Cleethorpes Cholera Outbreak

As has already been mentioned, the mid-19th century marked a period of significant growth and development in Cleethorpes’ history. The advent of the railways and the popularity of ‘sea bathing’ meant that Cleethorpes was fast becoming a popular tourist destination. The population stood at around 800, although this figure was known to double during peak season.

On the surface, Cleethorpes surge in popularity looked to be a positive thing, and many local residents made extra money by opening their homes and offering lodgings to holiday makers. Some home owners were more enthusiastic about letting out their spare rooms and beds than was sensible, and in one small house, it was reported that 25 people were sharing a dwelling. As the number of people visiting Cleethorpes increased, so too did the strain put on the town’s waste management and drainage systems. The local government was ill-equipped to deal with the town’s growing sanitation needs, and there was little public control over building, sanitation and public health.

Something had to give, and in 1854, Cleethorpes was struck down by a serious outbreak of Cholera. Cholera is an acute often fatal, infectious disease with profuse diarrhoea, vomiting and cramps.  It is caused by poor sanitation and filthy living conditions. Outbreaks still happen today but mainly occur in third world countries. Cleethorpes outbreak of Cholera was thought to have started in the Hamlet of Itterby, the area now known as Wardall Street, and caused by inadequate drainage systems. In the first three weeks of the outbreak alone, as many as 60 people lost their lives. On the last two days of August at the height of the epidemic, sixteen people died. In an attempt to stem the spread of the disease, Wardall Street was covered in Black Pitch and Chloride of Lime. As the situation became graver, visitors were told to stay away and Grimsby Railway Station refused to carry rail passengers via omnibuses on to Cleethorpes. On the advice of medical practitioners, many local residents boarded up their homes and left. Cleethorpes became increasingly more isolated from the outside world and residents who were unable to leave were left to attend to the sick and deal with the dead at the risk of becoming ill themselves.

As the death toll rose, so too did the demand for coffins, which quickly ran into short supply. The number of coffins needed could not be made quick enough and people were dispatched during the night to order more coffins. Reports soon emerged of people being forced to build makeshift coffins for family members and conduct their own burials. By mid-September, the Great Grimsby Gazette and the General Advertiser reported that the outbreak had begun to naturally subside. Blame for the outbreak cast in many directions with some people pointing the finger at ‘the filthy habits of local inhabitants, who keep swine close to their dwellings’. Bad water, overcrowding and inefficient drainage were cast as being the main reasons for the outbreak.  Despite this, it wasn’t until 14 years later in 1868 when the question of improving the town’s drainage was addressed by the vestry. The town’s main drain ran along the road to Grimsby before reaching an outfall at Grimsby Docks. After an investigation, it was discovered that the drain was faulty. Despite the findings, and the possible risk of another Cholera outbreak, the vestry decided that Parish of Cleethorpes was adequately drained, and nothing more was to be done. The public, however, was not happy with the vestry’s response and the following year, a public meeting was held. The result of the meeting was that drainage committee was formed and would be responsible for the town’s drainage. The new drainage system was completed in 1871 and came at a cost of £2,500.