James Newlands was the son of an Edinburgh ropemaker. He studied mathematics and philosophy at Edinburgh University, whilst serving as an apprentice to a local architect, Thomas Brown.
Newlands became Britain?s first Borough Engineer for Liverpool in 1847 and paved the way for municipal engineering as we know it today. Newlands came to the post with very little experience. However, he soon proved his capabilities in engineering the world?s earliest integrated sewerage system in Liverpool. The significance of this cannot be overrated. Newlands succeeded in doubling the average life expectancy during his years in office. The average life expectancy for people in Liverpool was just 19 when he entered office in 1847.
Newlands worked with Duncan, researching the links between poor sanitation and disease many years before medical research proved that there was indeed a link. Newlands called for the clearance of cramped, insanitary slum dwellings to be replaced by spacious and well-ventilated new housing.