A Discordant View
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The appalling conditions caused considerable alarm to the more affluent members of society - and not simply from a charitable concern for the social conditions of the poor. The lack of ventilation, the putrefaction and stench described in Preston, were also a threat to public health - of the rich as well as the poor. Until the general acceptance of the germ theory of disease in the later nineteenth century, fevers and epidemics were explained by 'miasmas', exhalations from decaying matter that poisoned the air. One answer was to demolish slums, by driving railways to the new stations or building new roads to allow the passage of traffic. Little was done for the wretched poor who lost their homes, and simply huddled together in the next block of housing. Other answers were the provision of parks to act as 'lungs' for the cities, and a general process of cleansing.

In the spring of 1862, as the “Cotton Famine” wrought havoc on the town's main industry, thousands of people were put out of work. Local gentlemen and the Corporation proposed schemes for public works to relieve unemployment including the landscaping of Moor Park. In 1864 the land which now forms Miller Park was given to the town by Alderman Thomas Miller.

Despite these continuing problems of poor housing, conditions did improve from the 1870s with the construction of new, healthier housing and a boom in the cotton industry. The Public Health Act of 1875 required local authorities to implement building regulations or bye-laws, which insisted that each house should be self-contained with its own sanitation and water. This change in the design of housing complemented the public investment in sewers and water supply. At the same time, the income of most working class people started to rise at an unprecedented rate. In 1873, the price of food started to drop with the ready availability of cheap imports from across the Atlantic - and much of the drop in the cost of feeding a family was taken in higher spending on housing. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, huge numbers of new bye-law houses were built in English cities: long rows of terraced housing, in grids of streets, easily cleaned and inspected.

The popular image of a cotton town The popular view of a cotton town is exemplified by this view of Greenbank Mill, Plungington, in the mid-1920s. The imposing buildings of the mill itself (founded in 1836) tower above the regular streets of closely packed terraced housing.
At the end of the nineteenth century, some local authorities did start to build council housing which offered a new solution to the problem of housing the poor.

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© winckleysquare.org.uk. Based on a variety of sources, including: Michael Preston, "Lancashire Life", September 1999. Geoffrey Timmins, "Preston - A Pictorial History" and the works of M Daunton, Professor of Economic History, University of Cambridge.