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Pyecombe Cholera Outbreak
1849

The Village of Pyecombe

(in the word of The Brighton Herald and Hampshire Advertiser 1849)

On the 14 July 1849 the Herald ran a story 
'The Village of Pyecombe'


(here is part of that report)

Few places are better known on the old London road into Brighton than the village of Pyecombe.
It is situated nearly seven miles from this town, and the communication with it, since the formation of the railroad is
very trifling. Our distant readers may remember that, after passing along the general
turnpike road, the old carriage road towards London divides: the right-hand road branching over Clayton hill; the other diverging to the
left hand, and at the distance of half-a-mile, leading over a brow, on to Dalegate, to London. On that brow is situated the village of Pyecombe.
The road is on an ascent the entire distance from Brighton; and although the land is not quite so high as Clayton Hill or the Devil's Dyke, between
which it lies, the fields just above the village command an exceedingly extensive prospect to the westward.

In the fork formed by the division of the road at the foot of Clayton hill is a public house called the Plough; a few
hundred yards above stands Pyecombe Church, on a very prominent hill; and to the north, close to it, are a few houses, consisting of a smithy,
a general shop, a cottage or two and a small building capable of containing 30 or 40 persons, which is the village school-house.
As you go along the left-hand road, till you come to the brow already spoken of, you have on every side fine views of the
Sussex Downs, and fine arable land, in a good state of cultivation. On each side of the road there is a hedge, but no trees of any magnitude, so the
road is always dry, hard, and, lying on a descent, clean. It will be seen presently why we are thus particular in describing the locality.

When you have reached the top of the brow of Pyecombe, you have on the left a common farm-pond, a new barn, some old barns, stabling,
cow-houses, sheds and other farm buildings, with some gardens and fields round about. Behind are the Downs, with some shrubs and some
trees growing about their feet.

On the right-hand side is a neat pretty residence, with a lawn in front, surrounded by horse-cheatnut and other trees. This is the
dwelling of the Rector, the Rev. Mr. Morgan.

Still going along the London road, 30 or 40 yards, you come to an irregular opening. Opposite to you stands a house or cottage
or two of brick, and close by the side of the road on the north of this irregular space, are a number of stables, well known to most passengers in the
days of coaching, as here the horses were generally changed as the first stage from Brighton.

Thousands, however, have passed this place without suspecting that a village stood beyond this irregular space;for, as the
road, or street, bends rather suddenly towards the north, and as this bend is also partly concealed by some trees, it can be seen but very little, if at
all, by passengers along the London road.

Having heard a thousand rumours and stories about the cholera being in the village, we thought it a duty we owed to the public to
visit the place; to see its condition; to make such enquiries as we thought proper; and to lay the result fairly, to the best of our ability, before
the public. It was, in our humble opinion, better for this to be done at once than that numberless wild tales, fictions, and exaggerations
should float about, spreading much needless alarm.

We arrived at the brow so often spoken of already about eleven o'clock in the morning of Tuesday last, and for the first time in our life
we proceeded up the village street.

The weather was beautiful. The sun shone forth gloriously. There was a gentle breeze. Never did Nature appear more lovely; and, as
we cast our eyes around, we said "Is it possible that a place like this, which might be selected as one of the most salubrious in
the world, can have been chosen by gaunt death as the scene of his ravages"

At the door of a stable stood a=some healthy-looking young men, dressed in the Sussex round frock and straw hats. To our enquiry, if the
road led to a place called Pyecombe,- for at the time we were scarcely aware, except from report, that there was any street, they
answered, in a mild subdued voice, that it did. We then asked some questions as to the prevalent sickness. They replied that very many
persons were ill; that another person had just died there; and"here comes one," said one of them "who has been ill."

We went forward and met the man. He was dressed in a black round frock and a cloth cap. He came down the street leaning
on a stick, and, as he said he had not strength to stand in the sun, we went with him under a cart-shed. He said that he had been and still
was very ill, but better. His bowels had been very bad, with great lassitude; but he had had no cramp. Many of the people, he said, had been
moved out of their houses to a barn, about a quarter of a mile above the village where they were told they were to be supplied
with every thing they wanted; but he seemed to think that there had been some mistake in the matter.

