willenhall memorial clock Willenhall History Society

Cholera in Willenhall

A season of deep and general affliction and alarm.

The story of the four Cholera epidemics of the Nineteenth Century and their effect in particular on the town of Willenhall .

Written by Horace Davis

Contents

Bibliography

Notes

Willenhall's Rapid Growth

The First Attack

Willenhall Gets Prepared

1849 - Willenhall's Hour Is Come

Doctor Purdey Arrives From London

Winding Down: Dr Purdey Returns To London

Cholera Strikes Again

The Final Fling

The Final Act

BIBLIOGRAPHY

The majority of the material contained herein was obtained from the following sources:-

The Willenhall Vestry Minute Book for the period 1839 to 1857.

The Willenhall Board of Health Minute Book for 1865/6 - Walsall Local History Centre.

A History of Darlaston (1887) F.W. Hackwood.

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NOTES

The generally accepted figure for the number of deaths from cholera in 1849 is 292 as quoted by Norman Tildesley in "A History of Willenhall" (1953). Various other sources such as White's Directory of Staffordshire give different figures. It has not been possible to verify the accuracy of these figures with any certainty.

It was established in the 1850s after research by Pasteur and Koch that cholera was in fact caused by a water borne bacteria and therefore was not contagious.

Many of the precautions taken during the epidemic such as the burning of the beds and bedding, and the drinking of copious amounts of brandy, were somewhat misguided but did in fact help to alleviate the situation.

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Willenhall's Rapid Growth

Around 200 years ago Willenhall was a small town of some 3,000 people, mostly living in poor conditions on either side of the main road from Walsall to Wolverhampton, which in those days passed along Walsall Road, Walsall Street, Cheapside, Cross Street, Market Place and Wolverhampton Street into Somerford, and through Portobello to Wolverhampton.

The New Road had not yet been cut, the railway had not arrived, and the area now covered by the railway track and the New Road was an area of outstanding beauty known as The Shrubbery, which actually contained pools with fish in them. The roads were little more than dirt tracks full of potholes which had no drainage and were of course never swept.

Along this route in poor housing, the people of Willenhall lived out their miserable lives. The houses were so close together that there was little natural light and of course artificial light did not exist as lighting by either gas or electricity had not yet been heard of in Willenhall. There was no pure piped water supply and people relied mostly on communal wells or pumps which drew water from underground, much of it contaminated by the soil through which it passed on the way to the well. There was of course no system of refuse disposal so all rubbish was thrown out into the street and left to rot. There were no flush toilets and families had to rely on communal privies, shared with all the other people who lived in the same yard. Overcrowding as a result of large families was also a problem and people generally lived in conditions of primitive squalor.

In the early years of the last century the discovery of new ways of smelting iron together with the discovery of large quantities of coal and limestone in this area saw the beginning of what came to be known as the industrial revolution, as furnaces sprang up and the demand for more and more coal and limestone to feed them became evident, people began to pour into the area looking for work and of course somewhere for them and their families to live. In this situation and with an eye to increasing the family income, lodgers were taken into homes that were already overcrowded by any standards and this continued for some time until new houses were built in order to accommodate the sudden increase of population.


Living conditions, which were already far from acceptable, deteriorated rapidly as more and more families poured in looking for work in the ever expanding coalfields. Here then was a crisis which was just waiting to happen.

With such appalling and insanitary conditions, it is little wonder that such diseases as Asiatic Cholera, Typhoid etc. were regular visitors to the area and with medical knowledge at that time being very limited, people lived in terror that the hot summer weather would bring with it an outbreak of one or other of these deadly diseases.

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The First Attack

There were four major outbreaks of Cholera in England during the nineteenth century, the first of which was in 1832, when between June and August no fewer than 9,514 cases were reported in the Black Country area of which 2,311 proved to be fatal.

Statistics for the 1832 epidemic

 

 

 

Po pulation

 

 

Town

Census 1831

Cases

Deaths

Bilston

14492

3568

742

Darlaston

6647

222

68

Dudley

23043

1124

277

Kingswinford

15156

263

87

Sedgley

20577

1349

290

Tipton

14941

1452

404

Walsall

15066

346

85

Wednesbury

8437

285

95

West Brom

15327

297

193

Wolverhampton

24732

565

193

Wednesfield

1879

1

0

Willenhall

5834

42

8

 

166141

9514

2311

As can be seen from these figures, apart from the then small township of Wednesfield , which suffered only one case and that was not fatal, Willenhall escaped from the 1832 outbreak lightly by comparison with the surrounding towns.

Only 42 cases were reported and of these only 8 proved fatal.

By comparison, Bilston suffered dreadfully, approximately a quarter of the total population was afflicted by the disease and of these 742 proved to be fatal. So on this occasion, Willenhall could breathe a sigh of relief and prepare for the next time.

By the time the last case was reported on November 29th, a National Appeal had been launched to help relieve the distress which the epidemic had caused, as a result of which £15,571 had been raised by voluntary efforts and distributed among the towns which had been affected. This was of course in addition to the resources from a heavy poor rate and the money which was raised locally.

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Willenhall Gets Prepared

It was this tragedy that first began to convince the nation that the Vestry system of Local Government was no longer adequate for dealing with epidemics like this, but changes were still a long way off in Willenhall although by the time of the next epidemic an emergency plan was in place and the town was much better prepared than it had ever been.

