The cholera epidemics in victorian Wales.

Cholera - an introduction

[Cholera in South Wales ] What is Cholera? ] Why did Cholera spread across industrial South Wales? ] Cholera in South Wales - the events ] Evidence: A wc from the 1890s. ] Evidence: Providing a safe water supply for Swansea. ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - housing ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to water supply ] Why Cholera spread in Wales - attitudes to rubbish and sewage ] Cholera in Wales - consequences ]
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The arrival of Cholera in Wales in the nineteenth century had a number of effects on local communities. 

Some of the effects were short term and quickly forgotten when the ravages of the epidemics had passed.  For example, attitudes to drainage and water supplies changed very gradually in the later nineteenth century and some historians believe that sanitary reform would have come about regardless of whether Cholera had arrived or not. Other people remain convinced that the Cholera epidemics of the 1850s finally made people realise how dirty their streets and towns were, and that something had to be done about them.

There was however a longer term effect on many communities. Cholera often took the breadwinner in working class families and left many widows and orphans. These most vulnerable and helpless people often ended up in the poor law system which often changed the whole direction of their lives. Cholera also established itself in the collective memory as a disease to be feared. That fear changed people's attitudes to religion, health and even immigration. A considerable amount of anti-Irish feeling was present throughout South Wales in the 1840s as it was wrongly believed that people fleeing the dreadful Irish Famine brought the disease with them. Such attitudes endured for a long time in many minds. 

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Cholera came to Wales at roughly the time when written records and documentary sources started to be created in far greater amounts. So we often see the first detailed information about communities because public health records were being kept on the spread of the disease and its effect on the local economy and society. Cholera was one of the first 'media' events, its progress was recorded in the newspapers and fear of the disease ensured it was the topic of conversation at all levels of society. 

Thus Cholera can be a useful way to look at a local community because it almost always appears at a time of great change and how it was handled can tell you a great deal about our early industrial communities. 

The arrival of Cholera is an important milestone in the history of industrial Wales. The effects on local communities were often devastating. Fear of the disease was often equally destructive and the terror surrounding the disease remained in the Welsh folk memory for the whole of the nineteenth century. The  following links take you through the South Wales Cholera story. We have emphasised the three main Welsh industrial towns of Cardiff, Merthyr and Swansea, but its important to remember that many communities big and small were affected. You can use the points raised on these pages as a guide to understanding how Cholera affected your area. 
Cholera in South Wales: A basic introduction to the impact of the disease in nineteenth-century South Wales.

What is Cholera?: A description of the disease.

Why Did Cholera spread across industrial South Wales?: A exploration of the reasons why Cholera affected industrial South Wales so badly. 

Why Cholera spread in South Wales - attitudes to water supply: A look at one of the chief causes for Cholera spreading and affecting so many communities.

Why Cholera spread in South Wales - attitudes to rubbish and sewage: Another important reason why Cholera spread so rapidly. We look at some of the early attitudes to rubbish and waste disposal.

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Early Welsh toilets: A drawing of a simple early Welsh toilet that could be found across South Wales in the 1820s. 

Privies, Closets and Water Closets: It is important to appreciate and understand the difference between the three kinds of toilets that are found on this page. 

Evidence: A WC from the 1890s: A documentary source showing the 'improved' type of water closet that transformed Welsh public health in the 1890s.

Evidence: Providing a safe water supply for Swansea: A documentary source showing the building of Swansea's clean water supply in the early years of the twentieth century. 

Why Cholera spread in South Wales - housing: A more detailed examination of early industrial housing problems in the South Wales area, with a look at Cardiff, Merthyr and Swansea. It is worthwhile looking at the housing pages for all three towns if you want to understand the problems fully.

Why Cholera spread in South Wales- Merthyr Housing: Go straight to the Merthyr page.

Why Cholera spread in South Wales - Cardiff Housing: Go straight to the Cardiff page. 

Why Cholera spread in South Wales - Swansea Housing: There is a considerable amount of information on Swansea housing across the site because Swansea's housing history has been more closely examined than the other towns.

Water Supply

Housing problems

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Toilets- always fascinating for kids!

Cholera in Swansea: The basic events as they affected Swansea.

Cholera in Merthyr: The basic events as they affected Merthyr.

Cholera in Cardiff: The basic events as they affected Cardiff.

Greenhill: This 1830s map of the now vanished Swansea suburb is an excellent summary of the Cholera/Public Health problem.

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SHW Microhistory: 3. The Washing Lake, Town Hill

Washing Lake in the 'great snow' of 1982.

One of the most important physical features of Anglo-Norman Swansea still exists above ground!

A good reliable water supply was essential for any town and any stream or spring that was used quickly became a central part of local life. The sandstone of Town Hill provided many springs of good clear water which the earliest Norman inhabitants of the town prized very highly.

As is common in most cultures, prominent physical features were given names, many of which survive cultural and language changes. This stream which arises from a spring on the hill above Swansea Institute was the most famous and useful spring to supply the early town with its water. It wasn known for hundreds of years as 'Washing Lake' which is derived from the Old English words 'waesse' and 'lacu' meaning wet or swampy stream.

English language place names date from the earliest history of the town of Swansea. Indeed some local Welsh place names have been shown to be derived from original ancient English names.

The Washing Lake ran from the field above the original Workhouse which was known as Cae Cwm in the 1830s, down through the workhouse enclosure and down the side of the road known as Bryn Syfi. The modern road of Mount Pleasant is the small valley carved by Washing Lake as it made its way down to the river. The stream had a number of tributaries which made it a substantial torrent by the time it got to the bottom of the hill.

Some of the large houses at the bottom of Mount Pleasant built bridges and culverts for the stream. One of the original culverts can still be seen in the rear wall of the Windsor Lodge hotel.

Washing Lake in 1985

By the 1700s the stream was used to feed the large tannery that was built on fields on the western side of the medieval town (where The Hanbury pub is today). The stream has never been known to dry up and provided much of the western side of medieval Swansea with their water supply. The lower reaches of the stream were equally useful as a sewer which emptied into the town ditch.

The stream figured heavily in early attempts to build reservoirs in the 1800s. It still has traces of the cast iron pipes and sandstone walls from that time. The name Washing Lake receded into history when the stream ceased to be important. Washing Lake miraculously survived redevelopment in the early 1900s, 1920s, 1950s and the 1990s, and remains an enigmatic survival of the medieval town. It still survives today as part of the local wildlife corridor

More SHW Microhistory

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