing too; all of which tends to predispose them to disease. Consumption we find frequent here, and scrofulous affections and bowel complaints are very frequent indeed; and a very great proportion of the men are ruptured, and many of the women; and there are other complaints incident to them. Their persons are very small.

4511. Is that produced by the low condition in which they are? --- I attribute it to the low condition, because there is no great straining in their occupation. Seafaring men are very subject to hernia, but that is generally in consequence of carrying and lifting heavy weights, which is not the case with the framework knitters. But from low diet, relaxation takes place in those parts.

4512. Is there much low fever prevalent? --- Yes; we are never free from cases of low fever; sometimes it rags. Typhoid and scarlet fever, too, to a very, very great extent. I have attended, some years, as many I dare say as 400 or 500 cases of fever in a year in so small a population as this.

4513. How do you find them to be provided with bedding in general? --- Very badly. Very frequently there are three or four children and a man and his wife, generally speaking, lying in one room, and frequently on one bed.

4514. Is much relief afforded them here, in cases of sickness? --- Yes; they are not so badly off during illness. I have an opportunity of ordering what I consider necessary, if that, which is given them by the relieving officer I do not consider sufficient. In individual cases (particular cases) I can order more. They give relief from the board, if a man or woman is unable to work; 2s - 6d or 3s when wholly unable to work; when partly so, they give less; but those would be particular cases.

4515. Is that given in money? --- In bread and money.

4516. There is no limit put to your discretion, in cases in which you consider it necessary to order further nourishment? --- No, not in any cases, nor of any kind.

4517. Your interference, in order relief, would only extend to cases in which the parties had made application for relief to the relieving officer? ---No; only in cases where the parties had made application for relief to the relieving officer, unless it were a very urgent case; a common case of fever, I would say. I give a note, and they would go to the relieving officer; and probably, in a fortnight or three weeks time, the fever would be much diminished, and they would only be suffering from weakness to a considerable extent. Then, if I found the 2s 6d not sufficient to purchase a couple of pounds of meat, or procure them ale or wine, in some very bad cases, which is necessary, then I order it. But in urgent cases, where brandy or wine immediately required, or in fact, anything else, I always order it without sending them to the relieving officer. Of course, they have to present their note to him on their application.

4518. Do you consider the condition of the people to have deteriorated much within the last few years? --- I do not perceive a vast difference in the people, in any respect, since I have attended them, and it is now my sixth year. They were always badly off; they were always persons of delicate frame and poor constitution, the majority of them. They work hard and live hard; or rather, I should say, it consists of being a long time in the frame, not that it is very severe work. It requires no vast deal of muscular exertion, but it requires attention. It is a wearying employment, I should call it.

4519. Is the relief you have stated to be afforded (the 2s - 6d in a week) given to able-bodied men unemployed? --- No; I do not know by what scale they are relieved. They used to work at the workhouse in breaking stones the able-bodied, when unemployed) and they have also been employed in the parish, mending the roads. Then I think they were paid somewhat to the amount of 10d or 1s a-day, or something of that kind.

4520. Would the occupation of breaking stones be likely to unfit them for returning to the frames? --- For a short time it does; it makes their hands hard a little. They require a delicate hand for the frame; and they punished very severely, in some instances, when they first begin to work at it; the stones break their hands. I have seen their hands in a dreadful state.

4521. Is that the ordinary mode of employment, or it is only in extreme cases that it is resorted to? --- Only in extreme cases, I think.

4522. Do you find them deficient in the means of giving their children education of any kind here? --- They have none, I believe, but what they get at the Sunday school; and there are infant school and a National school, but that does not afford instruction for the poorer population.

4523. Is there a national school here now? Has not that been converted into some other? --- It is the same school, I believe, and supported, I think, by the same funds, but it is not called a National school; it is supported by the Feoffment. The children here commence seaming at the age of five, and consequently there cannot be much time the little things to go to school; and, by then they are eight years, they may get as much money by seaming as they will at any period of their lives. A child of eight years old will very frequently seam faster than a grown-up person.

4524. And soon after that age, I suppose, they are put into the frame? --- They are put into the frame at about 12.

4525. Is the effect of their labour injurious to them as mothers, afterwards, in any way? --- They are generally a long time getting about after they have been confined; they are very weak for a length of time. I do not know that we meet with a greater proportion of difficult labour cases than in any other district; I am not aware that we do. But the want of animal food, and wine, and anything of that sort, they cannot supply; it is quite out of their power to obtain them.

4526. Having opportunities of seeing so much of their dwellings and management, do you think that they evidence prudence and good economy, or the contrary? --- It is difficult for me to answer that question, for I think, considering that their earnings are so scanty, you can hardly call them improvident. What they would be, if they wee better paid, I cannot say. There is hardly scope for improvidence they get so little. Whether, in every instance, they lay their money out to the best advantage, I cannot say.

4527. Are there any places of resort for public recreation in the neighbourhood, of any kind? --- None.

4528. Have the houses mostly gardens attached to them? --- very few, except they are just at the outskirts of the town.

4529. I believe you have allotments here, to a considerable extent? --- There are a great many; perhaps there may be 30 or 40 acres let out on the allotment system; but I do not know exactly how many there are.

4530. Are the poorer classes of houses generally well supplied with water? --- I think there is about a pump to each yard; some may have to fetch it 20 or 30 yards or not so far. At this season of the year I know that there are a great many dry; the springs have failed them this season, but it is an unusually dry one.

4531. What is the state of the sewerage of the town? --- The drainage has been considerably improved of late. When the stocking-makers were out of work, about a year ago, they were employed in improving the town. Hinckley is well calculated for drainage in every direction, I think.

4532. Was that improvement made from the funds given from Manufacturers’ Relief Committee? --- I forgot exactly, but I think it was from the relief committee.

4533. At the same time, I believe, many of the houses were lime-washed, were they not? --- They were.

4534. Has that been done since at all? --- No.

4535. Is it done as often as you think it should be done to maintain proper health and cleanliness? --- No. I never heard of its being done before here.

4536. Are there any means that suggest themselves to your mind as calculated to improve the condition of the working classes generally? --- If they were better paid for their labour that would improve it. I know of no other means particularly. They would then be able to clothe themselves better, and they would be able to live better than they are able to do now. Of course, upon their present earnings they cannot clothe or feed themselves so well.

The Witness Mr Thomas Cotterell withdrew.