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11 February 2013

Don't turn your nose up at Hackney's drainage system

WHEN visitors go to Hackney Archives in order to investigate the history of their house, they are often surprised to be advised to start by looking at the drainage records for the building.

More often than not, once researchers start to look at the plans they realise how very useful they are and also how fascinating they can be.

During the 1850s, work began to modernise London’s sewerage system and clean up the horrifically polluted Thames, which was then little more than an open sewer.

From 1856 onwards, all new buildings had to have their own connections to mains drainage, and permission from the local authority was required to connect an existing building to the system.

The new regulations ensured a massive advance in London’s drainage, and subsequent decrease in the number of deaths from diseases spread because of poor sanitation.

In 1856, no more than one in 10 houses had mains drainage, but by 1876, there were less than one in 10 that did not. Indeed, by 1863 in Shoreditch alone, 2,740 cesspools had been filled in; 4,070 water closets built to replace open privies; and 2,200 house drains cleaned and repaired.

The following year the local death rate had already fallen from 28 per 1,000 head of population to 23.5.

Official applications to build and drain, submitted to the local authority, can provide useful information for anyone needing to alter or maintain their drains, or to check structural details, and are a major source of data for researching the history of the building.

Hackney Archives holds all surviving applications from 1856 to 1985; those dating after 1985 are held at the Council’s Building Control office in Hillman Street.

The records show the name of the applicant and sometimes that of the builder and owner, along with the date of application and a ground plan of the property.

Often they are quite basic, but can sometimes contain more detailed information such as an elevation illustration of the building.

There was often a gap between the date of an application and its approval or rejection, but usually the approval date provides a rough estimate for construction as having taken place within the following 12 months.

Because today’s London Borough of Hackney was formed from the former local authorities of Hackney, Shoreditch, Stoke Newington and South Hornsey, there are now several series of drainage records in existence.

Hackney Archives holds a combined index of streets and the buildings within them, roughly in date order, and it is possible for a building that has undergone much change over the years to have several associated plans.

All the plans for the old vestry and Metropolitan Borough of Hackney and those for Stoke Newington up to 1900 have been copied onto microfilm, so can be easily consulted in the public search room at the Archives.

The later Stoke Newington plans, those for Shoreditch and for South Hornsey are yet to be microfilmed and so remain in their original volumes and folders, kept safely in the Archives’ strong rooms.

Visitors to Hackney Archives are welcome to request specific items from these collections to be produced for research purposes. So if you’re ever interested in discovering more about the history and construction of your house, don’t turn your nose up at the idea of sniffing out a drainage plan.

Click here for more information

Hoxton Street: Hackney Archives hold drainage reports to help research the history of a home

Hoxton Street: Hackney Archives hold drainage reports which can help to research the history of a home

Hoxton Street: Hackney Archives hold drainage reports to help research the history of a home

Archives,Hackney History,News

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