Category Archives: Cholera

A Dirty Tale from a Yorkshire Town 

Imagine the following street scenes. 

A crowd of “…..30 to 40 people waiting for water around the public well. The most they get at a time was ….about three gallons, and for this …..the poor people had to go to the well as late as 11 o’clock at night, and as early as 2 or 3 o’clock in the morning”. 

It is a common practice for the people to excavate cesspools in the rock to receive the house refuse, which would otherwise be thrown on the surface of the streets”.   

In some parts of the town he believed there was not more than one privy to 20 houses, all of which were probably densely overcrowded”. 

The entrance into the fold or yard in which this [large common] privy was situated was blocked up with offensive matter, and the smell was quite overpowering”. 

And houses with “…as many as four families were found herding together in one small room”. 

This was Batley in 1852, as described to an official inquiry looking at the state of the town’s sewerage, drainage, water supply and sanitary condition. What on the surface seems a fairly dull, uninspiring document proves to be anything but. The report is packed with evidence from Batley residents and officials detailing the town’s appalling sanitation and water provisions.  

The investigation in to the state of Batley’s sanitation resulted directly from the 1848 Public Health Act. The purpose of this Act was to promote the public’s health and to ensure “more effective provision … for improving sanitary conditions of towns and populace places in England and Wales”. 

Prompted by social reformer Edwin Chadwick, one of the 1834 Poor Law architects, he argued that improving the health of the poor by reducing illness and deaths from infectious diseases would reduce the numbers seeking poor relief. The money saved by reducing the burden of relief would outweigh the costs of public health measures, such as improved drainage and sewerage, provision of clean drinking water and refuse removal. It took the 1848 cholera outbreak to force the Government’s hand. The Act was introduced, making public health a local responsibility, establishing a structure to deal with public health issues and paving the way for future public health developments. 

Under the 1848 Public Health Act provisions, 218 out of Batley’s 1,934 ratepayers, (elsewhere the document mentions  1,935 ratepayers), requested a preliminary inquiry which was held at the Wilton Arms before William Ranger, Superintending Inspector to the General Board of Health. His written findings were delivered in August 1852.

There is a wealth of information in the report, ranging from the growth of the town, mortality and burial charges to daily life and conditions, changing demography and attitudes to the Irish.  

The impression given in Ranger’s report is of a rapidly expanding manufacturing cluster comprising of six townships in 17 square miles, all facing similar water and sanitation problems. These townships , Batley, Heckmondwike, Dewsbury, Liversedge, Gomersal and Cleckheaton, had a combined population of 50,000 but the largest of them on its own totalled a little over than 14,000. As such, they lacked the individual resources in terms of population numbers and finances, to forge independent solutions. Dewsbury was first to apply the Public Health Act, Batley and Heckmondwike followed suit, starting with this inquiry. 

The shortage of water provided a recurring theme in the report. The drought of late 1851, which continued into the spring of 1852, aggravated the situation. But the main issues were the town’s population growth combined with its industries. The sinking of colliery shafts cut supplies to the town’s wells draining them of water, and in any case this water was too hard for cooking and cleaning. The waste and refuse from the burgeoning textile mills, combined with sewage and refuse from houses accommodating a rapidly expanding population, polluted its streams.  

The problem affected all areas of the township, from Carlinghow to Healey. People queued often two to three hours throughout the day and night at public wells to fill three-gallon containers, known locally as kits. Many chose to go at night for shorter queues. Some, like Mr Stubley and Mr E. Taylor, kept children at home specifically for the task of water collection. Others, with no family, had to fit water collection in around long working days. People collected rain water to supplement meagre supplies. Those with money attempted to sink wells, often costly and unsuccesful.

