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Vitriol in the Taff: River Pollution, Industrial Waste, and the Politics of Control in late Nineteenth-Century Rural Wales

  • KEIR WADDINGTON (a1)

Abstract:

Claims that rural communities and rural authorities in Wales were backwards conceal not only growing sensitivity to industrial river pollution, but also their active efforts to regulate the region's rivers. This article uses evidence from South Wales to explore rural responses to industrial river pollution and to provide the micro-contextualisation essential for understanding how environmental nuisances were tackled around sites of pollution. Efforts to limit industrial effluent at both local and regional levels highlight strategies of control, the difficulties of intervention at the boundaries of authorities, and how rural authorities were not always peripheral to an urban metropole. This lack of passivity challenges the idea that river pollution interventions merely displaced rather than confronted the problem of pollution, providing insights into how rural authorities worked, and into how those living in rural communities turned to them to clean up their environment.

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Copyright

This is an Open Access article, distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution licence (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

References

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Notes

1. Glamorgan Archive, Cardiff (hereafter GA) UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 19th April 1879.

2. ‘Pollution of the Taff and Ely’, Western Mail, 9th May 1885, p. 3.

3. Andresen, A., Barona, J. L. and Cherry, S., ‘Introduction: “Rural Health” as a European Historical Issue’, in Andresen, A., Barona, J. L. and Cherry, S., eds, Making a New Countryside: Health Policies and Practices in European History c. 1860–1950 (Frankfurt am Main, 2010), p. 11 .

4. See Waddington, K., ‘“It might not be a nuisance in a country cottage”: sanitary conditions and images of health in Victorian rural Wales’, Rural History, 23 (2012), 185204 .

5. See Andresen, Barona and Cherry, eds, Making a New Countryside, p. 63; Barona, J. L. and Cherry, S., eds, Health and Medicine in Rural Europe (1850–1945) (Valencia, 2005).

6. For a discussion of the limitations facing rural sanitary authorities, see Waddington, ‘“It might not be a nuisance in a country cottage”’, 185–204.

7. On the urban environment and pollution, see, for example, Hawes, R., ‘The municipal regulation of smoke pollution in Liverpool, 1853–1866’, Environment and History, 4:1 (1998), 7590 ; Luckin, B., ‘Pollution in the City’, in Daunton, M., ed., The Cambridge Urban History of Britain, Vol. 3: 1840–1950 (Cambridge, 2000), pp. 207–28; Doyle, B., ‘Managing and contesting industrial pollution in Middlesbrough, 1880–1940’, Northern History, 47 (2010), 135–54; Mosley, S., The Chimney of the World: A History of Smoke Pollution in Victorian and Edwardian Manchester (London, 2008); Luckin, B., Death and Survival in Urban Britain, 1800–1950 (London, 2015). On nuisance law and the environment see, Brenner, J. F., ‘Nuisance law and the industrial revolution’, Journal of Legal Studies, 3 (1974), 404–33; McLaren, J. P. S., ‘Nuisance law and the industrial revolution: some lessons from social history’, Oxford Journal of Legal Studies, 3:2 (1983), 155221 ; Hawes, R., ‘The control of alkali pollution in St. Helens, 1862–1890’, Environment and History, 1 (1995), 159–71; Pontin, B., ‘The common law clean up of the “workshop of the world”: more realism about nuisance law's historical environmental achievements’, Journal of Law and Society, 40:2 (2013), 173–98.

8. On river pollution in Britain, see Wohl, A. S., Endangered Lives: Public Health in Victorian Britain (London, 1983), pp. 233–56; Luckin, B., Pollution and Control: A Social History of the Thames in the Nineteenth Century (Bristol and Boston, 1986); Hamlin, C., A Science of Impurity: Water Analysis in Nineteenth-Century Britain (Berkeley, LA, 1990); Breeze, L. E., The British Experience with River Pollution, 1865–1876 (Frankfurt am Main, 1993); Rosenthal, L., The River Pollution Dilemma in Victorian England: Nuisance Law versus Economic Efficiency (Farnham, 2014).