Having heard much about ponds and cesspools, we asked this man where they were? He went across the road and said "that was one" pointing
to a dry pond over the wall by the road-side. It was a common pond, such as may be seem in numberless places at this season of the year
about farm premises. The bottom was chalk, covered with a thickish layer of the debris of chalk, all now quite dry and hard. The man did not
seem to think much harm could arise from such a pond, which had always been there.

Anxious to get to the barn where the sick were deposited, we passed up the street. On each side there were cottages, most of them of brick
or flint, surrounded with geraniums, fuchsias, ac. The cottages stood on ground considerably higher than the street. All the doors
and windows were open. Many women and children, and some men, were at the doors or in the yards or gardens. They looked anxious, sad
melancholy, and though much talking was going on. it was in a low voice. We were alone; but our dress proclaimed our townmanship, and the
people looked at us as much to say, "What, more strangers are come." But we never met with people, - and we talked with many of
them, men, women, and children, - more civil or more communicative, without whining on the one hand, or boldness or levity on the other.

Having passed half-a-dozen regularly-built cottages on the right hand, and as many, perhaps, on the left, we came to another
dry pond on the right, with an open space beyond it, on which a fire was smoldering, in which had been consumed, as we afterwards
learned, the bedding, ac., of the deceased.

A little above this pond a building came down close to the street. Beyond that, still ascending the hill, was another space. On the north, on
some high ground, were one or two well-built brick cottages; on the left, on some ground as high - 10 or 12 feet higher than the street - several
more, with gardens surrounding them.

On the lower side of this space, stood an old wretched-looking building, of which we took a sketch. We were now in the centre of the village
in which cholera was doing its work.

On each side of the street hereabout were strewn the embers of wood fires, which had been lighted day and night- partly, we
believe, to fumigate the place, and partly to increase the current of air during the still weather.

We had now passed through the village, and continued to ascend a narrow road, which would only admit one vehicle at a time.

After ascending, as our informant had directed us, about a quarter of a mile, we came to a large open space; and on a brow stood the barn
spoken of. It was formerly called the "Chantry barn," which bespeaks the use to which it was applied. It was here, probably, in former
days, the tithes taken in kind were placed. It is now in a very dilapidated state; but its situation is one of the most commanding and beautiful
and salubrious in the kingdom. What a contrast between what was passing within and the delightful prospect without!

Without, the country presented a picture of health, vigour, prosperity, and happiness. Within, lay sixteen or seventeen poor men,
women, and children, at the gate of death by a dreadful disease.

On the south side of this building there is a large square mace, with some sheds, and an old cottage on the right. The place was covered
with coarse grass and nettles. The old gate had been torn, or had rotted, away, and nothing remained but the old posts and some bits of
railing. Both the great doors in each side of the barn were wide open. On the floor stood a few tables and chairs, with some women and
children, invalids, about them. On entering, on the floor you saw on the right hand two long rows of beds, placed on steddles. Between the rows
of beds a canvas partition had been formed, to separate the men from the women. The inside of the roof of this part of the building has also large
canvas sheets, or a king of awning, spread over, to keep the night air off, without impeding the ventilation, and beneath this upper awning
was similar one, placed lower down, so as to hang eight or ten feet above the beds.

Everything here was clean. The beds were of chaff; the blankets and sheets of a good substantial quality.

Several women and children were in the beds; but, at that time, only one man. Others were on chairs on the floor- the women nursing
some children. All had the appearance of great sorrow and suffering in mind or body. But we heard no complaint. They seemed resigned,
though all was sad enough about them.

The female general nurse was a young woman with an open and cheerful countenance. She, too, she said, had been ill; but was
better, thank God. The medical men, of whom we shall soon speak, gave her a good character for activity, attention, and kindness.

The man nurse was a young, stout, robust fellow, rosy gilled, and the last person that would have been suspected of having suffered
from cholera. He said, however, that he was the first that had been attacked, whilst sheep shearing some miles from Pyecombe, and that
he had suffered greatly for two days, and seemed to attribute his recovery to some very liberal potations of strong ale in which he
indulged. He seemed, however, a simple-hearted fellow, and not easily dashed by any thing.

