There are, it is said, some houses that have grown too bad for colliers, and being no longer leased by the colliery owners, are now inhabited by brickmakers and the odds and ends people that find work in a coal district. We thread our way through close packed rows of tumbledown shanties that are dropping languidly into pieces. Most are uninhabited, but there is one with an open door, and ragged children at it. We enter the hovel. The walls inside are like those outside, fissured, honeycombed, rotting. The sky is visible through the bare sloping roof., there is not a cupboard in the place, or the vestige of a scrap of furniture. In one corner, resting on four stones is the door between the front and back room, which has been taken off its hinges, and, with the dirty bundle of rags upon it, is made to serve as bed for the family. There are six children, and a haggard, wretched mother; not one of the family is so clad as to comply with the rudimentary requirements of decency, nor is there a morsel of food in the place. The father is a brickmaker, he earns 10s a day and drinks it. But this misery is not of the little collier world. I merely introduced a reference to it that it might be open to me to state that the hovels in which the major portion of the inhabitants of Coxhoe are lodged are not a whit better than the one I have described. We pass on up and down more close packed rows, back to back, of squalid, broken roofed hovels, whose walls are rotten and mouldering, whose floors are damp, and the wretchedness of whose interiors, in spite of good furniture in many cases, is only exceeded by the abject misery and foul horrors of the exterior surroundings. The haggard women beset my companion as we pass, and pray to be removed into better houses. Have we come to see about repairs? "We canna live in oor hoose, measter!" God knows, I do not wonder at it who but pigs could! Home, love, sobriety, domestic comfort, modesty, godliness --- is it not a bitter mockery to imagine the possibility of such things in holes and amid surroundings at which a savage would shudder? The privies in Coxhoe one may reckon easily on his fingers. The night soil is cast upon the ground around the houses, first to saturate it with sewage, then to percolate into the adjoining beck, and finally to be drunk by the people of Durham.
The solid garbage accumulates on the ash heaps; filth, fish bones, cabbage blades and ashes make up the mounds which in some cases lean against the walls, never are many steps distant from the doors. I ask as to the water supply. Save for rain water, it is wholly derived from a single pump well and from the gutter alleys, which flood down on either side of the main street. As for the latter, the reader may have seen and smelt the gutter which occupies the centre of the street in old Continental towns. If so, he may realise a fair conception of the Coxhoe gutters, the water of which, however, the caution is given me, is not generally used for drinking or cooking purposes. For my own part, I prefer not to wash in liquid sewage. We pay a visit to the pump well, which stands on the margins of a plot of waste land in the rear of some houses near the upper end of the village. The peculiarity of this plot of ground is that pigsties are exceptionally dense upon it --- as also ash middens, of which I count thirteen in close vicinity. Close to the pump are six pigsties, the nearest of which is just three paces distant from it, and there is a well-defined channel for the soakage of the same down to the lip of the covered tank which acts as reservoir to the pump. Fifteen paces on the other side is one of the few privies of which Coxhoe can boast. It cannot be but that every foot of ground round the pump is saturated to its utmost power of absorption by sewage matter. "I likes pork", says a woman, grimly, who is drawing water; "I likes pork well enough, but it hain't melted down in the water I drinks as I likes it." And in very truth, on a wet day, I was solemnly assured the water from the pump stinks of pigsties.
This article first appeared in the 'Newcastle Weekly Chronicle' of the 5th October 1872 and was published in the NDFHS Journal Volume 18, Number 4, Winter 1993.
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