In Tudor times Blackburn's water supply was a draw well by the old market cross at the junction of Darwen Street and Church Street. An even more ancient spring was at the foot of Spring Bank on the east bank of the Blakewater near the old Parish Church. This was known as Alleys or Hallows Springs. Another old well was St Mary's well where the Railway Station now stands.
Hallows Springs flowed into a large stone trough sunk into the ground. It was approached by a narrow lane from Salford Bridge. As Blackburn's population soared in the early days of industrialisation the supply was inadequate and there were queues for water all day long. In wet weather the narrow lane became muddy and impassable.
The Committee for the Relief of the Poor set men to improving the approach road and to digging another well. They opened up new springs in the old well too until the supply was increased fourfold.
The well at Hollinshead Hall in Tockholes has long been a subject for speculation. The springs that feed it have been acclaimed for their medicinal powers. It was thought their waters were particularly restorative for eye complaints. The well house has the feel of a place of worship and it is said the cisterns of water were used for baptisms.
In the first half of the 19th century outbreaks of disease were common. Epidemics such as Scarlet Fever, Cholera and Typhus were regular occurrences. Both the local rivers, the Blakewater and the Darwen were heavily polluted and spread disease as a result. After Blackburn's Incorporation in 1851, public health measures started to be put into place. A sewage system amounting to 30 miles in length was installed. Initially sewage was discharged into the Blakewater at Wensley Fold. Later a sewage farm was built at Hoghton Bottoms to stop the need for such discharges. In 1875, land was purchased at Samlesbury and another sewage farm was built.
The next major work was the provision of a municipal cemetery on land between Little Harwood and Whalley New Road. The church burial grounds had become full and disposal of the dead was becoming a problem. The Cemetery opened in 1857 and 2,500 burials a year became the average.
Waterworks had existed from 1772. The reservoir was at Pemberton Clough, which was to become the site of the Corporation Park. The Blackburn Waterwork Company was formed in 1844 to improve the water supply for the growing population. New reservoirs were built at Guide and Pickup Bank. Water supplies were purchased in the Bowland Forest and the water was stored in the reservoirs at Guide and the Corporation Park.
Prior to incorporation, refuse was thrown into ash pits, water courses or empty spaces. The Council provided disposal plants and tips, by the end of the 19th century. Horse-drawn refuse carts carried out collections.
As a result of these improvements, life expectancy increased. Death rates were still above the national average, but they did show a consistent fall. Social class also had a big influence on mortality, with the highest rates inevitably being recorded in slum areas.
Infant mortality was also high in these areas. Pregnant women were undernourished and many worked right to the end of their pregnancies. Some babies were even born in the mills as their mothers were still working. The babies were poorly fed on scraps and contaminated milk.
Life was still hard for the millworkers into the 20th century, living in the middle of an industrial community, with a predominance of terraced housing. The middle classes on the other hand had moved out to the pleasanter areas on the higher ground on the outskirts of the town.