The poor water quality caused disease. According to Rev. Andrew Cassels, vicar at Batley Parish Church, the beck in Batley was in an extremely bad state. A few years previously, mortality of those living near it was so high, as a result of fever, that entire families were wiped out. Mr H. Ingram stated his wife had suffered from incapacitating diarrhoea for a considerable time due to the impure water. Mr J Willans said cattle refused to drink from the beck at Carlinghow; whilst others trailed their livestock for several miles to get drinkable water. As a result milk yields decreased.  

Batley Beck – Photos by Jane Roberts

But, whatever means they employed to collect drinkable water, it still proved insufficient. People resorted to paying water carriers ½d for three gallons of better quality water from a well in neighbouring Morley. Most spent at least 2d to 4d a week for this water, a not insubstantial sum for the poor.  Some paid more – for instance J.T. Marriott paid 2s a week. John Jubb said the normal range was between 3d and 1s 6d. It all depended on the size of family and their finances.

The other issue was lack of sewerage, drains and toilets. Descriptions abounded of areas with no sewers, or ones choked up to the point of overflowing. In other areas houses springing up to accommodate the growing population did not have connections to the main sewers or access to privies. Where privies existed, multiple households shared them, and consequently they became so blocked as to be unusable. Liquid refuse collected outside houses. Rubbish, including the euphemistically named night-soil (human faeces), was thrown in the street or placed in privately-dug street cesspools, from which it then leaked. Animal waste provided another health hazard. For instance horse transport in towns, and the accompanying manure, compounded the issue. Houses were poorly ventilated. The stench was overpowering.  

The Irish came in for particular criticism in the report. The Great Famine, and ensuing mass emigration, commenced in 1845. The famine was only just abating by 1852, by which time Batley had seen a huge influx of Irish, mainly from County Mayo. Medical man George Allbutt said “There had been a considerable immigration of Irish into Batley and neighbouring townships during the last few years, and these people were most filthy in their habits”. John Jubb went even further in his condemnation stating “The immigration of Irish into the district had made it more filthy and unwholesome than it would otherwise have been. These people were in fact demoralizing [sic] the whole town”. One amusing conclusion, hinting at the rivalry between Batley and Dewsbury, read “It is right to say, that many of the Irish, formerly residents in Dewsbury, are now living in Batley, but their habits in no way improved”. What is clear though, the Irish lived in the worst ventilated, overcrowded accommodation and were consequently extremely hard-hit by contagious diseases. 

During the cholera epidemic the largest number of fatal cases occurred in a cellar occupied by Irish people. In 1847 typhus was rife in the Irish enclave at Brown-Hill. However disease was not confined to the Irish. Typhus regularly affected Healey, not an area typically associated with that comunity. Saying that, it is particularly striking that the Healey Lane area of the village/hamlet, which was occupied by the Irish, suffered disproportionally. 

Other areas noteworthy for typhus included Carlinghow (until the beck was covered), New Street, Chapel Fold and Burnley’s Fold. In the September and October 1851 typhus fever outbreak, scarcely a household in Newsome’s Fold, which adjoined a large privy, was unaffected by the disease. 

Henry Brearley, Batley District Registrar, reported 438 death between 1 August 1850-6 July 1852. Epidemic, endemic and contagious diseases accounted for 65 of these, including 21 from measles, 12 from scarlatina, nine from typhus fever and five from smallpox. In fact there was an outbreak of the latter disease at Parson’s Fold, at the exact time William Ranger conducted his inspection. 

Given the connection between health and those receiving poor relief, 119 men, women and children under 16 in Batley received maintenance in the six months to 25 March 1852 , the overwhelming majority outdoor rather than in the workhouse. The total cost for expenditure on the poor in the period exceeded £439, and ranged from officers’ salaries, to medical bills, the maintenance of lunatics in asylum and burials of paupers dying in the workhouse. 

