A Cholera outbreak occurred in Alnwick in 1849 lasting for a month from 23rd September during the 3rd of the 7 major cholera worldwide pandemics. Although short lived, it claimed over 140 lives, peaking at 17 dying on the 29th. There were 155 deaths recorded in that period, more of these may have died from cholera although not officially declared.

Alnwick at that time was a closely-knit town of around 7,000 population (Rawlinson). The outbreak was centred largely in the Clayport Street area.

Robert Rawlinson in his Preliminary Inquiry report to the General Board of Health in October, towards the end of the outbreak, commented that “The previously crowded churchyard was dotted over with new mounds, and in one month the average mortality of a year had taken place.” The Newcastle Guardian and Tyne Mercury of October 20th 1849 reported that “The church-yard presents an appearance of desolation, about sixty graves —newly filled—, covered with quicklime …”   John Davison, Surgeon, in his report to the Inquiry noted that “the proportion of deaths was exceedingly small as compared with the mortality that ensued in other places”.

Many of those who died were interred in un-marked graves but thirty seven are commemorated on headstones.

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The cholera outbreak was sudden and it was an intensely busy period for the town and church, particularly at the peak times.

In his report, Rawlinson the names of the dead who had been identified during the course of the Inquiry. He noted that “Eight or ten other deaths occurred which are not entered in this list”.

Rawlinson deaths list


The four waves of the Asiatic Cholera, endemic in India, of 1832, 1849, 1854, and 1866 had started in England in 1831, hitting the north-east in Sunderland in autumn 1831, Newcastle in December and a number of mining villages including Newburn in January 1832 and Killingworth in 1832, causing 22,000 deaths in England and Wales. It was initially thought to be spread by ‘bad air’, termed “miasma”.

By far the most serious was the 1849 outbreak which began in Edinburgh in October 1848, having arrived there from a German port. This outbreak would cause over 53,000 deaths in England and Wales. For one outbreak in Wales, a long. hot summer led to drought and  people using much less safe sources of water which were contaminated. This was not the case in Alnwick where for the outbreak period the weather was variably cloudy, rainy, windy and cool but Mr. George Tate, Postmaster of Alnwick, reported to the inquiry “Recently there has been a very great scarcity of water throughout the town” and Mr. George Wilson, Sen., Surgeon, “In Bondgate-street Without there is a great deficiency of water, and such supply as there is has been contaminated by some neighbouring drains.”

The weather conditions were noted in the Rawlinson Report on each day. The meteorological observations at Howick on the coast nearby were :

There were many report to the Inquiry about the “nuisances” emanating from the defective drains and open surface channels into which they emptied, and the ash pits and middens. The Board of Health carried out extensive work to improve the water and sewage systems of the town between 1852 and 1855, including piped water to supplant the open pants. Alnwick had cleaned up its sanitary works and water supplies and no more outbreaks occurred.

Doctor John Snow, who attended the Killingworth outbreak apprenticed to Doctor Hardcastle, later attended a London outbreak in 1854 and identified the source as poor quality contaminated Thames water issuing from a pump in Broad Street. Snow wrote: “It requires to be stated that the water of the pump in Marlborough Street, at the end of Carnaby Street, was so impure that many persons avoided using it; and I found that the persons who died near this pump, in the beginning of September, had water from the Broad Street pump.”

“Church, Court Granville and Cholera – 170 years ago” is an article published in the church magazine about Rev. Court Granville who was Minister at the time of the 1849 outbreak, and the cholera :

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