Dorchester Town Council is preparing a heritage information board to be erected in front of the Old Malthouse in Fordington. As well as signalling that part of the 18th century building later became the Noah’s Ark pub, it will also show the Victorian sewage gas outlet pipe which stands in front of its gable end. This and the raised pavement on nearby Fordington Hill reminds us that in the 19th century much of Fordington was suffering from slum conditions. In 1848 the National Board of Health reported that, “in High Fordington, for want of means of cleansing, typhus fever has not been absent for the past three years, and in lower Fordington there is a crowded and pauper population living in the midst of filth.”

The Rev. Henry Moule, the Vicar of the Parish since 1829, described the situation in 1854 thus:

“At the East end of Dorchester, then, and within a space that can scarce exceed five acres, about 1,100 persons are congregated in a set of dwellings, many of which are of the most wretched description, and utterly destitute of the normal conveniences of life. This space consists of two great divisions, Mill Street, on the one side of a Mill Pond, and Holloway Row, together with Cuckold Row and Standfast on the other side… scarcely a cottage in this division (and the same may be said of many in Mill Street) has a single inch of ground beyond that on which it stands. Their filth is consequently cast either into the open and wretched drain in the street, or into the Mill Pond, from which moreover, the people draw most of their water for washing, and sometimes, even for culinary purposes, ‘the conveniences’ of more than half of these 1,100 people empty themselves together with the filth from the County Gaol, and of some proportion of the other three Parishes of Dorchester. The population, with few exceptions, consists of mechanics, labourers, and paupers from this and many other parishes. Vice, in its worst forms, abounds amongst them.”


In August 1854 the situation was compounded by a severe outbreak of cholera. The disease had been introduced after the Government decided to use the empty Dorchester Barracks to house convicts from the overcrowd Millbank Gaol in London. Despite the opposition of the Mayor and Aldermen of Dorchester, who were aware that cholera had taken root in Millbank, 700 men were transferred by train to Dorchester on 15th August. A week later, Rev. Moule learnt that two women living in Holloway Row who had been employed as washerwomen at the prison had been bringing the convicts’ clothes and bedding to be washed in their homes and dried in the streets outside. Despite his pleas to the Mayor, the practise continued and a few days later a child living close to the women died of the disease, followed by at least thirty further deaths.


The epidemic was brought under control largely because of the efforts of the Reverent Moule and his wife who worked tirelessly with the sick and dying and ensured that contaminated clothes and bedding were boiled or burnt. Because of his experience Rev. Moule invented the Earth Closet, which he patented in 1860.  An example is on display in the County Museum, and it was widely used in India.

Once the epidemic had subsided the local Board of Health, which had been set up in 1853, initiated a campaign for improving and cleaning the streets, deep sewerage provision and clean piped water. The Water Works north of the Bridport Road were built soon after in 1854.

IAN GOSLING 10.2.2023