Typhus in the Village

The year 1846 was a hard one in the countryside. There had been a series of failed harvests which had led to near starvation for the farm workers, and so wretched were their living conditions that inevitably disease broke out.

Upton was one of many Berkshire villages which succumbed to typhus fever and it seems that twenty-four people died here. The Methodist minister, who lived in a neighbouring village, visited the sick and dying in their home, but tragically he carried the infection back with him and four of his children died.

The following report is taken from The Bucks Gazette of 19 December 1846: “the labourers’ wages are not half sufficient for the support of their families; the potatoes they had partly subsisted on for the last three months were poisonous and infectious; their food was bread alone – and of that not sufficient; meat or other substantial food they never tasted; they could not procure firing, hence their huts were always damp and unhealthy, nor the soap necessary for common cleanliness”

Looking at this neat village now with its few thatched cottages in pristine order, it is hard to imagine it as it was at that time. There were six large farms, several smallholdings, the pub, the forge, the bakery and shop but otherwise only labourers’ tenements and cottages, almost certainly tied to their occupations and frequently in a terrible state. It is well known that Ireland at this time was suffering from severe deprivation, disease and starvation – perhaps we are not so aware that these conditions were also to be found at home.