The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849

The Setting, Causes, Course and Aftermath of an Epidemic in London

Paperback 2009

This work brings together a unique range of sources to reveal a forgotten episode in London's history. Situated opposite Westminster on the south bank of the River Thames, by 1848 Lambeth's waterfront had become London's industrial center and a magnet to migrant workers. The book exposes the suffering of the working population in the face of apathy and ineptitude, and convincingly challenges the long-standing belief that London's numerous cholera outbreaks beginning in 1832 were unrelated. The work combines recent scientific research with first-hand accounts to show for the first time that in the nineteenth century cholera was very probably endemic in the River Thames.


Amazon Reviews

Not just cholera

“I intended to dip into this book for background information about someone who died of cholera in Greenwich in 1849 and another family who lived in Lambeth in the first half of the 19th century, but ended up reading every page. It is excellently researched and extremely lucid & I learnt an enormous amount from it. Most books on C19 cholera relate the well-known story of John Snow: this one drew on modern research to account for observations made by Snow's contemporaries pursuing rival theories.

It deserves a place on the shelves of the Local Studies Units of all the industrial towns & cities which expanded fast in the 19th century and for amateur family historians like me it is a mine of information, as it covers not only public health but links social conditions and political currents giving rise to movements such as Chartism.

The only drawback is the hefty price, so most of us will probably have to rely on library copies.”

Gwyn2, 8 Decenber 2010

Helpful and enlightening!

“I would recommend this book for any keen family historian with roots in Lambeth - it gives a real insight into the area and the problems encountered at the time by the Lambeth 'locals'. There are even some case histories, so some lucky genealogists might find some very relevant information. Also good for anyone interested in health care in the Victorian era, or just keen about London history. There are some good illustrations and maps, too.”

I. Moir, 30 July 2012
Newspaper and Magazine Reviews

"Family historians investigating London ancestors in the first part of the 19th century will love this fascinating and informative new book by Amanda J Thomas, which contains a wealth of many previously unpublished illustrations.

The work uniquely combines recent scientific research with first-hand accounts to show that cholera was very probably endemic in the River Thames.

By 1848, London's industrial centre, the waterfront area of Lambeth, had become a magnet to migrant workers, and it was only a matter of time before a full blown epidemic would break out. The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849 gives a full historical account of the period and includes a day-by-day account of the epidemic, citing and indexing individual cases, which could help solve many family historians' brick walls."

"Deadly diseases may still exist in Kentish waters despite having laid dormant for hundreds of years, warns the author of a new book on cholera.

Hundreds of people died when an outbreak of the infection, thought to have been caused by poor living conditions near the Thames in Lambeth, south London, swept through the county in the mid-19th Century.

But despite only 35 cases of cholera having been reported in Europe since 2000, Amanda Thomas, author of The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849, is warning that people should not be complacent.

She said: "I'd be very surprised if it still exists in the Thames because of all the cleansing work carried out there, but don't think it's gone away completely.

"On the one hand we can be too hygienic, which isn't good for our immune system, but washing your hands before you eat and after going to the loo is still very important.

"If your hobby is sailing and you're pulling wet ropes about all day then I would be particular about my hygiene, and I wouldn't advise anyone to go swimming in marinas either.

"I don't think cholera has left our shores so we need to be careful. It won't be terrorists or another war that kills the human race, it will be some sort of epidemic."

Cholera is an acute intestinal infection caused by ingestion of food or water contaminated with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae.

It produces an enterotoxin that causes a painless, watery diarrhoea that can quickly lead to severe dehydration and death if treatment is not promptly given.

In 2007 it was revealed that 90 patients had died at hospitals run by Maidstone and Tunbridge Wells NHS Trust following outbreaks of a different disease - Clostridium difficile (C diff) - between 2004 and 2006.

KOS Media then launched a hand-hygiene campaign to raise awareness about superbugs and to show how everyone can help to stop the spread of infection.

Mrs Thomas said the importance of hand-washing first came to public attention after the Lambeth cholera outbreak.

She added: "A lot of folklore about hand-washing probably stems from those cholera outbreaks, because once it's digested you can die very quickly. You can get it at breakfast and die by teatime.

"The areas worst affected in 1849 were places like Northfleet and Gravesend. Then it spread from there.

"It went to Medway then Dover in the space of three months, killing thousands of people. It was very nasty and would have been spoken about for years afterwards."


Mrs Thomas is a regular contributor to the Friends of Medway Archives (FOMA) newsletter, The Clock Tower.

The Lambeth Cholera Outbreak of 1848-1849 is available now, priced £37.95, through Amazon.

Lambeth Life review

Copyright Amanda J. Thomas 2020.