The Engineer’s Department was formed as a result of the Liverpool Sanitary Act of 1846. This Act enabled the appointment of three officers to suggest and implement solutions to problems connected with sanitation, public health and housing in Liverpool. A Medical Officer of Health, a Borough Engineer and an Inspector of Nuisances were appointed in 1847. James Newlands was appointed the first Borough Engineer. Dr. William Henry Duncan became the first Medical Officer of Health in Britain. James Newlands worked closely with Dr. Duncan, planning reform of cleansing, sewerage and road improvements throughout the city. Mr. Fresh was appointed Inspector of Nuisances. The passing of the Liverpool Sanitary Act in 1846 gave statutory support to a progressive policy of improvements.
John A. Brodie (1858-1934)
John Alexander Brodie began his career in the Engineering Department of the Mersey Dock Estate in 1875, working under the leading dock engineer, Mr. George Fosbery Lyster. After working in Spain and in private practice for a number of years, Brodie returned to work in the City Engineer’s Department in 1898 when he was appointed City Engineer for Liverpool. He pioneered the installation of an electric tram system for Liverpool and the development of a ring road, Queens Drive, linking the city’s outlying districts. Brodie also put forward the scheme for building the East Lancashire Road.
Brodie experimented with using precast concrete in the construction of cheap housing. This led to the construction of the first tenements made from a prefabricated material in Eldon Street in 1905. The same year he was asked to design and exhibit a precast concrete cottage at the ‘Cheap Cottages Exhibition’ in Letchworth.
As well as Brodie’s innovation in road building and housing, he became an authority in the field of town planning. In 1912 he joined a team of engineers invited by the Indian Government to produce plans for New Delhi in India. This involved a number of visits to India where he met and worked with the great British architect, Edwin Lutyens.
Brodie was a one-time president of the Institution of Municipal and County Engineers as well as president of Liverpool Engineering Society and Associate Professor of Engineering in Liverpool University.
Dr. W.H. Duncan (1805-1863)
Dr. Duncan was Liverpool’s first Medical Officer of Health. He was born in Seel Street in Liverpool in 1805. Duncan studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating as a Doctor of Medicine in 1829. He started his professional career as a GP working in two practices in Liverpool. He became interested in the health of the poor and started researching the living conditions of his patients. He was shocked by what he found and started a lifelong campaign for improved sanitation and housing for the poor. As a key member of the Health of Towns Association in Liverpool (established April 1845) he helped in the formulation of Liverpool’s first Sanitary Act in 1846.
Duncan was appointed Medical Officer of Health on 1st January 1847. Duncan recognised that there was a clear link between housing conditions and the outbreak of diseases such as cholera, smallpox and typhus. Duncan worked with the Borough Engineer, James Newlands, to tackle the problems of poor housing and sanitary provision in the city.
Sir Lancelot Keay (1883-1974)
Lancelot Keay was born in Eastbourne in 1883. He studied at Eastbourne College and Brighton School of Art. Keay arrived in Liverpool after a period of working as Chief Assistant Architect with Birmingham Corporation. He was appointed City Architect and Director of Housing for Liverpool in 1925. An important part of his job in the early years was overseeing the large-scale clearance of slum housing in the city.
Keay served as Director of Housing in Liverpool until 1948. During his time in the post more than 35,000 new houses and flats were built across the city and four large-scale redevelopment schemes were implemented. Recognised for his flair and innovation in housing development, one of Keay’s most notable achievements was the creation of the township of Speke. Speke became a model for self-contained municipal housing estates throughout the world.
He was rewarded for his contribution to public housing when he received a knighthood in 1947. He served as Director of Housing until 1948 and was also president of the Royal Institute of British Architects from 1946 to 1948.
James Newlands (1813-1871)
James Newlands was the son of an Edinburgh ropemaker. He studied mathematics and philosophy at Edinburgh.