Death & Disease in Victorian Leeds

Death and Disease in Victorian Leeds On Saturday 1st September 2018 our guest speaker was Patrick Bourne. He is Assistant Community Curator at Abbey House Museum, Kirkstall, Leeds.

Like most other growing cities in 19th century Leeds there was a high death rate at a young age brought on by overcrowded housing conditions, bad sanitation and lack of personal hygiene. The most common diseases were cholera and typhoid. Patrick, with the aid of maps of Leeds, photos of back to back housing and the overcrowded yards of Quarry Hill area to the east of the city centre, showed how statistically this area was where high rates of the above diseases occurred.

The work of Dr. Robert Baker of Leeds , John Snow of London and Robert Koch in Germany, proved that cholera was a water borne disease caused by infected water. Periodic outbreaks of cholera in 1832 and 1848/9 prompted eventual legislation to empower the creation of fresh water from reservoirs at Fewston and Swinsty, the building of sewers and improvements in domestic sanitation. In the meantime those that could afford to moved to better housing provided in the suburbs in Park Square, Little Woodhouse and Headingly.

Patrick went onto describe how improved hospital treatment occurred with the new Infirmary on Great George Street opened in 1868, the provision of a House of Recovery on Vicar Lane and a dispensary on North Street. New cemeteries were opened once the local churchyards became full. These were at St George’s Field, Beckett Street and Lawnswood.

Patrick concluded his talk with a description of funeral arrangements. Black suits for men and fashionable outfits for women. Popular also were funeral jewellery, brooches, lockets and earrings, often made using jet from Whitby. The wealthy might have black horses pulling a glass covered hearse while the less well- off might have a bier pulled by hand! Patrick’s talk provided a huge wealth of information which was delivered at some pace but one which certainly had the attention of his audience.

Next meeting is October 6th 2018 when John Brown will talk on ‘Crime & Justice in 19th century.