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  • An attempt to identify some of the forty-six people who perished in the cholera outbreak of 1849–50.

Although very few records of the event survive, ironically it is easier to identify the nine people who perished in Castleford’s first recorded outbreak of cholera, in 1832, than it is those who succumbed in 1849–50. In 1832, Rev Theophilus Barnes marked cholera victims as such in the parish burial register: for the record, they were William Walton, George and John Lyall (probably father and son), William Pilkington, Elizabeth Dansfield(?), Catherine Dean, Joseph Goodall, George Hill – evidently visiting Castleford from his home in Church Fenton – and Thomas White. Additionally, William Wilson, from Glasshoughton, and Sarah Middleton, of Whitwood Mere, were buried in the All Saints church graveyard. Most of the deaths occurred between late June and mid July, with a further two in late August, one in October and the final funeral taking place on Christmas Day.

It was not standard procedure to record the cause of death in a burial register and perhaps Barnes was ticked off by the church authorities as a consequence, but whatever the reason, he did not pick out victims of the 1849–50 outbreak when noting the date of their interment. However, by studying the burial register, baptism register and the slightly later evidence of the 1851 census return, it is nevertheless possible to identify several dozen people who most likely died of cholera, some with a high degree of certainty, and to discover a little of some of their backgrounds and family connections. The first pointer to probable cholera deaths is the age of the victims, for it tended to affect young and middle-aged adults more severely than children and the elderly. This can be seen clearly from the 1832 outbreak, where the nine victims for whom an age was stated died at 11, 31, 31, 35, 38, 49, 51, 53 and 71 years old. The second factor is that many deaths were clustered together, with two especially high periods of mortality: one in the autumn of 1849 and again for three weeks or so either side of Christmas that year.

Excluding infants under the age of one, there were thirty-two Castleford residents laid to rest in All Saints churchyard between 5 September and 13 November 1849 inclusive, a period during which town surgeon Dr Adam Jessop reported nineteen people dying of cholera. Of those buried, one was in his twenties; eight were in their thirties; three in their forties; one in her fifties; and two in their sixties. Of the remainder, fifteen were children and two were in their seventies. Interestingly, the three who died at the most advanced ages – Sarah Avison (73), William Wainwright (72) and Elizabeth Stead (68) – had surnames of three of the town’s property-owning families, from whom most of the unfortunate victims rented their squalid houses and after whom three of the yards in which these houses clustered were named. Could it be that all three were, indeed, better-off people who lived in more sanitary conditions and had died of old age after escaping the effects of cholera and the other diseases which plagued the poverty-stricken majority?

It can be stated with some confidence that the great majority of those people who died between the ages of 20 and 60 fell victim to cholera. To bring the total up to Jessop’s reported nineteen, perhaps most of the older children, who had survived the hazardous years of infancy, can be assumed to have been claimed by the disease, too. This is not to say cholera spared the youngest children, however, who were just as exposed to the contaminated water from which it sprung as were adults, and in this respect 18-month-old John Etherington, who was buried on 15 September – three days before 42-year-old Emma Etherington – must surely have been a casualty along with his mother. They were almost certainly the son and wife of John Etherington, a blacksmith who in the 1851 census is recorded as a widower, aged 46, with four dependent children between the ages of 7 and 17. An equally tragic case was that of Elizabeth Flint, 38, who was interred on 18 December, a mere two days after her two-year-old son James, while another mother, 35-year-old Hannah Wilson, was buried on 5 September, followed six days later by one of her grieving children, George, aged 5. Her widower may well have been the William Wilson who the 1851 census shows as being married to a much younger woman, 30-year-old Rebecca; given that the eldest of the four children living with the couple at that time was aged 16, then it is highly likely Rebecca was plumber and glazier William’s second wife. Richard and Ann Fearney were both aged 36 and probably husband and wife: Richard was buried on 2 October, while Ann’s body was laid to rest in the overcrowded burial ground the following day.

