ELHAS Meeting Report - October 2014

Meeting Report October 2014

Our October meeting saw 57 members and guests listening to an interesting if somewhat disquieting talk about the 1832 Leeds Cholera epidemic. The information about this tragic event was brought to us by John Brooke, former headmaster and schools inspector. John, who now lectures for the Worker's Educational Association on such topics as the history of education, transport and housing, is also President of the Lightcliffe Cricket Club, and secretary of The Lightcliffe History Society.

He began his talk by explaining the background to the cholera epidemic in Leeds, saying that the social and housing conditions in the poorest areas of the city where the disease took hold, were exactly conducive to the spread of such a disease. Conditions in the yards in the centre of town, and the area known as the Bank were so insanitary and unhealthy, that it was no surprise to the authorities when cholera arrived from Goole. Medical knowledge and facilities at that time were no match for such a violent disease, which often killed within hours and the health authorities had already said if it reached Leeds they would be unable to contain it. Typical conditions in the yards were as many as 310 people living cheek by jowl with only access to two privies. Consequently the unpaved streets ran with food waste and animal and human excrement sometimes a foot deep. The resulting stench, or miasma was thought to be the cause of the spread of the disease and it was many years later before it was discovered that it was in fact water borne. John explained that the first recorded incidence of the disease in England was William Sprode of Sunderland, and the disease came via the North Sea and the Humber to Leeds. A third of the sufferers died, some 702 in all with over 250 dying in August alone. Whole families were wiped out and the wealthier people of Leeds fled to the safer towns of Harrogate and Ilkley.

We were proud to learn that Manston resident Robert Baker a doctor and epidemiologist was instrumental in mapping the sources of the disease and, although his conclusions on the spread of the disease were inaccurate , he was in fact not far from the truth. The fatal epidemic finally ran its course with the last death occurring on 26th December 1832. Whilst no one at the time was able to explain why it ended, John advised that cold and frost over the winter doubtless had some effect in killing off the microbes. Whilst we had thoroughly enjoyed Johns fascinating and informative talk most in the audience were glad to be living in the 21st century with access to clean water on tap and the high standards of medical care available to us via the National Health Service.

The next meeting on Monday 24th November 2014 will be an illustrated talk by David Templeman entitled - "Mary Queen of Scots - The Captive Queen" chronicling her time in Yorkshire.