The ruined cottage on the right hand of the enclosure, as it once was, which we have spoken of, had been converted into a sort of kitchen, where
the broths, ac., were made for the sick, and around the wood fire were a number of kettles, boilers, ac., with hot water ready for the patients
the moment it was required; and over this department reigned the man nurse we have spoken of.

When we arrived at the barn, or hospital, we found Mr Blaker, the principal farmer in the parish, there on horseback. He was immediately
joined by two gentlemen who came out os the barn, and, after conversing with them, Mr B. got off his horse and dispatched a messenger
to his house at Pangdean with an order for some mutton. Another gentleman now came up on horseback, and, on entering into conversation
with these parties, we found the utmost frankness and readiness to give the fullest information, joined to the deepest interest in the
very serious business which had called them together on this down-side.

We soon learned that the two gentlemen who had come in the hospital were Mr Brown, a medical practioner at Ditchling, and his
friend, Mr Gillam, a student of Oxford, and on this occasion his assistant, who had been induced to leave London ar considerable inconvenience
in order to assist his friend whilst engaged in his most arduous duties was Mr Holman, sen., of Hurst, who has a very extensive district as
medical man in this part of the country, and who assured us that no cases of the kind had occurred at Fulking, or Poynings, as it had been
reported, or in any place within his range, extending over many miles.

From these gentlemen we learned that the number of deaths were, up to that day(Tuesday) thirteen.

In the family of a labouring man named UPTON three children had been first seized, and subsequently a fourth, all of whom had died.

A man named Chambers, 51 years of age, died after a few hours suffering.

Richardson, a Sussex man, but who had been a platelayer on the railroad, had also died.

Another man, named Godley, aged 69, and his wife, 51 had both died. The woman had been seized at half past 10 on Monday, and was
then lying dead in the village. She was described as a person of remarkably dirty and careless habits.

Two children named Coppard, and two named Godley, and a man of the latter name, aged 30, had also died, and his child had died about the same time.
Thirty-six who had been seized had all recovered.

Richardson had partially recovered, when he imprudently took a full meal of beef, which brought on a relapse, and he fell.

All the medical men present expressed the fullest opinion that the cases were Asiatic cholera.

It had been reported that the medical men of Brighton had not visited this place. This is not correct, as many medical gentlemen
from this town have gone over and been very attentive to the sick. Among them we may mention
Messrs J Lawrence, sen., J Lawrence, jun., Furner, and Candle.
The first professional gentleman who reached the village after the Alarm was Mr Brown, of Ditchling, who was followed by Mr Gillam,
Dr Holman, of Hurst, his father;Mr Holman, and Mr Weekes. All these gentlemen have been indefatigable in their attendance, and either Mr Brown or Mr Gillam has been there, night and day-sometimes both- and they have been very successful in combating the disease.

Mr Brown informed us that having been apprised that an usual disease had broken out in the UPTON's family, he immediately proceeded
to the place from Ditchling. On arriving at the house he found it destitute of every necessary. There was neither fire nor firing. No hot
water could be procured. On getting a fire lighted, there was nothing to boil the water in but an old tea kettle without a lid. There was
bit a particle of food in the house. We subsequently learned from the shopkeeper near the church, Mrs Rich, that Mr Brown himself rode up
there in great haste and procured some mustard and a quantity of vinegar. It seems that when returned to the Upton's house the children
were too far gone for recovery, and three of them sunk.

Being invited, we next accompanied the medical gentlemen back to the village. On our way down we met a young girl, about
14 years old, who, Mr Brown stated had been violently seized with the disorder. Her limbs became cramped; her skin purple; with loss of
sight and entire prostration, vomiting ac., She said that she was perfectly recovered, and had every appearance of being in health. If we might
judge by this instance, the disease leaves no permanent ill effects.

