Radcliffe on Trent Cholera Epidemic 1849

In Victorian England, an important concern was to improve the nation’s health. Epidemics of cholera and typhoid were common, while smallpox, diphtheria, scarlet fever and measles all contributed to a death rate which would have been unacceptable today. Availability of unpolluted water and effective sewage disposal were essential for improvement. Nottingham benefited from a scheme for piped water from 1830, but in Radcliffe the water supply came mainly from wells and streams which were polluted by waste. The main stream, the Syke Drain, flowed through the village centre, and it often smelled and became blocked. Cholera swept through England in 1849. The first 12 Radcliffe victims were recorded by the vicar Robert Burgess in the burial register as “fatalities caused by Asiatic cholera”.  Among them was Ann Robinson, a 26 year-old described as “a stout healthy person” and her baby Harriet were buried on 3rd October and the last victims, whose ages ranged from infancy to 74 years, were buried on 14th November. Four families were especially affected; the Robinsons, Helmsleys, Breedons and Caunts (of whom 4 died). Many more cases were not fatal. The inquest published in The Journal for 28th September stated that there were poor sanitary conditions in several village homes in addition to overcrowding. Mount Pleasant was at the centre of the outbreak. At the inquest on 5 year old Jane Caunt (whose mother and grandmother died while the inquest was taking place), it was stated that “the house is in a very unhealthy situation, there being a great number of pigsties and privies in the neighbourhood, and there has always been an ill smell throughout the house”.

Mount Pleasant, Radcliffe on Trent

While the vicar sustained the spirit of the Parish, it was Doctor William Martin who attended to the victims physical needs. A resident doctor in the village was a sign of progress. His devotion to duty during the outbreak was recognised at a dinner in his honour at The Manvers Arms on 26th December 1849, where he was presented with £20 collected by the villagers in gratitude “for his kind and liberal attention to the poor during the late prevalence of cholera and fever”. He remained in Radcliffe until his death whilst visiting Buxton in July 1870. His body was returned to Radcliffe and he became the first person to be buried in the new village cemetery.