The fIrst steps came as a result of a meeting of Parishioners held on October 9th 1848 at the instigation of the Willenhall Vestry, at which it was decided to form a Committee of Health for the parish of Willenhall, with the following being elected to serve:-

The Reverends

G.H. Fisher, The Rev. T.W. Fletcher, The Rev. Jas. Lecky, The Rev. Chas Janion,The Rev. Ed. Jones

MR. JEREMIAH HARTILL, SURGEON

Other Members

Thos. Asquith, Thos. Hincks, R. Davis, T. Hackett, P. Dyer

R. Tildesley, Thos. Johnson, Mr Tildesley, Richard Tildesley

Surgeons

Mr J. Hartill, Mr J. Froysell, Mr C.Oakley

H.Jeavons, Josiah Tildesley, R. Foster, Thos. Davis

Ed. Davies, John Cooke, Mr Austin , Jas. Tildesley

The committee had power to add to that number and also were empowered to act as they saw fit.

It was also decided to write to the Guardians of the Wolverhampton Union requesting the appointment of a committee of that body to act in union with the local committee for the parish of Willenhall. The committee would also meet at 10 o'clock on the following Monday morning to proceed with the inspection of the parish.

At the subsequent meeting of the committee on October 23rd it was decided to divide the town into 3 sub districts as follows:-

Church District

St. Stephens District

1. That part of Portobello lying north of Wolverhampton Road from the Railway Bridge to the junction with Wednesfield parish.

2. That part of Portobello lying South of the road to Wolverhampton from Railway Bridge to Moseley Road .

3. Begins at Railway bridge, runs at old road to Wolverhampton Street , down Market Place across Waterglade, up Mill Lane to junction with Darlaston parish, along the road to Bilston, leaving that road at Stokes Engine and running up to Bunkers Hill.

4.So contained at North Side of Cross Street, West side of Lichfield Street, the south side of Workhouse Lane and East side of road, along footpath through Peter Baker's land to Noose Lane.

Trinity District

St. Stephens and Holy Trinity were newly created parishes with the Rev. T.W. Fletcher appointed as first vicar of St. Stephens and the Rev. James Lecky, vicar of Short Heath. Neither parish at this time had its own church and both clergy were having to hold their services in improvised buildings and at the same time raise money to build their new churches.

The following Inspectors were appointed for each district:-

The Church District

The Rev. G.H. Fisher, Mr Richard Tildesley, Mr Hackett,Mr Henry Tildesley, Mr Jeavons, Mr Dyer, Mr J. Hartill and Mr Job; Hickman

The St. Stephens District

The Rev. T.W. Fletcher, Rev. Chas. Janion, Mr Neville, Mr Jas. Tildesley, Mr Wm Hodson, Mr John Greader, Mr John Cook, Mr Robinson and Mr Thos. Hincks

The Trinity District

The Rev. James Lecky, Rev. Ed. Jones, Mr Jas. George, Mr R. Davies, Mr T. Bayley, Mr Abraham Thompson, Mr Jas. Pritchard, Mr John Haley, Mr Henry Halls and Mr Huffadine

It was decided that the Health Committee would meet in one weeks time on Monday October 30th to receive and consider reports from the Inspectors, but as not all the reports were in it was decided to defer consideration for a further week. The reports which had been received, however, showed an amount of filth and nuisance and every member of the committee was asked personally to assert himself to ameliorate the condition of the parish, and with this view the committee pledged themselves to visit the areas already inspected and urge on those concerned the removal of the nuisances.

At its meeting of Monday November 6th The Rev. G.H. Fisher was requested to draw up a notice to the inhabitants on the subject of Public Health, which should be printed and circulated. It was also resolved that the Rev. J.B. Owen be requested to deliver at Willenhall, a lecture on Health and Cleanliness.

Meetings were held weekly on Mondays and on November 13th there was a recommendation by the Rev. G.H. Fisher, that "The Weatherfield Notice" be adopted with the addition which had been suggested being added. This was agreed and it was decided that 1500 copies be printed and circulated among the inhabitants. What effect this was expected to have is difficult to imagine as most of the inhabitants could neither read nor write.

 

REV GEORGE HUTCHINSON FISHER, VICAR OF WILLENHALL 1834-1888

 

As the weeks went by and nothing happened attendances at the Health Committee meetings declined, on November 27th only the Revs G.H. Fisher, Jas Lecky and Chas Janion attended and on December 4th only the Revs G.H. Fisher and T.W. Fletcher were present.

Both these meetings were adjourned.

On Monday December 15th the Rev. G.H. Fisher recorded that he had attended at the Vestry from 3 o'clock until 20 minutes past three but as no one else had by then arrived, the meeting was again adjourned.

With the onset of winter it seemed that Willenhall had been spared for the time being and the committee went into abeyance, to be resurrected again with the approach of the fateful summer of 1849.

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1849 - Willenhall's Hour Is Come

On July 13th 1849 Willenhall's Health Committee re-convened and began making preparations, little knowing what perils lay ahead for the citizens of the town. In a short time their resources and resolve would be tested to the limits of human endurance as the worst epidemic in the history of the town was about to manifest itself. As yet they were oblivious to what lay ahead as they once more made their preparations for what they always hoped would not happen.

At that meeting it was decided to purchase two dozen whitewash brushes and two tons of lime and that the brushes be lent, and the lime given to such poor persons as were desirous of whitewashing their dwellings. It was also decided that bills be circulated informing the poor that brushes may be borrowed and lime obtained at the following places throughout Willenhall.

Mr Thos. Davis, Walsall Street

Mr Daniel Thompson, New Road

Mr Richard Foster, Little London

Mr Richard Davies, Lane Head

Mr John Carter, Portobello

Samuel Smith was employed to obtain the lime and he was told to bring the best quality.

