The following 2 letters appeared in the Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser of 1888. They highlight the state of the burgh at the time.
Kirkcudbright Fire Brigade.
Kirkcudbrightshire Advertised. 28th September 1888.
A more disgraceful exhibition than that made on Wednesday night, by what out of courtesy may be termed Kirkcudbright Fire Brigade, I never witnessed. The engine may be able to pump, but that is all that can be said in its favour. A long time elapsed before this relic to bygone times could be got out and, pending its arrival, the inhabitants were adopting the same means of extinguishing a fire as were employed in the days of Noah. Thanks to the exertions of a few intrepid individuals, the course of the flames was arrested before any additional damage could be done. Whilst these gallant fellows were working, the firemen were running about hither and thither trying, and in many cases in vain, to screw the lengths of hose together. Then it was discovered there were no washers at hand with which to prevent leakages at the unions, and two men, who were unable to see straight, squabbled over their work. And still the fire burned!
When the hose was at last attached to the antiquated force pump, the water squirted out at every seam, and that which should have been thrown on the fire, was running down the street, serving no purpose than to allay the dust. The stream which did reach the nozzle was so feeble that it reminded one very forcibly of a schoolboy’s squirt. In a few minutes the water supply was exhausted, and men and women had to carry water from the ‘spoot’ to feed the engine. And this, be it borne in mind, too place in a royal burgh in the nineteenth century. I question whether there is in the kingdom another town of its size and pretensions where such a scandalous state of things prevails. No water supply, no volunteer fire brigade – why, the inhabitants are the sport of their rulers! Surely the lives of the people are of much more consequence than the ‘kerbing’ of a road! It behoves the body which arrogates to itself the name of a municipal corporation to bestir themselves, and instead of squabbling over trifles, to put in force the laws which they have been clothed by the legislative.
Collecting water from the ‘spoot’.
The next week, the following item appeared….
Kirkcudbright and its Government.
Kirkcudbrightshire Advertiser. 5th October 1888.
The question of the improved municipal government of Kirkcudbright must, before long, force its way to the front. That it will receive no impetus at the hands of the present authorities, without the consent of the inhabitants, goes without saying, and it must be by its own inherent force, therefore, that the question will raise itself. I shall be asked, no doubt, by what means this end will be brought about, and I reply at once that infection and disease will fight the battle. What are facts upon which I base this statement? Is it not apparent to every inhabitant, much less to visitors, that the town is not properly drained, nor has it an efficiently pure water supply? A glance at the streets, and the various ditches emptying themselves into the river, at once proves the first point. The refuse from many houses is thrown into or on the grids in the open streets and, given a sunny day, the perfume is most unpleasant. Within the last few years, many new houses have been built in the environs, and what are the sanitary appliances with which they are supplied? In one instance the drains empty themselves into an open ditch, and I am credibly assured that the smell from it is at times almost, if not absolutely, unbearable. The effects produced by the inhalation of these odorous smells have been, and are, serious. Servants coming to the town in perfect health and vigour sicken off in the course of a month or two, and they become weak and unable to discharge their work properly. If this be the result in one case of the present system – or rather want of system – of drainage, what must be the sum total attained throughout the town? And why are there so many cases of diphtheria? The medical men can surely answer this question. As to the second point – as to the water supply – little requires to be said. It is self-evident that the supply is entirely inadequate to the requirements of 3000 people. Further, every house should be supplied directly with water in lieu of the present system of carrying it from the ‘spoots.’ Such a system should not be permitted in these days in any well-governed town in the United Kingdom. It leads to many evils, chiefly among which is that water is allowed to remain in vessels, in all conditions of atmosphere for too long a time. Water, as is well known, spreads infection quite as readily as milk, and on the core of health alone, the miserable system which now prevails, should be put an end to at once. What is still more important is the question, whether or not the water is pure? I can aver, from my own experience, that the water gives off a most unpleasant smell which forbids one quaffing the fluid without admixture. With these two factors – bad drainage and impure water, a visitation of disease would prove most fatal to the lives of the inhabitants.
I am confident that if the attention of the Board of Supervision for Scotland were called to these circumstances, an enquiry into the sanitary condition and water supply of the town would be immediately ordered. Why has the present state of things been permitted to continue? The answer is as simple as it is unsatisfactory – the inhabitants refuse to allow themselves to be taxed for the enjoyment of good health. Could a more absurd answer be conceived? It is the first principle of the Government that taxes should be paid by the people for its proper administration. But here, in Kirkcudbright, the people contend that they should enjoy all the advantages without paying for them. No doubt they have town lands which yield a yearly income; but with the advance of modern sanitary science, and the increased requirements of the people, it is insufficient for the purpose. It is not even sufficient to maintain the streets in a proper state of repair, much less to provide for a water supply and a system of drainage. The authorities will continue to be impotent so long as the people will not permit the Police Act to be put into operation, and it is, therefore, that I say that disease and infection may eventually have to fight the battle for them. I fervently hope that this prediction will be falsified by the wisdom of the people.