Tuesday, 02 June 2020

Revealed: dirty work of the (H)CIA

ANNE TAYLOR responded to last week’s Hidden Henley item about the initials “HCIA” and the year 1890 on the two distinctive houses in Gravel Hill, Henley.

I guessed that “H” stood for Henley but didn’t know what the other letters referred to.

Anne says she did an internet search and found a blog post from 2014 by Phil Stubbington which revealed the answer is the Henley Cottage Improvement Association.

Phil wrote: “During the period from 1848 to 1875 various legislation came into force in response to cholera epidemics and other public health concerns.

“As a consequence, the Henley Rural Sanitary District, including Henley, Fawley, Hambleden and Medmenham, and the HCIA were established.

“Difficult to believe now, but sanitary conditions in Henley in the 1870s were very poor.”

A report by Gilbert W Child in 1876 mentioned that the HCIA had bought a number of the worst cottages on West Hill (as it was then known) and replaced them “by thoroughly good ones”.

Child stated that the Henley Rural Sanitary District had a population of 18,200 but there were 350 deaths in 1875, of which 105 were children under the age of five. The top causes of the children’s deaths were diarrhoea (15), bronchitis (21) and whooping cough (7).

Phil adds: “The human element in the spread of disease is also well-documented — a woman in Henley contracted smallpox, which was passed on to her nurse, undertaker and the undertaker’s nurse.

“Many problems were the result of water being supplied by wells and waste draining into cesspools. One can imagine why the upper part of the town was less likely to be polluted than lower areas

“The newer cottages were considerably less cramped — four ‘wretched dwellings’ were demolished to be replaced by two ‘tolerable cottages’, although the reduction in housing stock caused other issues.

“There don’t appear to be any other examples of HCIA in Gravel Hill. It may well that the other cottages they built weren’t as showy as the two we can see today.”

Thanks to Anne and especially Phil for his research.

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