It was decided that in the event of the Board of Guardians refusing to pay the expenses attending these arrangements, then the committee pledged itself to defray the cost. A request was also made to the Board of Guardians for them to open their dispensaries for persons attacked with bowel complaints.

The committee met again on the following Friday, July 20th, but as nothing had yet happened the meeting was adjourned Sine die. It seemed like the calm before the storm.

The committee met again on August 13th, by which time Asiatic Cholera had made its appearance in the Wolverhampton Union. A communication from the Wolverhampton Board of Guardians was presented to the Local Health Committee by Mr Richard Foster, who was Willenhall's Registrar and represented the town on that board, as follows:-

"Resolved that in the present consequent state in the Union and confirming the appearance of Cholera in this union; a Committee of the Guardians for each township be constituted a Committee of Health for the township with power to call to their aid any other inhabitants of the respected township. The guardians present now nominate the following persons:-

The Rev. G. H. Fisher, The Rev. T.W. Fletcher, The Rev. Jas. Lecky, The Rev. Chas. Janion, The Rev. Ed. Jones

Mr Ed. Davies

Mr J. Hartill

Mr Thos Davies

Mr R. Foster, Mr John Cooke, Mr Dyer

Mr Neville

Mr H. Jeavons, Mr Thos Hincks, Mr Jas. Tildesley, Mr Hickman

Mr A. Tildesley

The first action of the newly constituted committee was to appoint Thomas Phillips as Inspector of Nuisances for a fortnight commencing from August 14th for a salary of one pound per week and he was empowered to employ two persons to whitewash such houses as an inspector shall find to want cleansing and to provide two tons of lime.

With their plans made and everyone on full alert, Willenhall held its breath and waited as the epidemic drew slowly nearer, but they were not to wait for long. At the meeting of the Health Committee on Friday August 17th 1849 Mr Froysell (one of the surgeons who would be in the thick of the battle) reported that a case of Cholera which had ended in death within 8 hours, had occurred that morning at Moseley Hole.

A further three tons of lime was immediately ordered, to be divided between places already agreed on for gratuitous distribution.

It was also decided to purchase six threepenny bottles of Collins Deodorising Powder from Mr Whites of Bilston and that the inspectors should apply it on the opening of any drain or the cleansing of any privy, also four bottles of Dr Macanns mixture and that one bottle be left with each of the following gentlemen, Mr Foster, Mr John Carter, Mr Daniel Thompson and Mr Thomas Phillips.

The Inspector reported 10 nuisances and was directed to serve notice in each case. (A nuisance was anything considered injurious to the public health, e.g., open sewers, pig sties.)

The Committee met again on Friday August 24th and Mr Hartill reported the following cases of Cholera: Hannah Keates, 4 years of age, died the previous day after being under treatment for just 4 hours. It appears that in this case the symptoms had been present for 4 days but had been neglected. Susan Pickston, 66 years of age, under treatment for 2 days but died last night at 11 o'clock .

Mr Froysell also reported the cases of a mother and daughter from Moseley Hole who were both receiving treatment but neither was expected to live.

It was resolved that Mr Hartill be requested to send medicine suited to the early stages of Diarrhoea to some convenient places in Little London and Portobello with directions to the persons taking charge of the medicine as to the quantity to be given in each case, and that he also be requested to rely on the remuneration promised by the Board for the extra services and medicines.

By the time the committee met again on Tuesday August 28th the epidemic was spreading rapidly throughout the town. Mr Hartill reported that since the previous Friday there had been 151 cases of Diarrhoea and 37 of Cholera reported, of which 30 had occurred on either that or the previous day. Mr Froysell also reported a further two deaths from Cholera.

It was decided that large bills be printed informing the parish at which places medicine for the relief of bowel complaints may be had and also that forms should be printed for the medical returns which would of necessity have to be completed. It was now felt necessary for some sort of emergency hospital for use in the treatment of Cholera victims and with this in mind it was decided to approach Mr Clemson for the temporary use of his Malthouse in the Market Place for such a purpose but unfortunately it was never recorded whether Mr Clemson agreed to the request.

As the number of deaths grew, the Assistant Overseer was requested to order and keep in stock 20 coffins of various sizes. In addition, a further 3 tons of lime was ordered to maintain the stocks at the various depots.

With the emergency services under severe difficulties in trying to remove and bury the dead, the committee decided at this meeting to try and hire a vehicle for the conveyance of Cholera corpses in the parish.

The committee met again on the following day and with Mr Hartill being too busy to attend Mr Adams reported a further 40 cases of Diarrhoea and Cholera during the past 24 hours with 6 deaths that day. Mr Oakley reported one case of Cholera but the person concerned was recovering.

Mr Hartill made a request for a supply of Brandy which he said was necessary in the treatment of Cholera victims and he also asked the committee to supply a bed to replace that of a Cholera victim which had been burnt.

The committee, it seems had now found a person willing to hire them a hearse subject to receiving a guarantee against injury to the vehicle and the duty to which it would be liable. He would hand it to the committee for such remuneration as they would award him for the use of it together with the horses.

By this time the large number of burials taking place was giving rise to alarm and concern was felt that the churchyard belonging to St. Giles Church would soon be unable to cope with the demands being put upon it, so on August 26th a notice was issued calling the parishioners to a meeting on Thursday August 30th. The notice read as follows:

Willenhall, 26th day of August 1849.

The Parishioners are requested to take notice that a Vestry will be held in this church on Thursday the 30th day of August at 11 o'clock in the forenoon for the purpose of taking into consideration the proposal of immediately having some additional burial ground for that place of worship.

