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Spotlight On: Thomas Fresh

Thomas Fresh

1803-1861

Resident of Freshfield, Thomas Fresh is considered by many to be the pioneer of British environmental health.

Fresh, praised for his ‘zeal and devotedness,’ lay the groundwork for a cleaner, safer space for all of us.

Born on a farm in Dalton-in-Furness into a mining and trading family, Fresh did not receive a formal education, instead working for the family business.

In 1839, Fresh was working as a policeman in Liverpool and was promoted in 1841 to ‘Inspector of Police.’ Despite his lack of formal education, Fresh ‘showed such intelligence, zeal, and activity’ that he was promoted to Inspector of Nuisances in Liverpool in 1844, and later worked alongside Dr William Henry Duncan, the first Medical Officer for Health, and James Newlands, the Borough Engineer 

This role was varied and built upon his work as a policeman where he was involved in various environmental health projects. He served as Superintendent of Alms Houses and Superintendent of Scavengers which involved working with the very poor and dealing with waste and refuse collection.

Fresh also arranged for Liverpool’s ‘night soil’ to be transported to Freshfield for use as a fertiliser on unproductive land. This was essential in the development of potato and asparagus farming and cultivation.

Fresh’s team were not trained and his department was established without existing infrastructure to assist them. Fresh built a functioning system with very little resource and the department became a model for other local authorities.

Fresh received a small salary compared with other colleagues and his team made a big difference with very little.

One paper hailed his work saying: ‘Their services are secured for little more than £1200 a year, a proof that in this department, at least, no extravagant salaries are given. The inspector, who brings to his work a zeal and devotedness rarely witnessed in public service of long standing, has only £170 a year.’

His work led, in the words of a contemporary, to ‘an astonishing decrease in those particular diseases which are generally considered to prevail in badly sewered and badly ventilated districts. Much good has undoubtedly been done by the Health Committee and their officers.’

Alongside his work in environmental health, Fresh was a prominent member of the community, with enough local influence to have the area, Freshfield, named after him and a rail station built on behalf of his neighbours.

Freshfield Station was built in 1854, a lasting testament to Thomas Fresh and his contribution to community and local health.

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