Descending into the centre of the village, where the greatest number of deaths had taken place, we approached the
 parish-house, in which the woman lay who had died that morning. Nothing could be more wretched and squalid than this dwelling. On on side
of it was a brick-built red-tiled cottage, the property of Mr Weekes; on the other a similarly constructed cottage. In both were persons lying ill
of the disease. The parish-house is between those two cottages, and faces about north-east. This parish house is divided into two tenements, the
doors to both being close to each other. It is altogether a low old building, and, like many of the Sussex houses in former days, of timber and
lath and plaster. It is covered with a thick filthy thatching of straw, which cannot have been renewed for many years. The sleeping-rooms
are under this thatch; and close beneath the drip of the thatch are two very small square holes, not more than about 18 inches
by 6 or 8. It is flattery to call these windows, though there are some bits of glass in the framework. You enter the lower room by descending
a step; opposite is a large open fire-place, in which a few sticks were burning. This room was very dark. The rafters- for there was no
ceiling- so low that a man six feet high would find it inconvenient to stand upright. The rafters and sides of the room were black with dirt
and smoke; and it must have been many years since a whitewash-brush had come in contact with the filthy walls.

Near the door stood a small old deal table, at which were seated two remarkably fair children, from four to five years old, eating the
fragments of a dinner, consisting of boiled cabbage. By the side of the children stood a dirty, miserable-looking woman, some 27 or 28 years of
age. Her black hair was dirty and disheveled, her eyes red, her countenance swarthy; and on a small mattress on the right-hand side of the
room, and on the floor, lay the corpse of the woman who had died that morning. A sheet was thrown over it, which, at the request of one of the medical
gentlemen, the young woman removed. On our observing that there was nothing; as it struck us, in the face of the deceased to indicate any
peculiarity in the disease, Mr Brown further removed the sheet below the bust, and taking hold of the hand, we remarked that it was of a
bluish co lour, very different from anything of the kind we had ever noticed before. The poor creature had on neither shroud
nor night-clothes. It was the most revolting spectacle we ever saw. The medical men had, hours before, insisted upon the young woman and the children
quitting the premises; but she had lingered to get the children's dinner in the presence of death! They now insisted, on the threat of
immediately sending her of to the Cuckfield Union-house, on her leaving the premises; but she still seemed reluctant to obey, though we soon
after saw her trudging of with some articles of furniture

We then went into the cottage on the left-hand . Here, everything was neat and clean. The nurses seemed quiet, respectable women, and very
attentive. The furniture here was homely; but the tables, chairs, and a old-fashioned clock were all kept clean, and had been well rubbed. the
stairs to the upper room were also clean, as were the bedding,ac., in the room, where a boy was suffering from the disease; but this room stood in
need of white-wash, a process which the medical men had ordered to be carried into operation in every house in the village. The nurse said the
boy suffered much when he took anything into the stomach. He was perfectly sensible; but the countenance had a very peculiar expression. The
tongue was clotted with mucus, smooth to the touch, unlike its state in ordinary fevers. The medical men, for reasons we cannot state here, seemed
confident that he would recover, and that they had so combated the disease generally that they did not expect any further deaths, or that
it would extend. They expressed themselves also confidently that the disease is neither contagious nor infectious, unless persons had a predisposition to
receive and disease, and were exposed night and day to its attacks, without proper food, or a due attention to cleanliness pr to taking this
precautions which common sense in most cases would suggest.

After seeing some more of the people, we proceeded to examine the premises. In front of the parish-house and cottages were small
gardens, ill cultivated. On one side were a number of old small bee-hives; and it struck us at the time that there was not that bustle and swarming
among them usual with those active insects, and we have been since informed that the bees generally are not this year so active as usual, and
that many of them, without apparent cause, fall down dead. The privy stood in the midst of the garden, and had been emptied. There were
some dung-heaps about the premises but nothing more, we think, than is usual in all country places. Behind theparish-house, however, was a large
dung mixen, and a number of filthy drains, enough to generate miasma to any extent. We the entered several cottages in which persons had died, and the
remaining inmates been removed to the hospital. The rooms in these cottages were low-pitched, without ceilings, ill ventilated, and in winter they must be damp, cold, and uncomfortable. They were similar to most of the old cottages which may be seen in part of the country. Close to one of these, some
pigs had been kept, and little care had been taken to carry of the drainage. There were also a number of small pods or pools about, and open drains; but no
ditches, no running water, nothing to carry the water off except the channel down the street. Little attention had ever been paid to these matters, and the
drippings from the roofs, and draining's from the dwellings,had been suffered to sink away as they best could. But such is the case in numberless
villages all over the kingdom.