But the problems did not end with death. The burial ground was another source of health concerns. This in an era before the establishment of Batley’s public cemetery, which was not laid out until 1865. Situated in the Old Churchyard at All Saints Batley Parish Church, the Rev Cassels testified the burial ground was so overcrowded “it was difficult to make a fresh grave without disturbing some of those already existing”. Others, like J.M. Marriott thought the old burial ground should be closed because “the extreme wetness of the soil rendered it an unfit place for interments”. There was the imminent prospect of a further plot of churchyard burial land following the Earl of Wilton’s donation of an extra portion of adjoining ground. Nevertheless it was all very worrying, with a rapidly expanding population and the increasing awareness of having burial grounds in town centres. Just think about the water run-off, diseased, decomposing bodies and resulting contaminated water supplies . 

The report gives a year-by-year breakdown of burials in the ten-year period from 1842/3. A total of 1,408 burials took place. 1849/50 saw the highest number, 254. This was almost 100 more than the next highest year, 1848/9. These years coincided with the British cholera epidemic. The report also provides a breakdown of burial costs, including 1s for the clergyman, 8d for the clerk, 1-8s for the sexton depending on grave depth, varying costs depending on headstone type and 4d or 6d for mounding the grave up following interment. 

Other fascinating insights included street lighting. In today’s light-polluted environment where stars cannot be seen, it is hard to imagine Batley as a place where pitch-black darkness descended many areas at nightfall. Complaints of no gas lamps from ½-1 mile of homes were commonplace, despite paying gas lighting rates, and this in places like Carlinghow Lane. Imagine having to make your way in the dark, through refuse-filled streets, to and from the well to collect three gallons of water.

One final snippet of particular interest to me with my Healey origins, is a year ending 25 March 1849 highways entry. It shows the princely sum of over a £1 paid for young trees when widening Healey Lane. I wonder if any of these trees stand today? I will look at them with new eyes now. 

As a result of the inquiry and Ranger’s report, a Batley District Local Board of Health was established in 1853. Batley, along with the local boards of Dewsbury and Heckmondwike, obtained an Act of Parliament in 1854 for supplying the three districts with water. The White’s 1858 Directory stated the waterworks were approaching completion, supplied from large reservoirs excavated in the moorland dells near Dunford Bridge, 17 miles south-west of Dewsbury. The water was intended to be conveyed in open culverts and large cast-iron pipes to service reservoirs at Boothroyd and Staincliffe. The former was to supply Dewsbury and the latter Batley and Heckmondwike. Both this Directory, and the 1857 Post Office Directory of Yorkshire, named Thomas Dean as the clerk for Batley. By 1860 water was coming through.

However the amalgamation of Batley, Dewsbury and Heckmondwike was never going to work, such was the rivalry between the towns. The joint Water Board scheme was doomed for failure right from the start, with reservoir leaks, water shortages and friction about rights to excess water, if a town failed to use its right to a third of the supplies: Dewsbury seemingly preferring to sell its surplus to areas other than partner Batley, even when Batley was short and willing to pay. 

By 1870 Batley had had enough of the politicking and inadequate water supply. With the town’s industrial growth the Corporation felt they could now go it alone. Accordingly they obtained an Acts of Parliament in 1871 and 1878 to build their own waterworks. The works were situated on the eastern slopes of the Pennine chain, between Holmfirth and Dunford Bridge. It included three reservoirs, Yateholme (work commencing 1874), Riding Wood (work starting in 1874) and Ramsden (with an 1881 building start date). Their combined capacity was around 231,000,000 gallons of water. This was conveyed by means of a large main to the service reservoir at Staincliffe, and from there distributed throughout Batley. Construction work on the Staincliffe service reservoir finally commenced in 1875. These works were erected at a cost of £360,000.