9. For an overview of rural public health in Europe, see Andresen, Barona, and Cherry, ‘Introduction’, pp. 11–24.

10. GA UC/94/4, Harris to LGB, 28th March 1885.

11. Berger, S., ‘Working-class culture and the labour movement in the South Wales and the Ruhr coalfields, 1850–2000: a comparison’, Llafur, 8:2 (2001), 5, 7.

12. See, for example, South Wales Daily News, 7th June 1878, p. 3; Western Mail, 23rd August 1881; South Wales Daily News, 1st August 1884, p. 4; South Wales Daily News, 5th May 1888; Western Mail, 4th July 1888.

13. Pontin, B., ‘Nuisance law and the industrial revolution: a reinterpretation of doctrine and institutional competence’, Modern Law Review, 75:6 (2012), 1011 .

14. Rees, R., ‘The South Wales copper-smoke dispute, 1833–95’, Welsh History Review, 104 (1981), 480 ; Smout, T. C., Nature Contested: Environmental History in Scotland and Northern England since 1600 (Edinburgh, 2000); Sheail, J., An Environmental History of Twentieth-Century Britain (Basingstoke, 2002).

15. See, Gibson, J., ‘The integration of pollution control’, Journal of Law and Society, 18:1 (1991), 19 ; Pontin, B., ‘Integrated pollution control in Victorian Britain: rethinking progress within the history of environmental law’, Journal of Environmental Law, 19:2 (2007), 173–99.

16. GA D805/4/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1875.

17. W. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report (Cardiff, 1890); ‘Pollution of Glamorganshire Rivers’, South Wales Daily News, 9th May 1878, p. 3.

18. Western Mail, 28th October 1886, p. 2.

19. GA UB/68/2, Bridgend and Cowbridge RSA minutes, 21st May 1881.

20. See, for example, GA D404/1/6, Merthyr Tydfil RSA annual report, 1879; GA RDGR/C/1/1, Gelligaer and Rhigos Rural District Council minutes.

21. Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report of the Commissioners appointed in 1868 to Inquire into Best Means of Preventing the Pollution of Rivers; Pollution Arising from Mining Operations and Mental Manufacturers, Vol. 1: Reports and Maps (London, 1874), p. 34.

22. South Wales Daily News, 26th October 1887, p. 4.

23. Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report, p. 34.

24. See, for example, debates on industrial pollution in the rivers Dysynni, Rheidol, and Ystwyth: ‘The Salmon Fisheries’, Aberystwyth Observer, 17th May 1879, p. 4.

25. Cardiff Times, 31st March 1877, p. 5.

26. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report, p. 1.

27. GA GC/JR/3, Rhymney River Joint Committee, February 1896.

28. ‘The Pollution of the Rhondda River’, South Wales Daily News, 25th March 1887, p. 3; Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report, p. xi.

29. ‘Pollution of Rivers’, Western Mail, 30th March 1887, p. 4; Western Mail, 16th March 1878, p. 4; ‘Pollution of the Taff’, Weekly Mail, 9th May 1895, p. 6.

30. GA UC/75/4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 10th September 1890.

31. ‘Thomas Owens & Co. ltd’, The Paper-Maker, British Trade Journal, July 1893; GA D805/4/1, Cardiff RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1880; GA UC/96/11, Cardiff Amateur Rowing Club to RSA, 3rd July 1888; GA UC/75/4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 11th July 1888.

32. ‘Drainage of Ely’, Western Mail, 27th November 1890, p. 6.

33. Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report, p. 34.

34. GA UC/94/2, Williams to Stephenson, 4th July 1880; Morgan to RSA, 4th February 1880; Stephenson to LGB, 22nd April 1880.

35. ‘Cardiff Rural Sanitary Authority’, South Wales Echo, 9th July 1885, p. 2; GA GC/94/6, Harris to Ely Paper Mills, 2nd November 1887.

36. ‘Pollution of the Rivers Taff and Ely’, Western Mail, 4th July 1888, p. 3.

37. Rivers Pollution Prevention Act, 1876 (39 & 40 Victoria, Cap. 75); GA UC/96/1, LGB to Cardiff Union RSA, 19th June 1878.

38. Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma, pp. 22–3; Wohl, Endangered Lives, p. 242.