In many parts of the country the people can obtain no water, except from ponds or ditches. Such is not the case at Pyecombe. There is no
pond which contains water that any human being could drink; but there are excellent wells, from 150 to 200 feet deep.

On enquiring into the condition of the people here, we found some of the labourers reluctant to say much; but from a variety of sources we
found the the old man, Godley, who had died, received only 7s. a week for the support of himself and wife, and out of this he had to
pay 1s. per week house-rent.

The principal portion of the land in the parish belongs to the Crown, and we have heard that it is remarkably low-rented; that the tithes
are moderate, and the poor-rates not heavy.

The average rate of wages was about 12s. a week; but, in consequence of the pressure of the times, they have been reduced to 10s. a week. Some
of the men, however, work by the piece, by which some of them can earn more and others less, according to their abilities or nature
of the work. The man Upton, whose house Mr Brown found in such a wretched state, laid out usually 16s. or 17s. a week at the shop. This
seemed a large sum to expend at the shop;but,on enquiry, we found that Upton was a superior workman - a thrasher in winter, a sheep-shearer
and thatcher in spring and autumn, and got good wages in harvest-time. He was also assisted by two boys, one of whom died of the disease. His affairs
were badly managed at home, as they usually sent to the shop three times a day-at each meal-for bread, butter, sugar, and tea. In this consisted almost
their entire subsistence, except that sometimes, on Sunday, they got a bit of meat for pudding. This is also the usual living of the people of
Pyecombe, except that few of them can afford tea at dinner-time. There is no shop in the village - no public-house or beer shop - no tradesman
except a farmer's carpenter and an old shoemaker, who says that he cannot obtain more for his work than a day-labourer. Many of the labourers
have their wheat from the farmer's, at 11d. per gallon. They say it is "blackish like gravy." Some of them have ovens; but they all prefer getting
their bread at the shop. We saw some there. It was excellent-made of foreign flour, white, and in every respect capital; but, by some arrangement
which we could not penetrate, few of the people can general obtain this bread. Formerly, the old shoemaker said, a great many pigs and bees were
kept in the village, but there are very few now.

The medical men and all the villagers spoke in the highest possible terms of the kindness and unwearying attention shown from the
commencement of the disease by the Rev. Mr Morgan and Mrs Morgan.

We had some conversation with Mr Morgan, and he expressed the greatest sympathy and solitude for the suffers, and we saw Mrs Morgan
walking rapidly up the hill towards the hospital, followed by a servant with a large tray filled with provisions from her own kitchen. Mr Blaker has
also killed sheep, to furnish the sick with meat or broth, as it may be ordered by the medical men. Those supported during the visitation by the
parish are also supplied with porter wine, and brandy, as advised by medical authority; and, from what we learned, this supply is quite adequate to the
requirements of the sick.

The rent of the cottages is from 1s. 6d. a week to 2s. The boys earn from 2s.6d. to 3s. per week; and it is remarkable that all the children
look well, many of them fat and hearty. All the people were as clean as is usual in country places. It is said that Pyecombe was visited about
200 years ago with the plague, and every soul except three was carried off.

If we might venture an opinion on the subject, we should say that the disease is epidemic; that it exists, from some unknown cause, in
the air; and that miasma, from decayed vegetable, and, perhaps, animal matter, combining with it,renders it dangerous to human
beings, especially where there are predisposing circumstances; such as unclean personal or domestic habits, or when the constitutions
gradually undermined by bad or imprudent living. The people of Pyecombe, from whatever cause, do not live so well as they ought to live. They
seldom taste meat, rarely obtain beer, even the smallest swipes; never taste wine or spirits of any kind. There is no need to establish
a temperance society at Pyecombe.

We made every enquiry about the village, but could not find that, in any instance, the disease had extended beyond it.
Having visited the place and seen the dead and the sick, entering their chambers and the hospital, and been present when the medical men
examined their patients' tongues, felt their pulses and administered medicine, we can say with confidence that we have no fear whatever
of the disease being either contagious or infectious;
and that, if duty called us, we should go again in an hour to Pyecombe without the least apprehension.

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