Willenhall August 26th, 1849

G.H. Fisher

This was on the motion of Mr Greader, seconded by Mr Daniel Read and carried unanimously, "That additional burial ground in connection with the church is under existing circumstances, immediately called for", and also in the motion of Mr Hickman, seconded by Mr Masters and carried Nem-Con:- "in order to meet the exigency created by the present over crowded state of the existing burial ground, a meeting shall be held by them and legal notices issued for Thursday next, September 6th." It must be borne in mind that at that time there was no Municipal Burial Ground in Willenhall.

The Health Committee also met briefly on August 30th when Mr Hartill reported that Cholera cases were maintaining their average. Approval was also given for the hire of a hearse and horses from Cannock subject to the approval of the Board of Guardians. It was also agreed that terms be made with Joseph Shepherd for the hire of a horse, presumably in addition to the ones hired from Cannock .

On Friday August 31st, Mr Hartill reported 20 new cases since yesterday, of which 4 were Cholera. Mr Froysell on the other hand had no new cases. It was decided also that Joseph Shepherd be paid 30/0d per week for his services and the hire of his horse. Mr Shepherd was 26 years of age and lived in Clarkes Lane with his wife Sarah who was a year older and his children Joseph aged two and baby William. He was a carrier who operated on the Willenhall to Birmingham route and was assisted by Samuel Ditton who also lived with him. Meanwhile as the crisis deepened, Mr Hall was employed to make a further 12 coffins for adults and 12 for children.

On September 1st, Mr Fraser was despatched with great haste to London to seek assistance and advice from the General Board of Health, and on Monday September 3rd, he reported back to the committee "That in consequence of the demand on every available source of medical aid, this Board are unable to despatch any officer to Willenhall". It would seem that in its darkest hours, Willenhall was well and truly on its own, for the time being at least. At the same meeting Mr Hartill reported that the number of Cholera deaths since the meeting on Friday was 44.

The committee ordered that 10/0d be paid to Peter Goodwin who was now ill in consequence of his great exertions in the removal and interment of the dead. It seems that Peter, about whom little is known, had thrown himself into the fray from the very beginning without thought of payment, thinking only of his fellow man and his exertions had now caught up with him.

On that day it was reported that there had been 17 funerals, 9 at church and a further 8 at the Little London Baptist church burial ground.

Wednesday September 5th, and Mr Hartill reported that he had registered a further 11 deaths that day and that the disease presented as distressing an appearance as ever. It was also decided that the wages of Joseph Shepherd should be increased from 30/0d per week to £2 for himself and the hire of his horse and another man be employed to assist him in the removal and interment of corpses and that he be paid 20/0d per week.

It was ordered that Thomas Wootton be supplied with a Mill Puff bed, Sheets, Blankets and Coverlets to replace the articles burnt on account of them being rendered unfit for use by William Arnold who died of Cholera. Likewise Elizabeth Myatt be supplied with bed, blankets, sheets and coverlets in place of those destroyed following her husband's death.

The Health Committee at last saw fit to recognise the invaluable work which had been done so far by Peter Goodwin when they decided to award him 10/0d for his past services and to appoint him as assistant to Joseph Shepherd from the following day at the salary previously agreed, i.e., 20/0d per week. It was also agreed to pay Peter's wife l5/0d per week and employ her as a nurse. The pay to be retrospective from August 30th.

At the same meeting it was decided that the parish be divided into four districts (with a view to its inspection from house to house) of which the East District shall be bounded by a line through MorfitaI Lane, up Hall Croft and along Lichfield Street to Workhouse Lane. The Middle District shall be that part of the parish lying between the above lines (West of it) and a circuit drawn by a line from Mobs Bank to Somerford Brook and through to the Harpers. That all beyond that shall be the West District and that Little London be the South District.

Thomas Phillips, Isaac Tildesley, John Dolman and one person not yet named to be Inspectors of Nuisances of the districts in the order of their names, and that each Inspector except the one for Little London be paid 15/0d per week. As a matter of interest Thomas Phillips lived in Walsall Street and was a Parish Constable and Collector (presumably of Taxes). He was 54. Isaac Tildesley also lived in Walsall Street where he normally carried on business as an Ironmonger, he was 28 years of age. John Dolman was a miner who lived in nearby Cannon Street . He was 29 years of age.

Thomas Phillips first job was to see Mr John Bird of Portobello and represent to him that the committee, being informed that only one privy is provided for twenty of his tenements, desired to press upon him the necessity of making such provision as desired and the public request, and that he be recommended to remove his pigs which are kept at the back of the house known as "Birds Buildings" in as much as two deaths have already taken place and two other women now lie without hope of recovery.

With the situation daily growing more critical the chapel wardens called the parishioners to a meeting on September 6th "For the purpose of taking into consideration the propriety of immediately providing some additional burial ground for the place of worship and also the propriety of levying a church rate for that purpose", but when it was reported that to buy sufficient land with accompanying fencing to extend the existing churchyard would cost the equivalent of a rate of 9d in the pound, the motion was lost by a large majority.

What happened after this is not reported, but quite clearly burials commenced as a matter of urgency, on land at the bottom of Doctors Piece, which is now known as the Cholera Burial Ground. The whole of Doctors Piece belonged to the Chapel of Ease Estate and at that time was still undeveloped. At the top, near the junction of Lower Lichfield Street , land had been earmarked for the future building of the National (Church of England) Schools which stood where the gardens now stand, but the Chapel of Ease Estate was hoping to sell the remainder as one lot. It made sense, therefore in view of the emergency, to make use of this land. There was no time to enclose or consecrate the ground and no doubt many burials took place initially in deep pits or trenches, hastily prepared in view of the necessity to dispose of the corpses as quickly as possible. It is said that some were even buried without coffins, such was the pressure on the system at the time. So the problem was solved for the time being and the ground became known forever as the Cholera Burial Ground although later on other burials took place there as well. In later years of course the churchyard was extended to the area we know today.

