The cost of cholera

PUBLISHED: 14:19 28 June 2007 | UPDATED: 12:35 04 May 2010

IT was obviously not clear to the Board of Health in Ely that on April 11, 1832, the tide had turned in the cholera epidemic. Only four new cases had been notified and in the next two weeks a 32 further cases were recorded. Good news came when it was repo

IT was obviously not clear to the Board of Health in Ely that on April 11, 1832, the tide had turned in the cholera epidemic. Only four new cases had been notified and in the next two weeks a 32 further cases were recorded. Good news came when it was reported that the number of people recovering from the disease had also increased.

The morale of the board was further boosted when they finally found accommodation for the poor of Ely. You might remember from a previous article that they had appealed to the County Militia to use their depot in Ely. Rather ungraciously, it would seem, the Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire, Lord Hardwicke, told them that "the civil authorities in Ely have ample means of providing proper places for the reception of patients without having recourse to so inconvenient a proceeding as that which they suggest".

The person who came to the rescue was the Rev E Sparke, who was the son of the Bishop of Ely and Prebendary of the seventh stall in Ely Cathedral. He lived in the Almonry at the time and said that he would allow "some clean and respectable women with some children into a part of his Prebendal house". This accommodation was in the Almonry undercroft, now part of the Almonry Restaurant. With this help, patients could be moved from their cottages into the Trinity Workhouse and isolated and nursed.

By April 23, the board had recognised the improvement in the 'state of the town' and 'resolved it is not necessary longer to continue the Six Bier Bearers at their present wages'.

While the watchmen were employed for a further week to ensure that the graveyards were protected, the funeral bearers were to be paid a one-off fee of six shillings each for a funeral. The watchmen's wages increased to 12 shillings per week from 10 shillings and sixpence, because in addition to their watch they were required to burn the goods and bedding of any future victims.

Of the 12 cases still remaining on April 23 and 15 subsequent cases, only seven more people died.

One can imagine the intense relief of everyone in Ely and the surrounding district when the Cambridgeshire Chronicle announced on May 23, 1832, that "it is with very great satisfaction we announce that the Cholera has entirely disappeared from this town; the report from the Board of Health this day presenting a clean bill. There have been 146 cases from the commencement of the disease on March 17, and 59 deaths. We sincerely hope that the town will no longer suffer from the effects of the panic which has been caused by the disease but that trading interests will be restored to their wonted state".

So what was the cost of the disease hitting the town?

Clearly the death of 59 people and the impact of their deaths on their families, 27 of them were under the age of 18 and Richard Long of Back Hill lost his wife and two children within two days of each other. For them, the cost to the town and tradesmen must have appeared insignificant. However, those who were not touched by the human tragedies were worried about the stigma attached to visiting Ely and the cost of the epidemic on their pockets in terms of medical provision for the sick and dying.

A fund had been set up and when the accounts were drawn up on June 6, 1832, the list of subscribers was presented to the Board of Health. The Lord Bishop of Ely had given £100, the Dean £21 and eight other clerics £10 each. When the final bills had been paid to the various medics, nurses and hire of rooms the balance was £11.6s.6d. The generosity of the churchmen had allayed the fears of the rate-payers.

Therefore on the same day, June 6 1832, the Ely Board of Health, was able to put in the final paragraph of its minutes that it had been "ordered that the meetings of the board of health be adjourned sine die".

So not quite three months after it had met for the first time it was adjourned. One suspects with a huge sigh of relief.


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