The 1851 census also shows a 14-year-old girl, Harriet Rhodes, living with her grandmother Mary, aged 78: Harriet’s mother, 35-year-old Elizabeth, died in October 1849. What became of her father Thomas, a waterman who worked on the canal boats, or her young sister Jane, born in January 1848, is not known: were Harriet and Jane orphaned by the death of their mother, or did they lose their father at a later date? There are several other deaths from this period of high mortality for which cholera seems the most likely cause and for which some family information can be gleaned from either the burial register or census returns, as follows. Joseph Sanderson, a 32-year-old mariner, who left a widow, Mary, and daughter, Mary-Ann, aged 26 and 5 respectively in 1851, when Mary was a shopkeeper. Mary Gee, 38, and 16-month-old Mary-Ann, wife and youngest daughter of a Leicester-born professional musician, William, who in 1851 was aged 39 and living near the railway station with sons Edwin and Josiah, 14 and 9 years old respectively. 36-year-old William Bland, who left a widow, Mary, a charwoman, and their three young children Maria, Sarah and the infant Clara. At the time of William’s death, in mid-October 1849, Mary was expecting another child, who she named William in memory of the father he would never know. Sarah Taylor, who fell victim at the age of 37, was survived by her husband, yet another William, and two sons; in 1851 her widower was 39 years old and worked on the boats plying the Aire & Calder Navigation, while the boys, Matthias, 13 and George, 11, were already working as glassblowers. In happier times the whole family must have travelled on the waterways, since George had been born in Hull. Finally, Jane Harling was the 36-year-old wife of potter James and left two sons when she died in September 1849: 8-year-old James and 6-year-old Job, the latter of whom grew up to become one of the town’s most successful pottery manufacturers, a leading light in the local Conservative party and a member of Castleford Urban District Council and the various boards which preceded it. Also buried during this period, on 13 and 18 December respectively, were 70-year-old Glasshoughton couple John and Maria Westerby; although both had lived to a ripe old age by the standards of the time, the fact they died within a week of one another suggests disease was the cause.

Of the remaining Castleford people who possibly fell victim to cholera, no further information is available, although the tragic likelihood is that Francis and Sarah Reed from the list below were brother and sister. It is probable, however, that cholera was the cause of death of the majority of the following names, listed in order of burial date (which in most cases would have been within a day or two their death).

  • Mary Firth, 62, 13 September 1849
  • Elizabeth Dickinson, 8, 29 September 1849
  • James Lorriman, 12, 30 September 1849
  • Maria Wood, 58, 2 October 1849
  • John Phillips, 26, 2 October 1849
  • George Avison, 8, 4 October 1849
  • Martha Morrison, 5, 5 October 1849
  • Ann Belcher, 6, 5 October 1849
  • Francis Reed, 4, 6 October 1849
  • Joseph Braim, 44, 7 October 1849
  • Elizabeth Rhodes, 35, 7 October 1849
  • Sarah Reed, 7, 8 October 1849
  • Thomas Purchon, 22, 11 October 1849
  • John Flowett, 10, 14 October 1849
  • James Kelley, 5, 14 October 1849
  • George Parker, 48, 13 November 1849
  • George Hayworth, 26, 1 December 1849
  • Sarah Crew, 49, 12 December 1849
  • Jane Morrill, 7, 14 December 1849
  • George Taylor, 55, 17 December 1849
  • Sarah Ann Clayton, 5, 17 December 1849
  • William Chamberlain, 49, 18 December 1849
  • Thomas Smith, 60, 23 December 1849
  • Ann Hopwood, 70, 26 December 1849
  • Joseph Hanson, 5, 27 December 1849
  • Mary Ann Townsley, 5, 2 January 1850


Copies of the original burial and baptism registers for Castleford parish, in date order, are available on microfilm at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, based at York University. Transcripts in alphabetical order have been published by Pontefract Family History Society and copies are available at Wakefield Local Studies Library. The 1851 census returns are on microfilm at Castleford Library and Leeds City Library.