The Committee of Health met again on Wednesday September 6th when Mr Hartill reported that 17 deaths had occurred since 3 o'clock the previous day and that the disease was spreading rapidly throughout the Parish. It was decided that John Kendrick be appointed to attend the sick and assist in the removal of corpses and their interment at a salary of £1 per week from September 5th.

The following decisions were also made:-

That Thomas Walton be immediately supplied with food and blankets and sheets as soon as the Relieving Officer has a supply.

That Mrs Rowley be paid 2/6d and a further 2/0d to a woman known only as Sarah:

That Mrs Edwards be paid 11/0d for her attendance on Mr Foster's family.

That 3/0d be paid to Mr Thompson on account of money advanced by him to J. Kendrick for attendance on William Mills.

Margaret Whitehead, whose lodger William Mobs died this day at half past one after being ill of the Cholera for 4 days, applied to the inspector to fetch and burn her flock bed, blankets and sheets.

The Relieving Officer was ordered to supply replacements.

In view of the distress and hardship which was being caused, it was decided there would be a distribution of half a pound of mutton and a loaf of bread to suffering families.

By September 8th help was beginning to arrive. Doctor Sutherland attended the meeting and he promised to send three medical inspectors whose duties would be the detection of Cholera. Mr Hartill reported that 8 deaths had been registered since 11 o'clock that morning. The deaths over the previous 36 hours being 28.

Eliza Turner applied for remuneration for attending William and Charlotte Nash who had died during the last two days. This application was left over until Monday.

Peter Goodwin reported that he had burnt a bed, two coverlets and a sheet belonging to Thomas Bladen, a bed and one sheet of May Lees, one bed belonging to Thomas Fereday, two beds of Thomas Roberts and a bed of Mary Pippin.

It was decided that Walter Packer be appointed Inspector of Nuisances for the Middle District, presumably to replace Isaac Tildesley who had now been appointed Assistant Relieving Officer.

Peter Goodwin, meanwhile, was paid 25/0d being salary for himself and also his wife up to the previous Thursday.

The committee met again on September 10th and appointed Bernard Sheridan to be Inspector of Nuisances for Lane Head, New Invention and Short Heath and instructed him that he remove all persons attacked, by medical order to the hospital at Wolverhampton and generally carry out the orders of the committee.

Mr Rogers, meanwhile, had been working hard on the fund raising front and he reported to the committee that he had collected £317 in Wolverhampton and Birmingham , to be used to relieve the suffering of the poor.

A further distribution of bread and meat would take place on the following Wednesday at 5 o'clock .

It was also decided to pay Eliza Turner 15/0d in respect of her attendance on William and Charlotte Nash and 10/0d was paid to Ann Taylor for laying out seven Cholera corpses and also waiting on them when they were ill.

On September 11th the Medical Officers reported that the previous night had been more favourable than any other since the arrival of the disease, although there had been cases reported but without permanent symptoms. Alarm was being felt however with the approach of Wakes Week and the fearful possibilities which could arise from large numbers of people gathered together in one place.

It was therefore decided at the committee meeting on September 12th that large posters should be circulated forbidding the exhibition of shows at the approaching Wake.

On September 13th Peter Goodwin was paid £1.15s for another weeks work by himself and his wife. Ann Turner also applied for a bed and bolsters to replace those destroyed on her husbands account and this application was referred to the Relieving Officer.

Harriet Stokes applied for payment for 6 days attendance of the Baker family and Mrs Evans and Mrs Lloyd were each awarded 2/0d for their attendance on the Grew family. On September 14th, Mr Carpenter's billfor straw and brandy of 21/ 0d was approved, but it was decided that no more brandy would be supplied without an order from the surgeons.

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Doctor Purdey Arrives From London

The committee meanwhile had decided to try and regularise payments of relief by issuing instructions that in future all payments must go through the books of the Relieving Officer.

Mr Rogers who had been indefatigable in his effort to raise money for the relief of the poor stated that subscriptions for Willenhall now amounted to £416. A substantial amount in those days when wages were little more than a pound a week for an adult. A further meeting was called for 3 o'clock on Tuesday September 18th.

By that date Doctor Purdey had arrived in Willenhall from London in answer to their urgent plea and immediate plans were made for the inspection of the town by the medical inspectors. It was felt that the inspectors should be accompanied on their visits by members of the Health Committee, and it was agreed that the Reverends T.W. Fletcher, Ed. Davies and G.H. Fisher would accompany the inspectors on Wednesday, The Rev Ed. Jones, Mr J. Cooke and Mr M. Tildesley on Thursday and Mr Jas Tildesley, Mr R. Tildesley and Mr Austin on Friday.

A further 3/0d was paid to Mrs Lloyd and Mrs Evans for their attendance on the Green family, and it was resolved that a further distribution of bread and meat would take place on Thursday September 20th at 2 o'clock.

On September 21st Mrs Woolley was paid 2/6d for attending Mrs Gardiner who had died that morning, and on September 22nd Elizabeth Charlesworth was paid 5/0d for washing bed and other linen belonging to the Groves family. Peter Goodwin was paid £1.15s for himself and his wife for the week which ended on Thursday last, and James Shepherd was paid £2 for his work to the same date.

