How the Fever Did Scourge Brighton, And How It Came There in 1831

Though once the haunt of Royalty before Our Prinnie was King, at our core we’re naught but a small fishing community here in Brighton. Yet, the comings and goings of Kings and Milords notwithstanding, we always know what’s going on across the water before it circulates around the Capital, which does strike me always as a rum state of affairs.

I expect ’tis because of our fisher-folk, who ply daily between The Continent and Us that news comes so quick. Though there be those who would tap the side of their noses, or tip a wink, and claim ’twas all down to those who chart those same waters by night — whose business it is to be in the know of all that unfolds in France from whence their business is run.

So ’tis common of late, that the stories in the stews and the pubs, the markets and the milliners concerns the Cholera. Called but “The Fever” by simple folk. For there are so many ways for the poor to die: empty bellies, lack of shelter or some sort of illness or fever. The name ain’t important - ’tis just so as to say it was not through accident nor design but that people are dying because of some sort of deadly fever or illness — it makes no odds.

Once or twice this outbreak has been mentioned in the journals and newspapers — but only as something which is happening far away. As if the towns on the East coast of England were divided by a large body of water from the centre of governance!

Howsomever, if those as writes the journals was to leave their comfy London lodgings and talk to us up and down the shores of the land, they would know, as we all do, that the cholera is HERE!!

Now I knows as most would think immediately of the area here called Pimlico if looking for a place to lay the blame for this visitation of the Fever. Many the preacher, as far away as London, poses Brighton’s Pimlico as the root of all evil in the land.

Two learned men did come from that city (London) too, and did blench and start at the sight — on two occasions turning away with handkerchief held feverishly to mouth.

Yet naught eventuated as a result of the gentlemen’s discomfort. With nigh on 2,000 souls stuffed, like breadcrumbs into a chicken, into an area the size of our Brunswick Square; death and illness stalk Pimlico daily.

Yet, hold! In this instance, ’tis not the squalor of Pimlico which has given rise to illness — but worthy places such as Rottingdean, and Salt Dean…and Brighthelmstone!

Three evenings ago came a knock on the stable door and there stood Emily Harris, a-begging to know could I spare her some of my Coltsfoot linctus. Next morning she were back in tears, to tell me it hadn’t worked and that her man — who goes out regular on the Brighton to France run (the night-time run, you understand) — had died.

And to-day came news that Tom Barlow, Gaffer Enoch and Edward Mincer has all joined their erstwhile companion in the Great Beyond.

But “Oh” gulped Emily through her tears, “Whatever are we to do now?”.

For there be no mistaking that this be the Cholera, and no mistaking that ’tis a scourge which is sweeping down the coasts of both sides of the Channel, right enow.

But, did Emily, or Gaffer Enoch’s granddaughter, or the wives of Edward Mincer and Tom Barlow report the reasons for these deaths to the Authorities, they would be hard put to it to explain how, and where, their men became ill. Men who were not fisher-folk. If any were to bring to the notice of the Authorities the ‘Gentlemen’ who ply their trade back and forth across the channel in dead of night, they would likely be made to suffer, families deprived of their menfolk to languish in jail or worse, scandals and eruptions would break out sure as pustules on a plague victim.

So here we sits, in this warm kitchen where all goes on as it should, and the other servants be still in ignorance. We be certain-sure that England is already host to The Fever, yet must we needs sit mumchance until one of the gentry — or a citizen of London — doth catch it?

Either way, the responsibility weighs unbearably upon us, and the tea doth taste most bitter. So I reach for my pestles and mortar, unpin my dried herbs from the pantry rafters, fetch bottles and jars down from the high shelves. ’Tis time for marigold and lavender, for feverfew and mustard — for simples and tonics and poultices and teas. For the need within and without the household be a-coming. Certain as eggs is eggs.

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Cireena Simcox

Cireena Simcox

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