From time to time, Towcester, like most towns, suffered from epidemics. In Towcester, however, it was more serious than most, as this was a coaching town. Stage coaches and other travellers would not stop if there was known to be a contagious disease in the town, resulting in lost revenue.
There are two notable epidemics.
Smallpox attacked the town in May. The first to die was Mary Tilley, followed two weeks later by Elizabeth Treen. A week later, the grocer, Thomas Wood, died. More followed, two or three a month, until November, when 6 died. And in December, 26 died, Four were buried on Christmas Day alone. Many more were probably sick.
Towcester Parish Register says:
“The Small Pox broke out in this Parish about that time [May 1796] and continued to Rage with Accumulated Fury untill the beginning of December when the Inhabitants underwent a general Inoculaton. Those marked with a cross died of the natural small Pox”
13 more died in January, but several of these were newborn babies. The last death occurred in April 1797, and a total of 76 people had died. Smallpox was still around in the district – Greens Norton had many sick in 1800, and it broke out among the navvys working on the Canal Tunnel at Stoke Bruerne in 1804. Towcester itself seems to have been relatively free of disease following the inoculation. The disease however continued to strike fear into the people of the town – in 1840 one tramp found to have smallpox was worthy of note at a meeting of the Guardians of the Poor.
Not smallpox this time, but cholera. It began in August. The first to die was Alice Basford, who lived in Church Yard. This was a group of cottages which no longer exist, but which housed some of the poorer people of the town. Next door to it stood Kiln Yard (until recently the dairy), where the second victim, Joseph Dunkley, died the next day.
More victims, mostly the old and children quickly followed. The disease spread into the Branson’s Lane area, behind the High Street, but never gained the hold there it had in Church Yard. There were 61 people listed in the Parish Register as dying from the disease, but 72 people actually died in the parish.
results of this death toll were that the cottages around the churchyard were
eventually demolished, and new homes built. These are now known as