Staincliffe Reservoir – Photo by Jane Roberts

For those with Batley ancestors, the male-exclusive group mentioned in the 1852 report include: 

  • Henry Akeroyd
  • George Allbutt, Esq
  • William Bailey
  • J(ohn) Blackburn, a resident
  • Henry Brearley, Registrar
  • Rev Andrew Cassels, Vicar of Batley
  • Joseph Chadwick, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Mr (Robert) Clapham, sub-agent to the Earl of Wilton
  • B Clay
  • John Day
  • Thomas Dean, Esq, residing at Healey, on the Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852,
  • Benjamin Exley
  • D Fox
  • S Fox
  • John Gledhill, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Richard Greenwood, clothier
  • W(illiam) Hall, assistant overseer
  • Mr Hampson, head agent for the Earl of Wilton
  • J Hepworth
  • Mr Ibbetson, a ratepayer
  • Mr A Ibbetson (possibly Mr Ibbetson, above)
  • H Ingram
  • John Jubb, a resident ratepayer (there is also a John Jubb, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852, so possibly the same man)
  • J Jubb (possibly John or Joseph Jubb)
  • Joseph Jubb, jun, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • Samuel Jubb
  • W(illiam) Knowles Esq, Surgeon
  • J.T. Marriott
  • Mr Porritt, sexton
  • Mr Shackleton
  • Mr (John) Sharp
  • Mr Spedding
  • Mr Stubley, a resident ratepayer
  • E Taylor
  • George Thornton
  • A(braham) Walker, Carlinghow Lane
  • John Whitaker
  • Mr (Thomas) Wilby, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852
  • J Willans
  • Mr (David) Wilson, Local Government Board of Surveyors 25 March 1852

Names in brackets are where a name appears in the report as a surname only in one place, with a full Christian name elsewhere. So possibly the same man.

Sources:

  • Report to the General Board of Health on a Preliminary Inquiry into the Sewerage, Drainage, and the Supply of Water, and the Sanitary Condition of the Inhabitants of the Township of Batley” – William Ranger Esq, 16 August 1852
  • Post Office Directory of Yorkshire – 1857
  • William White’s Directory and Topography of the Boroughs of Leeds, Halifax, Huddersfield, and Wakefield; Dewsbury, Heckmondwike etc – 1858
  • The History of Batley” – Malcolm H Haigh
  • Kelly’s Directory of the West Riding of Yorkshire – 1927
  • Borough of Batley Year Book 1959-60 (courtesy of Wendy Storey)

A Short Life Remembered: King Cholera’s Deadly Reign

This is another in my “Short Lives Remembered” series. It focuses on often-forgotten children in family trees who died all too young. The ones who never had chance to marry, have children and descendants to cherish their memory. The ones who, but for family history researchers, would be forever forgotten.

This post is about Sarah Clough. Sadly the most remarkable thing I know about her life is her death.

Sarah was the fourth child of my 3x great grandparents William and Mary Clough (née Burnett). She was born on 22 February 1833 in Adwalton Yorkshire and baptised in the parish church of St Peter’s, Birstall on 2 June 1833.

Historically, Adwalton is probably best known for its part in the English Civil War: The scene of the Battle of Adwalton Moor, when the Royalist forces of the Earl of Newcastle defeated the Parliamentarian forces of Sir Thomas Fairfax bringing Yorkshire under Royalist control.

Alongside it’s neighbour Drighlington, to where the Clough family moved, this was an otherwise historically unremarkable village, following the normal industrial revolution growth and development patterns of other West Riding villages in the 19th century.

By the time of Sarah’s birth, textile manufacture was supplanting farming and mining as principal occupations in Adwalton and Drighlington. William, her father, worked as a clothier, following the traditional occupations of the area. This was before fate stepped in and his working life took a totally different path. But that’s for another time.

Sarah only features in one census, that of 1841. She is shown living in Drighlington with her parents and three older siblings. The next record I have is her death certificate. Which brings me to a period in time when Drighlington hit the news for entirely unwelcome reasons.

Sarah died there on 10 August 1849, age 16. No occupation given, so I do not know if she followed her elder sister into a worsted spinning job in one of the area’s relatively new mills. She’s described merely as the daughter of William Clough. He registered her death the following day.

The certificate reveals she suffered one of those truly awful, and all too common, deaths of our ancestors. It indicates she died after suffering for 11 hours from “malignant cholera”.

