Country’s highest death rate was in Little Gonerby, reveals Grantham Civic Society’s Ruth Crook

Vere Court, Grantham
Vere Court, Grantham

In 1876, the death rate in Little Gonerby was the highest in the country, higher than London’s East End and inner city slums.

A total of 2,881 people lived in the area and, the previous year, there had been 108 births and 60 deaths registered.

Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.

Ruth Crook, of Grantham Civic Society.

The area of Vere Court, which was enclosed by North Parade, Broad Street and New Street, consisted of tightly packed, poor quality housing. There was poor sanitation and no running water in the houses. Illness and disease spread quickly and was often fatal, especially amongst the very young.

In February 1876, there had been a small outbreak of typhoid fever at Houghton’s Place on Malt Hill. The source of the outbreak was not traced, but the medical officer suspected that it had been caused by either an accumulation of refuse, or the accumulation of filth in the privies. A total of six cases occurred by the end of July, confined to four houses, and they all recovered. The Place was well drained and supplied with waterworks water, but the privies were very badly constructed having uncovered ash-pits and at that time were in a horribly offensive state and contained enormous accumulations of filth. They were situated in a confined space and all of the houses have an entrance on one side only.

They were thoroughly disinfected by the authority and subsequently done away with and replaced by water closets. There was a marked improvement. Typhoid fever had been starved out of that part of town. At the same time there were two other cases in a cottage on Malt Hill next to the others. They also recovered, but a woman who nursed them died.

In April, a boy died in Charles Street where there were a nest of offensive privies in a confined space. These too were altered. There was another death in July in New Street and one in September in Manthorpe Terrace, caused by an un-trapped cesspool in the courtyard at the back of a house. In three places the well water was of inferior quality.

Other adult deaths included four due to tuberculosis and six to lung disease. Of the remainder of the deaths that year, 14 were infants under one, who had died of malnutrition, prematurity, debility, meningitis, hydrocephalus, convulsions and teething. Twenty-one were children between one and five years old. These children had died of measles, scarletina, fever and diarrhoea. The only death from smallpox had been nine years earlier, the improvement being due to vaccination in the town. By the following year, there had been 106 births and 57 deaths, exclusive of three in the hospital, and the population was 2,956.

The sewerage system in Little Gonerby was eventually completed in 1870. The statistics in the five years after the drainage and sewerage were completed showed a great reduction in deaths from contagious diseases, including fever and consumption.

The medical officer commented that ‘inestimable advantage of good drainage has made this apparent’.