By September 24th Dr Purdey was able to report to the Health Committee that the public health was greatly improved as to Cholera but that the typhoid form of fever was still widely extended.

It was decided that the next distribution of bread and meat would take place on the following Thursday at 2 o'clock and that for the purposes of the distribution, the town would be divided into smaller districts. Whether there had been suspicions of cheating is not sure but it was agreed that Mr Fisher would examine the bread and mutton at the school in order to ascertain the weight of the articles. It would seem that even in those days some traders were not averse to a bit of sharp practice.

Mrs Rowe who had completed her work to the satisfaction of the Relieving Officer was paid 6/0d although it is not specified what the work consisted of. John Bradnock was paid £1 wages up to Thursday last, and Eliza Parker was paid 10/0d for nursing Thos. Smith's wife.

By September 26th the disease was subsiding and on that day, Mr Walter Parkes,Thos Phillips and John Dolman were informed that their work as Inspectors of Nuisances would cease by the following Saturday. Clearly the committee had begun to feel that with the end of the summer and the arrival of colder days, a return to normality was not far away and it was time to reduce the cost by dismantling some of the organisation which had been built up to meet the emergency.

Mr Froysell presented to the committee a bill for £32.7s in respect of medicines and it was decided that this was one bill which could be reported to the guardians as one upon which no question whatever can be raised.

Sarah Millington applied for remuneration for nursing the widow Laws of the Island who was brought into her house because of the death of James Laws, her husband, by Cholera She was paid 10/0d for her trouble.

On October 1st, Thomas Phillips, who had recently been relieved of his post of Inspector of Nuisances, was appointed to attend to the execution of the orders of the committee at a salary of 10/6d per week for one week only. Mr Hartill said he felt that the general health of the parish as to Cholera was improved but that throughout the parish, Diarrhoea was so prevalent as to keep both himself and his assistants fully employed.

It was agreed that Bernard Sheridan's salary be £1 per week and that George Topham and Samuel Moore be paid 10/6d per week for their attendance on the medical visitors. Mr Walter Parkes was also paid £2 on account. Dr Purdey requested that on his visitation of the parish he should be accompanied by some members of the Health Committee. It was also decided that in future, meetings of the committee would take place at 3.00 p.m. instead of 4.00 p.m. as previously.

October 2nd: Mr Hartill reported that only one case of Cholera had come to light that morning, and that at Portobello. Mrs Jasper was paid·15/0d for her attendance on various sick families, Matthew Tarbuck was paid £1.7.6d through Bernard Sheridan.

It seems that some discontent was creeping in as to who should have the privilege of supplying the bread and meat for the regular distributions, and it was decided that George Brearley, who had no order in the previous distributions, should supply the bread and that Thomas Davis should supply the whole of the meat for both Willenhall and Portobello. Mr John Cooke, who was the Overseer for the Poor, undertook to receive the bread and meat, the distribution of which was to take place on the following Thursday at 10 o'clock at Portobello and at Willenhall at 1 o'clock .

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Winding Down: Dr Purdey Returns To London

As the situation was slowly coming under control, so attendances at Health committee meetings declined and of course there was less business to discuss. At the meeting on October 5th the only business was to order replacement sheets and a bed for James Parker, the originals having been destroyed by the hard working Peter Goodwin. Only three people attended this meeting. Likewise on October 7th with only the Revs Fisher and Fletcher present, payments as follows were authorised:- James Shepherd £2 wages to last Thursday, also Peter Goodwin and wife £1.15s and Thos Bradnock £1.

On October 8th Mr Rogers attended and left another cheque, this time for £150. He asked if information could be supplied as to the number of orphans as a result of the Cholera visitation as he felt that this would greatly assist him in his work of fund raising.

The meeting on October 9th resolved that a further distribution of bread and mutton would be held on the following Thursday, but as the danger was now receding, it was decided that in the house to house visitation at which tickets were distributed, pains were to be taken by the visitors to omit those not in urgent need and also where it may be possible to curtail the quantity of food given.

Mrs Whittingham applied for relief for George Yardley who was now dangerously ill and without a bed. It was ordered that the Relieving Officer give him a bed and tick and lend him a pair of blankets on condition that these were returned clean.

The Health Committee met again on October 12th but as only the Revs Fisher and Fletcher were present no business was transacted. On the following day they met again and approved payment of £1.15s wages to Peter Goodwin and his wife. An application on behalf of Charles Foster, in whose house Thomas Banks and his wife had died from Cholera, for 2 blankets to replace those destroyed was received and Mr Isaac Tildesley was requested to supply them.

The crisis was now over and Doctor Purdey who in his short stay had earned the respect and admiration of the people of Willenhall had returned to his duties in London . As a record of the esteem in which he was held the Health Committee at their meeting on October 16th recorded the following resolution which was proposed by The Rev. T.W. Fletcher and seconded by the Rev. Ed. Jones, "That the kind thought of this committee be presented to Charles Purdey Esq: M.B. of London for the zeal and ability with which he discharged his duties as Medical Officer of Willenhall during the prevalence of Cholera in September and the beginning of October 1849" and the Chairman was requested to forward a copy of the resolution on to Mr Purdey.

In view of the improving situation, it was decided that the general distribution of bread and meat was now to be discontinued, but relief would still be given by the issue of tickets on local butchers and bakers, to the widows and orphans made by the Cholera.

Final payments were also approved as follows:- Betsy Raines was paid 15/0d for her attendance on the Deakin family during their suffering from Cholera and Elizabeth Harper was paid 6/0d in respect of washing carried out for the Deakin and Sands families. A Bill for 11/8d from Peter Goodwin was also paid.

