The 1849 Cholera Epidemic
In his report for 1849 the Registrar General wrote, "traversing the coal regions of Durham the shadows of death thicken around us... Chester-1e-Street suffered". He stated that there were 134 deaths from Cholera in the Chester Poor Law Union and another ten from diarrhoea, out of a population of about 20,000. The number of cases was of course much higher. Chester Union fared worse than Houghton-le-Spring Union which had also about 20,000 persons, with 22 deaths from Cholera and 11 from diarrhoea; and worse too than Easington Union whose population was 21,795 in 1851 and which lost 72 to Cholera and nine to diarrhoea. His figures show that during the quarter July to September 1849, there was a steep rise in deaths. He observed that lack of good water supply and drainage accounted for the spread of Cholera. Modern knowledge supports that opinion.
The parish registers show us that 44 people died in September and October 1849 in Chester-le-Street. The disease took no account of age and affected young and old alike. The burials suggest that several families lost more than one member. Cecily Coulson aged 2 and Cecilia Coulson aged 37 were buried on the same day. John Charlton aged 49 and Elizabeth Charlton aged 42 were buried within two days of each other. Two men by the name of John Seymour, aged 20 and 65, were buried within a week. They were possibly father and son. The disease did not strike everywhere in the vicinity.
There is a stained glass window at Pelton parish church which was erected in 1850 as a thanksgiving that the village was spared when Cholera occurred in Chester-le-Street. It also testifies to the impression and fear the outbreak must have caused.