Thursday, 17 May 2018

Ours was a young community.... stories of Public Health

I think it must be the oldest picture of Chorlton children in the collection and I guess it was taken at the old school on the green. 

Even so when it was taken child mortality had improved and these youngsters could expect to survive into adulthood. 

But fifty or so years earlier it would have been a different story.  Despite the fact that ours was a young community with children out numbering all other age groups they were vulnerable to many different illnesses.  Amongst the very young in the warm weather they were prey to diarrhoeal infections and in late winter and early spring from respiratory ailments while school children could die from diphtheria and scarlet fever.  Added this all of them might be prone to mumps, skin diseases, sore throats chicken pox, coughs, colds, bronchitis and influenza.  So during the first half of the 19th century of the 27 children under the age of two who died during this period 18 succumbed in the warm or hot months.

You first get a sense of this by trawling the census returns and looking for the missing children who didn’t make from the 1841 to the next ten years later and then there are the parish burial records which detail young lives caught short.

But it is the parish gravestones which more than any document brings you face to face with the awful sadness of child mortality.  William Chessyre was a month old when he was buried in 1831, Mary Bell Whitelegg and John Gresty just 3 months and William Cardrew Birley son of the Reverend William Birley and his wife Maria only five months.  Some families were unluckier than others.  The Holland’s lost three of their children between 1840 and 1841 and James Gresty buried his two young sons and his wife in just a year. *

Such events were common enough in both rural and urban settings and were partly at least due to the quality of drinking water which in our case was getting worse as the 19th century wore on, so that by the 1880s most of our wells had according to one observer either dried up or were contaminated. 

Opposite; % of child burials in the parish church by age from 1800-1850

But in 1864 the first pipe bringing in mains water from Manchester was laid and a decade later the sewage works had been opened south of the village on the Mersey.  Not that this was all progress.

There were complaints about the state of both Chorlton and Longford Brooks which according to one newspaper were akin to open sewers and well into the 1880s there were hot spots of measles in the township.

All of which I suppose goes a little way to burst that rural rosy picture that some historians fall back on as the way things were in the country.

Location; Chorlton

Pictures; school children from the Lloyd collection, gravestone from the collection of Andrew Simpson

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