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Coxhoe Epidemics


A serious outbreak of “Asiatic Cholera”, originating from India, hit the North East from 1831-1866, it claimed the lives of about 50 people in Coxhoe.  The medical officer at that time was Dr. John Carnes who is remembered on a granite obelisk erected in St Mary’s Church yard which reads:

In memory of John Carnes M.R.C.S.E. & L.S.A. Coxhoe
Born 30th December 1816. Died 23rd April 1869
His friends in testimony of their regard and esteem have erected his monument
As an acknowledgement of his public service during a period of 30 years.

Also in memory of Sarah Carnes widow of the above John Carnes
Who died 24th July 1899 aged 76 years.

John Carnes Memorial Stone    John Carnes Memorial Engravings

On 27th August 1891  (issue 6708) of the Northern Echo printed an article – Unsanitary Dwellings Coxhoe.

At the Durham county Police Court a Mr William Lisle, clerk of the Durham Rural Sanitary Authority, had made an application for some dwellings to be closed because they were unfit to live in.  The first case to be heard was that of Mr J.W. Ogden of Sunderland, who was the owner of 20 houses in Dyke Row, 4 in William Street and 6 in Front Street Coxhoe.  The order was made in the first two cases and the defendant was given time to repair Coxhoe, Front Street houses.

Joseph Thompson was the owner of two cottages at California, Coxhoe which were in a very dilapidated condition and he too was given time for repairs.

A months grace was granted to Robert Wake of Staindrop, another owner of dilapidated property at Coxhoe.  Most properties would have been the property of the Collieries, put up quickly and cheaply for the workforce and who may not complain for fear of a raise in the rent.

Public Health officials had to deal with infectious diseases as well as living conditions and their meeting minutes are held at County Hall (Rural Sanitary Authority minute book Ref No. RD/Du 1-11).

Disease and overcrowding in growing urban areas was a concern and so the Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1875 gave Borough Councils, or the Board of Guardians in rural areas, the responsibilities for initiating local Sanitary Authorities to deal with water supplies, drainage and street cleansing. More powers to deal with housing schemes and insanitary dwellings came about with the 1890 Housing of the Working Classes Act and the later 1909 Town Planning Act. The appointment of a Medical Officer of Health also became compulsory in 1909.

Typhoid in Coxhoe

In September 1906, Coxhoe experienced a Typhoid epidemic which was traced to the milk from Paradise Farm (now known as the Willows).  The farm’s water supply came from a well, the water from which was used to wash the milking equipment.  The health Authority found the well was polluted and had it filled in. A fresh supply of water was laid on to Turnbull’s farm.  About 80 people were infected, including some of the farm occupants.  There were 9 deaths, two of which came from the Beattie (see Cow close the early years) family who lived in Cow Close.

Typhoid Death Memory Card

Typhoid Deaths Memory Cards

Memory Cards, Typhoid Deaths From Cow Close 1906

Searching through Coxhoe Parish Church register around September revealed some burials which were ‘Certified under the burial law Amendment 1880’.  There would be some urgency involved with burial because of infection risks so they would be buried  ‘without the performance in the manner prescribed by law of the service for the burial of the dead according to the rites of the Church of England’.

People buried under the 1880 amendment:

12/09/1906         Sarah Smith of Cornforth Lane        Age: 58 years
18/09/1906         Clara Chapman of Blackgate        Age: 19 years
27/-9/1906         Matthew R Moore of Bowburn        Age: 6 years
07/10/1906         Elizabeth Slotton of Co-operative Terrace   Age: 2 years

Spanish Flu

The 1918 flu pandemic or ‘Spanish Flu’ as it was known, killed more people than did the Great War and probably hastened the end of the First World War. It is thought that the influenza virus possibly mutated in a British military hospital in Etaples, France amongst the soldiers who were wounded at the end of the War. After the first outbreaks that coincided with the end of the war, a second bout struck again which was much worse. It was the young and healthy men and women who were suddenly struck down, not the weak and frail. Immune systems over-reacted to the infection destroying blood vessels and organs.  People were most infectious before they showed symptoms and nothing was known about how viruses spread in 1918. People tried all sorts of remedies to ward off the flu, including wearing bags of camphor round their necks. Children around that time had a rhyme they used to skip to:

I had a little bird,
Its name was Enza.
I opened the window,
And in-flu- enza.

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