39. W. Howarth, Water Pollution Law (London, 1988); Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal, Interim Report, PP (1901) XXXIV, p. xi; Hassan, J., A History of Water in Modern England and Wales (Manchester, 1998), p. 30 ; Luckin, ‘Pollution in the City’, p. 210; Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma, p. 23; Woolley, D. A., ed., Environmental Law (Oxford, 2000), p. 22; Wohl, Endangered Lives, p. 242.

40. GA D805/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1875; GA UC/94/1, Stephenson to LGB, 1st April 1875.

41. ‘The Death of Mr R. O. Jones’, South Wales Echo, 15th November 1886, p. 2; ‘The Late Robert Forrest’, Evening Express, 5th February 1910, p. 3.

42. GA UB/68/1, Bridgend and Cowbridge RSA minutes, 19th July 1873.

43. GA D805/4/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1879.

44. GA UC/75/1, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 12th July 1876, 24th October 1877, 13th March 1878, 20th April 1878; GA D805/4/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1877.

45. See Cardiff Times, 17th June 1876, p. 5; South Wales Daily News, 17th July 1876, p. 4; South Wales Daily News, 2nd August 1876, p. 7; Cambrian, 8th September 1876, p. 7; County Observer and Monmouthshire Central Advertiser, 11th November 1876, p. 5.

46. GA UC/94/2, Stephenson to Williams, 2nd March 1878; GA UC/94/21, Stephenson to Salmon, 11th May 1878.

47. GA UC/96/3, Notes of a meeting at the Royal Hospital, 21st October 1880.

48. GA UC/93/3, Rotton to Stephenson, 27th August 1880.

49. GA UC/96/3, Notes of a meeting at the Royal Hospital.

50. GA GC/CC/1/1, Fisheries and Pollution of Rivers Committee minutes, 17th May 1890, 7 April 1891.

51. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report, p. 5.

52. GA UC/75/1, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 17th April 1878.

53. Ibid., 10th September 1879; 11th February 1880, 12th October 1881; GA UC/96/4, Harris to Stephenson, 26th October 1881; GA UC/75/4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 11th July 1888.

54. GA UC/96/1, Morgan to Stephenson, 25th May 1878; Western Mail, 23rd December 1879.

55. GA UC/96/1, Salmon to Stephenson, 14th May 1878; GA UC/96/2, Wheatley to Evans, 23rd December 1879; ‘Sanitary Conditions of Cardiff in 1878’, Western Mail, 10th June 1879, p. 3.

56. See, for instance, the discussion of Swansea Board of Health's responses to smoke pollution: Rees, ‘South Wales copper-smoke dispute’, 480–96.

57. ‘Pollution of the Rhondda’, Western Mail, 25th March 1887, p. 4.

58. ‘Ely Paper Mills’, Western Mail, 4th September 1893, p. 7.

59. GA UC/75/2-4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes.

60. Crook, T., ‘Sanitary inspection and the public sphere in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain: a case study in liberal governance’, Social History, 32:4 (2007), 370, 372, 376; Hamlin, C., ‘Nuisances and community in mid-Victorian England: the attractions of inspection’, Social History, 38:3 (2013), 346–79.

61. GA UC/96/5, Williams to RSA, 4th January 1884; GA UC/96/11, Appointment of Inspector of Nuisances, 1888.

62. Hamlin, ‘Nuisances and community’, 362, 363.

63. Mosley, S., ‘Common ground: integrating social and environmental history’, Journal of Social History, 39:3 (2006), 915–33.

64. Pontin, ‘Nuisance law’, 1011; Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma; Hassan, History of Water, p. 31.

65. Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma, p. 1.

66. GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 10th September 1879.

67. GA UC/94/4, Stephenson to Harris, 18th October 1881; GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 11th February 1880; GA UC/96/2, Williams to Stephenson, 4th July 1880; GA UC/96/2, Morgan to RSA, 4th February 1880; GA UC/96/2, Lyne to Stephenson, 17th February 1880; GA UC/96/8, Evans to RSA, 25th October 1886; ‘Cardiff Rural Sanitary Authority’, Cardiff Times, 16th September 1882, p. 5.

68. ‘Action Against the Ely Paper Mills’, Western Mail, 8th January 1881.

