James Newlands

1813 - 1871

Visionary sanitation engineer. Born in Edinburgh, the son of a rope-maker, Newlands attended the High School of Edinburgh and then studied mathematics and natural philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. Having trained as a draughtsman with Edinburgh Corporation, he continued to work for the University designing buildings, undertaking research and extending his education. He also designed Johnston's Free School in Kirkcudbright (1847) and, in the same year, was appointed Borough Engineer for Liverpool. Newlands was shocked by the condition of the city and the health of its people. He realised that a good system of sewers were required to clean the streets and reduce the incidence of disease. After undertaking a particularly detailed trigonometrical survey of the city, he built the world's first integrated sewer network to serve the city, extending to almost 300 miles (483 km). He was the first to connect a water supply to wash sewage from a water-closet into a sewer and out of the city. This system was copied across the world and is now the standard system of sanitation.

Newlands went further believing that physical surroundings also affected mental outlook and moral wellbeing. He built community bath houses, improved street lighting, realised the importance of natural light, together with boulevards and urban parks. He brought about a public health revolution in the city, succeeding in doubling the life expectancy of its population.

During the Crimean War, Newlands was seconded as Sanitary Commissioner to Sevastopol (1854-55) and is credited with greatly reducing the deaths from disease amongst the troops.

He died in Liverpool.

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