Cause of Death Extract from Sarah Clough’s Death Certificate

So once more I venture into the depressing medical world family history researchers frequently inhabit. This time learning about cholera.

Malignant cholera was one of the names given to Asiatic cholera. This was distinct from English cholera. Adverts in 1849 stated that English cholera, which all persons more or less suffered from in summer months, was characterised by “violent looseness of the bowels, attended with sickness, and in extreme cases violent cramps”.  In other words dysentery and food poisoning, more commonly known as gastroenteritis today. If left untreated it could result in Asiatic cholera, or so some quack newspaper adverts claimed.

English Cholera Description, “Leeds Intelligencer” 25 August 1849

In fact Asiatic cholera was a different entity. Originating in India, it first reached the shores of Great Britain in the autumn of 1831, after its relentless march across Europe. It’s first victim was in Sunderland. The epidemic dissipated the following Autumn, but not before claiming the souls of some 32,000 people, roughly a 50 per cent death rate of those afflicted. In these pre-civil registration days this is only a rough estimate, with ranges fluctuating between 20,000 to 50,000+[1]

L0008118 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit

L0008118 A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832. Coloured lit Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A dead victim of cholera at Sunderland in 1832 by IWG. Coloured Lithograph Circa 1832 Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Like English cholera, Asiatic cholera also struck without warning, but it’s symptoms were more extreme. Although not the top killer in the country during the period, its high mortality rate and the speed with which it killed caused panic. Those afflicted were gripped by dramatic diarrhoea, terrible abdominal cramps and vomiting. In the most severe cases the loss of body fluids was so appalling that the victims rapidly became dehydrated, cold, withered and gaunt. Often their faces became unrecognisably shrunken and they could develop a blue-grey tinge to their skin. The swiftness with which victims succumbed is illustrated by the fact that Sarah was dead within 11 hours of the onset of her symptoms.

V0010485 A young Viennese woman, aged 23, depicted before and after

V0010485 A young Viennese woman, aged 23, depicted before and after Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org A young Viennesen woman, aged 23, depicted before and after contracting cholera. Coloured stipple engraving. Published: – Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Victims died as a result of dehydration, sometimes hastened by medical ministrations which could be based on purging the body of impurities. Laxatives, such as mercury, and emetics like opium were amongst the armoury of potentially prescribed medications. Hardly the most suitable concoctions to give to patients already exhausted from sickness and diarrhoea. Other remedies touted at this time were passing steam over the patient or pouring boiling water on the patient’s stomach, brandy, bloodletting and “hot air baths”, all of which made dehydration worse. Even arsenic was prescribed.

Official advice, as well as druggists adverts, featured in the press of the day. All equally ineffective.

Official Cholera Remedy – ” Leeds Intelligencer” 23 June 1849

Fundamental to the grip the frightening disease had on the country was the lack of understanding of its causes and transmission. The prevalent theory was that the disease was caused and spread by smelly, contaminated air, otherwise known as miasma. Getting rid of foul smells, including improved sanitation, would combat the deadly menace. Attempts were made to fumigate buildings in affected communities by burning sulphur or tar. Drinking brandy or eating copious quantities of garlic were also widely believed to be a preventative measures.

L0003001 A court for King Cholera

L0003001 A court for King Cholera Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org ‘A court for King Cholera’ is hardly an exaggeration of many dwelling places of the poor in London. 19th century Punch Published: 1852 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Medical thinking had not progressed beyond this when the next deadly wave of the disease spread through Britain throughout 1848-49. The poor still lived in cramped and unhygienic conditions, sewerage was still largely inadequate and water supplies were still vulnerable to contamination: All these factors exacerbated by urbanisation. The miasma theory still held sway, promoted by the likes of social reformer Edwin Chadwick. There was no expert agreement about whether or not it was contagious, with debates on the subject aired in the press.