69. South Wales Daily News, 24th August 1883, p. 4.

70. GA D/DTEF/1/1, Taff and Ely Fishing Association minutes, 24th January 1884, 25th April 1885, 10th June 1887, 24th October 1891, 20th February 1895; GA UC/96/2, Williams to Stephenson, 4th July 1880; GA UC/96/2, Morgan to RSA, 4th February 1880; GA UC/96/2, Lyne to Stephenson, 17th February 1880; GA UC/96/11, Cardiff Amateur Rowing Club to RSA, 3rd July 1888.

71. ‘Pollution of the River Rhondda’, Western Mail, 25th March 1887, p. 4.

72. Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report, p. 124; GA UC/96/2, Williams to Stephenson, 4th July 1880; GA UC/96/2, Morgan to RSA, 4th February 1880; GA UC/94/2, Stephenson to LGB, 22nd April 1880; GA D805/4/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1884.

73. National Archives, Kew, LGB sanitary papers, MH 12.

74. Pontin, ‘Nuisance law’, 1027; GA UC/96/13, Williams to Harris, 25th February 1890.

75. Second Report of the Sanitary Commission (London, 1871), pp. 15–16.

76. Minutes of Evidence taken before the Royal Commission on Land in Wales and Monmouthshire, Vol. 2 (London, 1894), pp. 330, 335.

77. Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma, p. 23; Luckin, ‘Pollution in the City’, p. 210; Hassan, History of Water, p. 30; Wohl, Endangered Lives, p. 242.

78. For the science of the purity of water, see Hamlin, A Science of Impurity.

79. GA UC/96/3, Notes of a Meeting at the Royal Hotel; GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 14th December 1881, 11th October 1882.

80. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report.

81. GA UC/94/5, Harris to Cardiff Iron and Tinplate Company, 20th July 1886.

82. GA UC/75/4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 9th September 1891.

83. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report, p. 2.

84. GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 10th November 1880.

85. Evening Express, 22nd May 1891, p. 2.

86. ‘Pollution of Glamorgan's Rivers’, South Wales Daily News, 9th May 1878, p. 3; GA UC/96/1, Jeffries to Stephenson, 4th May 1878, 22nd May 1878; GA UC/96/7, Allawy to Cardiff Union RSA, 30th July 1886; GA UC/96/11, Letter to Cardiff Union RSA, 27th July 1888; GA UC/75/4, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 10th September 1890.

87. Rosenthal, River Pollution Dilemma, p. 21.

88. GA UC/96/1, Jeffries to Stephenson, 4th May 1878.

89. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report, p. 5.

90. GA UC/94/6, Harris to Treforest Tinplate Company, 26th July 1888; GA UC/94/6, Harris to Melingriffith Tinplate Company, 20th December 1888.

91. GA UC/75/1, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 8th May 1878; South Wales Daily News, 9th May 1878, p. 3.

92. GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 11th February 1880, 10th March 1880.

93. GA UC/94/2, Stephenson to LGB, 5th April 1880; GA UC/75/2, Cardiff Union RSA minutes, 10th November 1880, 9th March 1881, 14th December 1881.

94. See GA UC/96/1, Jeffries to Williams, 11th October 1878; GA UC/96/6, Ely Tinplate Company to Harris, 17th July 1885; ‘Rivers Taff and Rumney’, Evening Express, 22nd May 1891, p. 2.

95. GA D805/4/1, Cardiff Union RSA, MOH Annual Report, 1890; GA UC/96/13, Letter to Cardiff Union RSA, 30th September 1890.

96. GA GD/C/126, Rhymney River Joint Committee correspondence.

97. Rivers Pollution Commission (1868), Fifth Report, p. 2.

98. Garwood, C., ‘Green crusaders or captives of industry? The British alkali inspectorate and the ethics of environmental decision-making, 1864–95’, Annals of Science, 61:1 (2004), 116 .

99. Fraser, Rivers Pollution Report, p. 5.

100. GA UC/96/8, Spence to Cardiff Union RSA, 18th August 1886; GA UC/96/9, Paterson to Cardiff Union RSA, 10th June 1887; GA UC/96/11, Reed to Harris, 25th July 1888; GA UC/96/12, Allaway to Harris, 19th December 1888.

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