Continuing with our great and favourite Lancastrians, this month we have a less well-known man than Professor Hill, but still one worthy of commendation for the simple straight-forward improvements he contributed to all our Lancastrian lives by making the towns of the dark satanic mills healthier and no doubt a lot less smellier. - PF


Robert Rawlinson


When Sir Robert Rawlinson (1810–1898) retired, he was recognised in the British Medical Journal as one of the three great Victorian sanitary pioneers alongside Edwin Chadwick and Sir John Simon. His life is outlined in the Dictionary of National Biography, He was the son of Thomas Rawlinson, a builder, of Chorley, Lancashire. He was born in Bristol but educated at Lancaster, where his father moved shortly after his birth, and for a time assisted his father in his business as a builder, contractor, and millwright. His work in civil engineering started in 1831 and would fill a book. Perhaps the highlight was working in the Crimea alongside Florence Nightingale as head of the commission looking at the sanitary conditions of our army in Sebastopol. During his time there, he was wounded by a Russian cannonball and knocked off his horse. That notwithstanding, his work there benefitted the health and welfare of soldiers. His work across England particularly around water supply, sewerage and drainage, contributed to the improved public health of working people. I shall highlight his work in Lancashire.

Having worked under Robert Stephenson on the London to Birmingham railway, in 1840 Rawlinson went to Liverpool, becoming assistant surveyor to the corporation. He was an assistant Architect for St. George’s Hall and he advocated the utilization of Bala Lake in Wales as a reservoir for the city. A form of Rawlinson's scheme was eventually realized in the 1890s. In the short-term Liverpool settled on Rivington.

In 1848 Rawlinson was appointed a government public health inspector under the Public Health Act and later became head of the department. He visited towns and cities, conducting

investigations into the state of water supply, drainage, sanitation, housing, and burial practices.

His Lancashire reports included Ormskirk (1850), Rusholme (1850), Wavertree (1851), Pendleton (1851), Much Woolton (1852), Barton upon Irwell (1852), Newton Heath (1852), Crumpsall (1853), Chorley (1853), Garston (1854), Great Crosby and Litherland (1855), Southport (1855), Moss Side (1855). He took a great interest in the implementation of his proposals in Chorley, but each local authority responded in their own way.

In 1858 he was responsible for the unique scheme to divert the polluted River Douglas under Worthington Lakes, safeguarding Wigan’s water supply.


In 1852 he made a key contribution to pubic heath with his paper “On the Drainage of Town” submitted to the Institute of Civil Engineers. He advocated the use of pipe sewers and laying pipes in straight lines with a manhole at each change of direction. It was a system that was universally adopted.

In April 1863, during the Cotton Famine in Lancashire, he was sent by Lord Palmerston, the prime minister, to report on proposals for relief works for the thousands of men and women thrown idle by the stoppage of the cotton supply from America owing to the civil war.  The works were to be of “public utility” and included town sewering and house draining, storage reservoirs for water supply, improving streets and roads, creating public markets, public parks, recreation grounds and public cemeteries, land drainage and river improvements. His report recommended expenditure by local authorities to the tune of £1.5m. The money was loaned by the government at a rate 0f 3.5%. Rawlinson foresaw far-reaching benefits, as money paid in wages for public utility work would find its way into the wider community.


His legacy in Chorley is largely underground with its sewerage system. However, his report did result in the opening of Chorley Cemetery and he designed the three chapels, one of which remains today, although sadly no longer in use.


No man contributed more to the enhancement of the health of Lancashire. and its citizens in the nineteenth century. His monument was miles of sewers, paved and drained roads and pavements, parks, markets, waterworks and improved rivers and declining mortality rates.



John E Harrison


December 2020

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