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Lincoln Typhoid Outbreak ~ Lincolnshire Epidemic

The Typhoid Epidemic in Lincoln
A look at the history behind the terrible outbreak of the deadly disease typhoid that struck Lincoln in 1904 . . .

Typhoid was a disease generally reckoned to be on the back foot in the early 1900s, indeed, primarily something only found in the worst slums.
Associated with unsanitary conditions clean water piped in and proper drainage was felt to have consigned the disease to the history books but then in 2nd December 1904 the first case of typhoid was reported in Lincoln !

One case didn’t arouse any real interest but by January 1905 there had been 18 victims and the water supply was swiftly blamed.
13,000 leaflets were distributed instructing people do boil all drinking water and such was the pressure on hospitals, and predicted pressure if the outbreak spread, that emergency accommodation for the sick was prepared.
These were at Newport Hall, Mission Hall, Long Leys Hospital, Blenkin Memorial Rooms and the Drill Hall which was kitted out to look after 100 patients . . .

Typhoid Epidemic in Lincoln 1905 Drill Hall Hospital beds photograph

The Drill Hall Lincoln1905 - Kitted Out as a Hospital

Their worst fears were soon realised as by 24th February there were 697 recorded cases of which 49 resulted in death !
By now there was understandable panic in terms of water, the city supply was all but abandoned, some people tried to re-open old wells whilst Lincoln City Council was bringing in water by rail and long queues gathered at the Midland Railway Yard.

The good people of Lincolnshire pulled together and a great deal of water was donated and brought in from outlying towns and villages for the poorer inhabitants of Lincoln.
As always, the poor suffered the most, they were reliant on handouts from street water carts, whereas the better to do bought their own water in privately from safe sources.

By April cases were some 900 in the city alone but alarmingly it had also spread to outlying villages such as Branston, Bracebridge and Welton.
In total the typhoid epidemic lasted six months with 1,023 reported cases and 127 fatalities.

Life after the outbreak took a long time to recover, many still didn’t trust the water supply and water carts remained in operation long after the water supply was declared safe. Businesses suffered as people avoiding going out and places such as the Lincoln Horse Racing Course saw few attendees.
The outbreak saw also the building of the Lincoln Water Tower and eventually people regained trust in the water supply.

In the finish it wasn’t the water per se but leaks in the sewage system which saw the River Witham being polluted.

If you know anything at all connected to the typhoid epidemic in Lincoln then please do leave a comment, many thanks.
All the best


  1. V said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

    An excellent, well written article Rod, and as you know this is the sort of History I love. Lists of kings and queens and battles mean nothing to me. This is the history of the people and a piece of evidence to go with it . Take a look at the pile of pillows in the top right corner, all there ready for more patients. Those beds are so close together for such an infectious disease!

    There had been a previous outbreak of Typhoid in 1888.

    An article of 7th February The Nottingham Evening Post is interesting .

    The writer here was already questioning whether or not it was the water supply that was causing the outbreak or not . He pointed out that no source of possible pollution had recently existed which hadn’t already existed for many years. He felt that two important factors in the spread of the disease could be the lack of rain or the fact that had there had been a lot of frost. ( I like this idea when you think how frost can burst water and sewage pipes )

    3rd March 1905 The Nottingham Post

    The Theatre Royal In Lincoln had to cancel all its shows and was to remain closed until further notice because of the Typhoid outbreak. ( I mention this because it is an ‘unknown’ history in that, who thinks about the effects of an outbreak such as this on theatres. Fascinating stuff )

  2. Barry de Graff said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 4:04 pm

    Interesting that you note that typhoid was on the back foot in the UK in the 1900s Rod. My father contracted the disease whilst living in the United States - Chicago I think - in the 1920s. He spent many weeks in a “sanatorium” and was very close to death’s door I gather.

    This was one of so many tales he had to tell, having lived there during the days of prohibition, Al Capone & the rest!

  3. Rod said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 8:11 pm

    many thanks, pleased it was OK, difficult to get these things right, too much or too little etc.
    Thanks for the extra information, always appreciated.
    A lot of places actually advertised No Witham Water Used, hotels, pubs etc in order to try and stay open

  4. Rod said,

    October 21, 2012 @ 8:13 pm

    that’s fascinating, some stories there no doubt. I was on the backfoot in terms of epidemics I believe, people still caught it but it tended to be confined to smaller areas on the whole I understand.

  5. Paul Creasey said,

    October 28, 2012 @ 6:49 pm

    Hello Rod, Barry & V,

    An intersting booklet was published locally some years ago, entitled “The Enemy In Our Midst” giving the full story of both the epidemic, caring for the sick, and the development and building of a new water supply (piped-in by 21 inch diameter from Elkesley in Nottinghamshire) system opened in 1911. Another interesting book “To Fetch A Pail Of Water” is more concerned with the development of water supply systems in the Lincoln area, rather than the epidemic itself. The Elkesley pumping station, and the pipe, remains in use to this day, although sources of supply have been vastly augmented in the ensuing years.
    I’ll bet that the full story of the development of Nottingham’s water supply is even more interesting - I’ve picked-up snippets of the story on visits to the excellent Papplewick Pumping Station just north of that City.

  6. Rich said,

    January 28, 2015 @ 1:55 pm

    Hello, I may have my dates wrong but I was led to believe that the columns that form the fountain in the Arboretum on Monks Road in Lincoln are Nottinghamshire sandstone cores. Created from the coring of water supply boreholes. These sandstone cores were then used in the construction of the fountain. They are there to celebrate / commemorate the water supply coming from Nottinghamshire.

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