Cholera arrived on the south coast of England in 1831, one of the prices paid for empire. It took decades for the discovery of how it was spread – by drinking water – and so means found to control it. This is again from ‘Old Oak’.
There used to be a long line of graves in our churchyard that was known as the “Cholera Row”. In 1854 the dread disease struck the village, and so many were its victims that at one time it seemed as if the awful experiences of the people of Eyam in the year of the Plague of London were to be repeated at Silson. A young maidservant returned from hesitation in a distant town to visit her widowed mother. Full of health and strength to al appearances one afternoon, she was a corpse before the next morning. She had scarcely been laid in her grave before another fell – and then another. The people were terror-stricken, and with good reason Farmer, the butcher of nutting memory, who had been one of the strongest men in the shire, succumbed. My own dear mother had to go, and my father was brought to death’s door. the bodies of those who died were taken to the churchyard in a cart, only the outdoor part of the burial service was read, and the mourners too dat a distance from the grave to avoid infection. Still the pestilence pursued its baleful course, and one day it was whispered that the doctor was down. Then the whole neighbourhood was stunned. One of the finest men – physically, mentally and professionally – n the whole kingdom was Dr Lett. Six feet three in his stockings and broad in proportion, not a man in Trinity College, Dublin, was his match with the gloves, and despite his size, he was so light on his feet that he could jump 21 feet either way on the greensward. He was an absolute enthusiast in his profession, and though, on his first coming the village, he raised up enemies through refusing to be humbugged by anyone, rich or poor, he turned them into friends later, and made such headway in the district that all the surrounding gentry became anxious to secure his services.
He had become very successful in his treatment of typhoid fever, then very prevalent throughout the country and was longing for an opportunity to grapple with the cholera. It came, and he fought it nigh and day, testing the theory he had previously formed that many of the stricken could be saved by keeping them warm by artificial means. Alas! he fell in the struggle. “Martha”, he said to my sister, who nursed him devotedly throughout his short illness, “what colour are my hands?” “Blue” she replied. “Then God have mercy on my poor wife and children!he murmured. A little later he asked her to read to him the second chapter of St Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, after which he commended his soul to his Maker and passed on.
The young curate of the parish, Mr Delafons, providentially an exception to the general run of our clergy, had just gone away for his first holiday for 5 or 67 years. He had never seen the who was to be his wife during the whole of that tie, yet without the slightest demur he returned to his post of duty as soon as he heard of what was happening and, contemptuous of danger, was constant in his attendance on the sick and dying. the leader of the Methodists, “Tailor Coleman” gave himself with equal devotion to the same task. Old churchmen… attended prayer-meetings in the chapel, and stiff dissenters, who classed churches and theatres together as being equally godless, forgot for a few weeks their bitterness towards the Establishment and joined in tis services. “At a time like this,” remarked Simon, “I dooan’t think us ought to be as us ha’ bin.” The truce, however, only lasted as long as the terror, and then matters were just as they were before.