The condition of the urban poor in the nineteenth century was certainly no worse in Liverpool than in other urban centers, as revealed in the Chadwick report of 1842 (PDF file), from which the following is excerpted.
The condition of the labouring population of Liverpool, in respect to drainage, is thus described in the report of Dr. Duncan:
'The sewerage of Liverpool was so very imperfect, that about 10 years ago a local Act was procured, appointing commissioners with power to levy a rate on the parish for the construction of sewers. Under this Act, which expires next year, about 100,000 L. have been expended in the formation of sewers along the main streets, but many of these are still unsewered; and with regard to the streets inhabited by the working classes, I believe that the great majority are without sewers, and that where they do exist they are of a very imperfect kind unless where the ground has a natural inclination, therefore the surface water and fluid refuse of every kind stagnate in the street, and add, especially in hot weather, their pestilential influence to that of the more solid filth already mentioned. With regard to the courts, I doubt whether there is a single court in Liverpool which communicates with the street by an underground drain, the only means afforded for carrying off the fluid dirt being a narrow, open, shallow gutter, which sometimes exists, but even this is very generally choked up with stagnant filth.
'There can be no doubt that the emanations from this pestilential surface, in connexion with other causes, are a frequent source of fever among the inhabitants of these undrained localities. I may mention two instances in corroboration of this assertion :- In consequence of finding that not less than 63 cases of fever had occurred in one year in Union-court Banastre-street, (containing 12 houses,) I visited the court in order to ascertain, if possible, their origin, and I found the whole court inundated with fluid filth which had oozed through the walls from two adjoining ash-pits or cesspools, and which had no means of escape in consequence of the court being below the level of the street, and having no drain. The court was owned by two different landlords, one of whom had offered to construct a drain provided the other would join him in the expense; but this offer having been refused, the court had remained for two or three years in the state in which I saw it; and I was informed by one of the inhabitants that the fever was constantly occurring there. The house nearest the ash-pit had been untenanted for nearly three years in consequence of the filthy matter oozing up through the floor, and the occupiers of the adjoining houses were unable to take their meals without previously closing the doors and windows. Another court in North-street, consisting of only four small houses I found in a somewhat similar condition, the air being contaminated by the emanations from two filthy ruinous privies, a large open ash-pit and a stratum of semi-fluid abomination covering the whole surface of the court.
'From the absence of drains and sewers, there are of course few cellars entirely free from damp; many of those in low situations are literally inundated after a fall of rain. To remedy the evil, the inhabitants frequently make little holes or wells at the foot of the cellar steps on in the floor itself; and notwithstanding these contrivances, it has been necessary in some cases to take the door off its hinges and lay it on the floor supported by bricks, in order to protect the inhabitants from the wet. Nor is this the full extent of the evil; the fluid matter of the court privies sometimes oozes through into the adjoining cellars, rendering them uninhabitable by anyone whose olfactories retain the slightest sensibility. In one cellar in Lace-street I was told that the filthy water thus collected measured not less than two feet in depth; and in another cellar, a well, four feet deep, into which this stinking fluid was allowed to drain, was discovered below the bed where the family slept!'
He also states: 'There are upwards of 8,000 inhabited cellars in Liverpool, and I estimate their occupants at from 35,000 to 40,000.'
He adds that: 'In a Report lately made by the Surveyors, appointed by the Town Council to examine the condition of the court and cellar residences within the borough, it is stated that of 2,398 courts examined, 1,705 were closed at one end, so as to prevent thorough ventilation. Of 6,571 cellars, whose condition is reported on, 2,988 are stated to be either wet or damp, and nearly one-third of the whole number are from 5 to 6 feet below the level of the street.'