James Gent

2nd son of Jonathan Gent (b 1785)

James Gent was born 5 May 1811 and christened at the church of St Andrew in Leyland.  He married Alice Whiteside who was born in 1813 in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire.  They married 1 January 1833 in Leyland.

In 1861 Jonathan and his wife lived at 378 Scotland Road, Liverpool.  He was a grocer in 1861 and a beer retailer in 1865

Scotland Road, Liverpool c1913
Scotland Rd, Liverpool c1913

The area in which he was living had some of the worst slums in the North West.  According to Liverpool’s first Medical Officer of Health in 1846, about half of the population of Liverpool were living in crowded, insanitary courtyards.  They would often share just a single water pipe in the street and a couple of toilets, often several yards from their home.

An American writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, who was United States Consul in Liverpool in 1852 wrote about his first impressions of the slums.

Describing a child in the street gazing into a shop window he describes the substandard food a poor person might just be able to afford.

“The child’s face with dark, knowing eyes gleaming through the dirt like sunshine through a dusty window pane;  at a provisions-shop, the little heaps of selvages and corners, snipt off from points and steaks”.

A slum child would never know the taste of a steak.  He also noted that when walking in Liverpool every two or three steps there would be a gin shop.  He described the area as,

“inhabited by poorer classes filthy in clothes and person, ragged, pale and often affected with humors [watery eyes];  women nursing their babies at dirty bosoms;  men haggard, drunken, careworn, hopeless, but with a kind of patience, as if all this were the rule of their life.  Groups would stand or sit talking together, around the door-steps, or in the descent of a cellar;  often a quarrel is going on in one group, for which the next group cares little or nothing”.

The water supply was bad and the cause of many cholera outbreaks.  At least the water in the beer had been boiled and was safer to drink for both adults and children, the beer in those days being less strong than it is today.  Therefore, it could be argued that although excessive use of the beer house may result in extreme poverty for the family, in moderation it could be an escape from the horrific conditions most people lived in and safer to drink than water.

Housing was poor with infestations of bugs and fleas, and streaming walls because of poor ventilation.  When the poor could afford to buy food it was often adulterated by the shopkeeper, for example sawdust would be added to sugar and unimaginable things added to sausages!

Health was, of course, extremely poor and it is easy to see why Abraham Hume, the vicar of Vauxhall in Liverpool decided to collect statistics of the health of his parishioners.

In 1858,

83 died of fever

219 died of smallpox

120 died of convulsions

28 died of decay of age

2 died of drunkenness

358 died of consumption (tuberculosis)

It is interesting that tuberculosis, a disease of the poor, is once again in 2008 increasing in this country (and with a Labour government, supposedly a party for the poor, in power!)