I've been researching some buildings in Hartlepool - Robson's buildings, Brougham Street on the Headland - using newspaper archives.

It seems a pretty rough sort of place, while in 1883 & 1885 there are adverts for tenements to let describing them as large and airy (drafty?) and saying only good tenants will be accepted there are large numbers of crime reports from drunkenness, violence, theft and even child abuse involving residents of these buildings. There are also reports from 1876 saying there are concerns about sanitation, with an escalation in the problem in 1890s and reports on ongoing disrepair in 1901 etc

It is described as:
"four-storied houses, the two low storeys being below the surface of the ground, consequently there is an area in front, and the upper tenements are reached by steps which are protected at the sides by iron palisading about three feet high."

Looking at maps and descriptions it looks like pairs of houses shared a set of steps. There are a number of reported accidents including deaths of people falling down or from the steps. Now I have seen plenty of large town houses with a single basement story where there is a hollow area for windows and sometimes stairs for access, but I've never seen one with two storeys under the ground. It seems a lot of work to dig out for two levels of basement.

Does anyone know of this style of building in this period?

This seems particularly unusual as being close to the sea and overlooking what was then the town moor I would have thought the chance of flooding was quite high although I didn't see any reports of this. The only thing that seems possible reason is that there was one reference to it having been on the site of a small quarry. There is a quarry in that area in 1861, I am not convinced this is the right location, although I guess the quarry may have been bigger prior to that.

Another thing that I'd never heard of before was elevated privies.

“..that on the ground floor where was an ash-pit, 7’6” by 3’6” and about 18 inches below the level of the street. There were privies above at heights of 20’10”, 11’10” and 4’4” in Robson’s Buildings, Back Brougham Street. There were 39 persons who used the ash pit in the house, and it also received all the refuse from the next house, so that altogether 72 persons used the one pit."

I'm having trouble imagining what this might have been. I've looked up ash pits and privies and seen that generally this is a wooden hut over a pit with ash being used to cover the night soil. I have seen references to ash being regularly collected from ash pits and used in building trade etc - but they didn't mention ash pits that were also middens, so I have no idea if this "nuisance" was something that would have been removed at intervals or was just building up.

A Corporation Surveyor said "The ashpits shown on the plans was not fit or reasonable for the accommodation of the refuse of 72 people. It was wrong in every way. The open privies would act as a ventilating shaft to carry foul smells into the house."

Does anyone have any idea on what these would have looked like? I'm thinking several small rooms inside the building, one on each floor, with a chute going down into the pit? Like a Garde robe?

I can see that Public Health Act 1875 c.55 PART III PRIVIES, WATERCLOSETS, &C. says

"If a house within the district of a local authority appears to such authority by the report of their surveyor or inspector of nuisances to be without a sufficient watercloset earthcloset or privy and an ashpit, furnished with proper doors and coverings, the local authority shall, by written notice, require the owner or occupier of the house, within a reasonable time therein specified, to provide a sufficient watercloset earthcloset or privy and an ashpit furnished as aforesaid, or either of them, as the case may require."

If it is the buildings I think they are there on 1861 map so it is possible that these were added on after it was built?

Anyway, basically, who can tell me about poor Victorian poop?! Thanks!