It was agreed that the committee would meet again on the following Monday at 3 o'clock at which the Revs Fisher and Fletcher and Mr Foster would report on the number and condition of the widows and orphans resulting from the Cholera epidemic, although there is no evidence that the report was ever presented.

Following the decision of the committee to dispense with the services of the temporary Inspectors of Nuisances, it was decided to appoint Policeman George Topham to cover the whole parish on a permanent basis at a salary of 10/6d per week and the Board of Guardians were asked to confirm his appointment and to instruct him as to his duties and hours. Presumably such duties were to run concurrently with his duties as a constable.

On October 22nd The Rev. T.W. Fletcher recorded that he attended at 4 o'clock remained until 4.30 p.m. during which no other member of the committee arrived so he left.

On November 6th the Chairman laid before the Health committee the following letter which he had received from Doctor Purdey: It was decided that the Chapelwardens be advised to communicate with the Church Commissioners and take their advice as to steps to be taken to provide for the due and decent interment of the dead. From this it would seem that the dead were probably buried in hastily dug pits from which it was the intention to re-inter them properly when circumstances and time allowed. Unfortunately it is not recorded whether this was ever done.

On February 26th 1850 the Health Committee made its last payment to an individual when it authorised the sum of £1.5s to be paid to Mrs Williams for the care of the Gardner 's child.

Food distributions were still being made to the Cholera Widows and orphans but on March 25th it was decided that this would cease in one month, suitable notice to this effect being given to the recipients.

At a meeting of the Health Committee on December 27th 1850 the following resolutions were passed unanimously, "The members of the Committee of Health and Cholera Relief desires, before their separation to put on record;.

First

The solemn expression of their gratitude to Almighty God for that Gracious Providence by which, in the midst of the serious sickness and Mortality of Cholera, their lives were spared.

Second

Their thankfulness for that reasonable supply of funds entrusted to them by the public, by which they were enabled so largely to relieve the wants and mitigate the sufferings of the poor.

Third

Their warm acknowledgments of the important services rendered to the parish by W.H. Rogers Esq. who without solicitations and at great personal sacrifice, was mainly instrumental in raising that liberal subscription by which, as far as human means was concerned, Willenhall was carried through the season of its deep affliction."

It was decided that the balance would be applied, at the discretion of the trustees to be appointed, to the relief:-

First To orphans by deprivation of both parents

Second To orphans by loss of one parent

Third Of widows of Cholera

A visitation of the parish was planned in order to ascertain the extent of such cases.

As all the accounts for the Relief Fund had now been supplied, it was agreed that Mr Rogers be supplied with a statement of the expenditure at Willenhall in order that he could make out a complete statement and that this statement be printed and a copy sent to each subscriber.

Roll of Honour

Doctors.

Jeremiah Hartill. WaIsall Street , Willenhall

Josiah Froysell. Market Place, Willenhall

Charles Oakley. Stafford Street , Willenhall

Clergy

A.H. Fisher, T.W. Fletcher, J. Lecky, E.Jones

C. Janion , J. Thirzaker, E. Davies

Inspectors of Nuisances

The Revs Thomas Phillips, Isaac Tildesley, John Dolman, Bernard Sheridan, WaIter Parkes

Driver of the Hearse

Joseph Shepherd

The following were involved in the nursing of the sick and removal of corpses for burial

Mr and Mrs Peter Goodwin

Thomas Bradnock

John Kendrick

Together with many others whose names are now lost in the obscurity of time

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Cholera Strikes Again

Cholera returned to the town again during 1853/4 but this time they were ready. At a meeting of the Vestry on September 21st 1853 a Health Committee was formed and the town divided into districts as it was in 1849. Visitors were appointed to each district and they were instructed to carry out limewashing of buildings as necessary and occupants of dwellings were told to open their windows for fresh air, and also to attend to bowel complaints immediately. Lime and brushes were purchased and made available at specific points as before.

On September 23rd the Board appointed two Inspectors of Nuisances for Willenhall, David Aston at 15/0d per week and Thomas Lewis at 10/0d per week, for an initial period of two weeks.

Notice was given to the owners of privies and ashpits that they must be emptied within the time specified by the Nuisances Removal Act. The same notice also applied to wash tubs, pig sties and ditches.

A considerable effort was made to clean up the River Tame and other water courses throughout the town which it seems were just as polluted then as they are today. Samuel Smith Esq. was asked to attend to the brook at the bottom of the churchyard.

Mr Stokes was asked to lower the weir at the end of his garden and to insert the pipes required to supply his pool, with a view to the removal of unwholesome accumulations which result from the present impeded channel of the brook. Edward Baker found himself threatened with legal action for ignoring the Health Committee's request for the removal of certain nuisances on his premises on the glebe land.

The surveyor was asked to obtain from Mr Frost information as to the power of the Board of Surveyors to cleanse out the course of the brook and to enter on lands for that purpose.

On October 13th the Health Committee requested Mr Foster to ask Mr Cooper to cause lime in sufficient quantity to be immediately applied to the surface of the land now laid bare by the drainage of the water from a pool on his property. At the same meeting, the inspectors were directed to inspect and report to the Board of Guardians tomorrow, as many cases of obstruction in the course of the brook as they can visit before the hours at which the Guardians meet.

On October 20th at a meeting of the Health Committee it was resolved that the Board of Surveyors be requested to take into then consideration, the state of the River Tame in order to its being thoroughly cleansed.