“The Leeds Times” 14 October 1848

However prudent advice in “The Leeds Mercury” of 29 September 1849 suggested precautions such as burning beds and clothing of the deceased and, in what looks like an early attempt funeral humour, “early (though not premature) interment“. In 1849 Dr John Snow publicly stated the disease was transmitted through water. His voice was dismissed.

In terms of fatalities this second outbreak of the disease proved to be the most serious of 19th century epidemics to hit Britain. Estimates vary between 53,000 and 62,000 lives lost[2], including that of Sarah Clough.

L0039174 Map of England showing prevalence of cholera, 1849

L0039174 Map of England showing prevalence of cholera, 1849 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org Map of England shaded to show the prevalence of cholera in the several districts during the epidemic of 1849. The relative degree of mortality is expressed in the darkness of the shading. The dates indicate the time at which the epidemic broke out. Printed Reproduction 1852 Report on the mortality of cholera in England, 1848-49. Great Britain. General Register Office. Published: 1852. Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/


Drighlington was particularly hard hit. Looking at the Drighlington St Paul’s burial register Sarah was just one of many of the village’s inhabitants to die in the summer of 1849.

A look at the a parish register shows 17 burials in August 1849. Of these 15 were Drighlington inhabitants, two from Adwalton. Sarah’s burial took place on 11 August 1849. Compare this with three June burials; four in July; one in September; four in October. Looking at the month of August in the years sandwiching 1849, August 1848 had four burials; whilst August 1850 shows only one. So a dramatic spike that cholera-affected month of August 1849.

The terror of the inhabitants felt is unimaginable: An illness with an incorrectly vague cause and no known cure sweeping their hometown; neighbours, friends and families being suddenly struck down; a succession of funerals held in the local church; many more suffering the distressing and debilitating effects of the illness. 

Newspapers, filled daily with cholera returns and countrywide reports, ratcheted up anxiety levels. They even remarked on the disproportionate numbers affected in Drighlington. For example, this from the “Bradford Observer” of 16 August 1849:

In our last number, we recorded a death from Asiatic cholera in Drighlington. Since then, five other cases have occurred, all of which proved fatal. Taking into consideration the size of the village and the population, this fearful malady is spreading more rapidly than in towns, where the population is so dense. The number of deaths from Asiatic cholera since the commencement a fortnight ago being seven, besides several others from English cholera”.

The “Leeds Intelligencer” of 18 August 1849 put the number of deaths at 11 and described clean-up measures to tackle the outbreak.

“Leeds Intelligencer” 18 August 1849

Put into context the 1851 population of Drighlington township was 2,740. So 11 cholera-related deaths in such a short space of time, not to mention those infected and recovering, and it’s easy to see how ravages of the illness would affect a significant proportion of the village one way or another.

Two further waves of cholera swept Britain but with decreasing death tolls – the 1853-54 outbreak claimed 20,000 souls[3]. Following this outbreak John Snow was able to prove his theory about the bacterial nature of the disease, when he isolated the source of the 1854 Soho outbreak to a contaminated Broad Street water pump.

Although full acceptance was slow, it was an important step in paving the way to laying to rest the bad air/miasma theory. This, ironically combined with the Public Health Acts and Sanitary Act resulting from the work of Chadwick, meant the disease was increasingly more effectively prevented and the 1865-66 epidemic accounted for a mere 10,000 – 14,000 deaths, depending on statistical sources.[4].

It wasn’t until 1883 that a German doctor, Robert Koch, isolated the cholera bacillus. And over 30 years more years elapsed before a vaccination became generally available in 1914.

So the short life of Sarah Clough is significant for the disease which cut it short. Just one of many thousands of people mowed down in Britain alone in what were the worldwide 19th century cholera pandemics. As a result of my research into Sarah’s death, the disease for me is now more than a name.

Others who feature in this series of “Short Lives Remembered” posts are:

 

Footnotes:

Sources: 

GRO Picture Credit: 

Extract from GRO death register entry for Sarah Clough: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance.