Victorian Powys for primary  schools
Powys Digital History Project
Brecon and district
Cholera at Brecon
More about..
The cholera outbreak of 1854  

When the first cases in Brecon came to light, the authorities put a local doctor in charge of the efforts to stop the disease.
He was Dr Thomas Prestwood Lucas who had been a local doctor for many years and whose father had been a doctor there before him.

At the time doctors were not sure exactly what caused cholera. It was known that poorer people suffered much worse than the better off, so local conditions were thought to be behind the dreaded disease somehow.
Dr Lucas thought sewage left outside by some buildings had started it. Then he thought it might be some blocked drains. He noticed though that the very worst parts of the town were not affected.

The picture below comes from a PUNCH magazine of the 1840s. PUNCH often used cartoons to make people aware of problems and injustices. Here the artist is showing how the poorest people are the ones to suffer. A father in a hovel is left to look after his children after his wife dies from disease.

A labourer and a small child were among the first people to die of cholera, then a labourer who had gone into the workhouse. A Baptist minister from Builth who had been visiting Brecon caught the disease and died.

Dr Lucas struggled to do his very best for those who became sick. With the help of other doctors he set up a special ward where cholera victims could be treated away from other people.

Local people were terrified of the disease and did not want this ward anywhere near them. In the end Dr Lucas was given a section of the workhouse.
Gradually it was realised that the worst affected areas were along the Madrell brook in the western side of the town. Here the stream was used as a sewer and water from this was contaminating a well which gave local people their drinking water.
By Christmas 1854 the outbreak was over and 57 people had died. Within a few years the Madrell brook was sent through a culvert where it could not contaminate drinking water.
Towards the end of the Victorian period doctors understood enough about the disease to develop a vaccination and gradually cholera was eradicated.


culvert - an underground channel
eradicated - got rid of, rooted out


Back to Brecon menu


Link to sources
Back to top
Go to places menu