Armed with the experience gained in the previous epidemic, Willenhall had this time been prepared and had fought back vigorously with all the means at their disposal. The three surgeons who fought the battle in 1849, Messrs Hartill, Froysell and Oakley, were once more in the thick of it. There are no details of cases or of fatalities although there were undoubtedly some. What is certain is that the determined efforts to clean up the town had, without doubt kept such cases to a much lower level than in the awful visitation of 1849.

Cases there were however and on January 3rd 1854 we read that the indefatigable Mr Rogers was to be approached with a view to £100 being advanced from the Cholera Fund to provide bedding, flannel and stockings for the relief of the sick and aged. By January 12th Mr Rogers had agreed to the request and it was agreed to allocate £15 to each of the five districts, with the remaining £25 being allocated to such unspecified cases as each district may present. It was decided that all sheets and counterpanes so provided should be marked "Willenhall Loan".

Although no details of deaths were published, at a meeting of the Health Committee on January 19th 1854 the following details were given in respect of cases relieved in each of the five districts:-

 

Cases

Cost

Middle District

53

£19.5.d

West District

52

£15.12.0d

Little London

-

£13.18.6d

East District

62

£15.2.4d

Lane Head

-

£11.2.0d

As no figures for cases in Little London or Lane Head were given, it would seem that an average of between 250 and 300 cases would have been relieved, some of which would undoubtedly have been fatal.

And so the third visitation of the dreaded disease came to an end.

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The Final Fling

Meanwhile the Government of the day, alarmed by the continual outbreaks of contagious diseases, introduced the Public Health Act and on Friday November 11th 1853 a meeting of ratepayers of Willenhall met "To consider the propriety of applying to Parliament in the ensuing session for an act to be called "The Willenhall Improvement Act" with a view to providing for the sanitary requirements of the township and for other purposes". After a debate which lasted for 4 hours the following resolution was passed:-

"That it be referred to the following committee to consider the various acts of parliament, especially the Public Health Act, with a view to ascertaining how far it was desirable to introduce the latter and to act on existing statutes or to apply for a local act". The resolution was passed with 24 voting for, 6 against and with 8 abstentions. A committee comprising no fewer than 40 of the ratepayers of the town was elected to take all necessary steps, and to report back to an adjourned meeting on Friday November 18th.

The committee duly considered the matter and reported back on Friday November 18th that they thought it desirable to apply to Parliament for a local act for Willenhall, this was passed without a dissenting voice, and so the first faltering steps were taken that would bring into being the Willenhall Local Board of Health in 1854.

From now on the powers of the Vestry would diminish to be replaced by the earliest form of local government in Willenhall, which would, in the fullness of time, bring about such changes as cleaning up the town, providing a proper water supply, the provision of the town's first sewage disposal works and many other changes. It would take time but a start was made and the end of the century would see such diseases as Cholera and Typhoid largely eradicated.

Cholera came to the area for the last time in 1866 but Willenhall was not so greatly affected. There are no cases of Cholera recorded by the Local Board of Health but on September 3rd 1866 the Medical Officer of Health reported that there had been an outbreak of Diarrhoea in the town, usually regarded as the forerunner of Cholera, but in this instance it seems to have passed safely and the people of Willenhall breathed again.

By now the Local Board of Health, with the authority of the Public Health Act behind them was slowly cleaning up the town and thus eradicating the causes of Cholera. The town now had a supply of clean water supplied from Wolverhampton and more houses were connected. A water cart provided a supply of water for those not yet connected to the supply.

The town did not yet have sewage disposal facilities, but all water courses were cleaned up, public nuisances were reported and dealt with promptly. Never again would Willenhall suffer from what must have been the worst disaster to hit the town.

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The Final Act

The Cholera Burial Ground was eventually enclosed by public subscription but it was not finally consecrated until July 18th 1867 when, following the consecration of the re-built church, the Lord Bishop of Lichfield and assembled clergy went in processions to the Cholera ground where he consecrated it before a large assembly of townspeople. On the wall of the burial ground is a commemorative tablet bearing the following inscription.

THE PARISHOF WILLENHALL

WAS VISITED BY CHOLERA IN 1849.THE FIRST DEATH BY THAT DISEASE TOOK PLACE ON THE 17 TH AUGUST, THE LAST ON 4 TH OCTOBER. IN 49 DAYS 292 PERSONS DIED, THE CHURCHYARD OF ST GILES BEING TOO CROWDED FOR FURTHER INTERMENT, THIS GROUND, A PORTION OF THE CHURCH ESTATE WAS (WHILE YET UNCONSECRATED) FIRST USED FOR BURIALS ON THE FIRST OF SEPTEMBER. ON THREE DAYS THE BURIALS WERE 15 DAILY THE WHOLE NUMBER INTERRED HERE AND IN THE CHURCHYARD BEING 211.

 

THE DISMAY OF THE PERIOD SUSPENDED THE BUSINESS AND INDUSTRY OF THE TOWN BUT THE WANTS AND SUFFERING OF THE POOR WERE MET AND MITIGATED BY GRATUITOUS DISTRIBUTION OF MEDICINE, BREAD AND MEAT THE FOOD BEING SUPPLIED BY A LIBERAL SUBSCRIPTION IN THE NEIGHBOURHOOD LARGELY AIDED BY KIND CONTRIBUTIONS FROM DISTANT PLACES, SENT BY CONGREGATIONS AND INDIVIDUALS TO WHOM THE REPORT OF THE CALAMITY HAD COME. THESE WALLS WERE BUILT BY PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION AND THIS ENCLOSURE WILL REMAIN A PERPETUAL MEMORIAL OF A SEASON OF DEEP AND GENERAL AFFLICTION AND ALARM.

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Willenhall History Society Website 15.1.08