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The records show that the terrible winter of 1836 caused much destruction, and left the area blanketed in snow for many weeks. The Winter of 1845, although without the deep snow, caused many more deaths than was expected. An intense period of cold weather, during which the average temperature was over 13 degrees below normal, was blamed for many of them. As is to be expected, those most vunarable were the very young, and the old. The conditions in whch many lived also played a major role, causing the more Christian of the population to highlight the plight of the "working class ". Last year, we had a very cold winter in the UK, but we at least had decent housing and heating to protect us from the worst of the weather. In 1845, the state of housing in the area was appalling. Back Street Courts, poorly built dwellings, lack of any sanitary facilities, inadequate water supplies, were just the tip of the iceburg for those with something to say. It was impossible for the families to keep these dwellings warm, even if many could have afforded the price of a few hundredweight of coal. Most lived in just the one room, as many as ten sleeping and living in a small space, which of course meant that should a family member become sick, soon they were all ill, which quickly spread to the others around them. It was common for as many twenty five people to share the only " neccessary ", and infections flew from place to place as though they were jet - propelled. These ' dwellings ', due to a high turnover of tenants, stank to high heaven, and were full of Fleas and Bugs. Although the morals of those who lived in all this dirt and filth were condemned, it was a far more wholesome atmosphere down the local Pub, or Beer house. With the water contaminated with insects and human waste, the beer was at least a bit safer to drink. Food was also expensive during the period, as the price of wholesale Beef rose to 3 shillings and 4 pence for 8 lbs. By the time it reached the consumer, that 5 pence for 1 lb, had risen to over 8 pence, and was beyond the means of most. Work during the cold weather was also hard to obtain, as the Iron and other trades suffered a slump. The figures supplied for the first 13 weeks of 1845, made for depressing reading, as almost everywhere reported deaths at above the average level. Here then, are a few of the places that the records refer too.
Rowley Regis. There were a recorded 104 deaths up to the end of March. This was the largest number since 1837, and caused a few raised eyebrows. The main cause's however were not all down to the very cold weather in January, but to Measles, Scarlet Fever, and the ever present Smallpox. In the main then, most deaths were those of young children.
Tipton. Another increase in deaths reported, which totaled 170 across the town. Like Rowley Regis, Measles raged, and 38 children died from the infection. 14 deaths were attributed to Typhus, 4 to to Scarlet Fever, 14 to Inflammation of the Lungs, ( T.B.) and another 18 from what was discribed as Bowel Complaints. Concidering the state of Tiptons dwellings and water supply, why they didn't just put down Diarrhoea I can't say.
Sedgley. One of the most overcrowded areas in the Black Country at the time, taking in most of Bilston as well as Coseley. An increase in deaths was no surprise, up to 230 recorded at the end of March. 45 from Measles, 22 from Diarrhoea and the convulsions that accompanied the complaint. Consumption, ( T.B. ) claimed 11, Typhus 11, and another 19 were the subject of Inquests, there being no obvious cause. ( one was a suspected Murder )
Dudley. One of the few places where the deaths for the quarter were about average at 272. 45 from an unspecified fever, 32 from convulsions, ( Diarrhoea based ) 16 from Teething, which is from either having something nasty rubbed into sore gums, or the appalling lack of clean water and decent sanitary arrangements. 16 died from Consumption, and just 21 from old age. From the discriptions of the Town in the 1840s and 50s, I am surprised anyone ever reached old age.
Walsall. Another increase in the average rate of deaths here as well, this time recorded at 125. Compared to Dudley, 28 of the dead were actually over the age of 60, and of the rest, those that didn't freeze to death, went down from various feavers and Diarrhoea.
Bloxwich. A small place in 1845, when 34 deaths were recorded, which again was an increase. 10 of the deaths were of children, Scarlet fever mainly, then a mixture of Diarrhoea and bad weather.
Darlaston. 77 deaths recorded in the quarter, as Measles raged in the Town, the final toll being 48 children, all under 5 years old. The rest were from Debility from Birth, and inflammation of the chest.
Wolverhampton. Yet another increase over the average, this time the larger figure was 190. T.B. claimed 16, Asthma 17, Consumption 17, Measles 3, and 2 from Smallpox. 13 died from what was described as General Decay, which would have been anything from poor health, old age, or if you lived in the filth of the slum area, just losing the will to live.
Bilston. The Town recorded the biggest increase in deaths, 174. This was mainly down to the truely horrific housing conditions, and a measles epidemic which tore through the community like a hurricane. Not even temperatures of minus 8 could halt the flow of tiny coffins to the graveyard.
Now you may have thought, that by living out in a fairly rural area, you could escape most of the causes of death recorded; wrong. Here are two Towns that are not concidered to be in the Black Country.
Kinver. With a much smaller population than even Bloxwich, recorded deaths at just 25, was an increase over the normal level. Someone must have arrived in the place incubating an infection, for Scarlet Fever was the main culprite in the figures.
Kidderminster. Carpet capital of the Midlands, and with 166 recorded deaths at the end of March, one of the Towns with the highest figure blamed on the very cold weather. Smallpox, fever, and causes unknown were common, as were two reported deaths in the River Stour.
Medical Science as we know has expanded since 1845, but the underlying cause of most of these deaths was the poor state of most of the workers health. Bad food, poor housing, low wages, no wonder the average lifespan was in the low 40s.
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