One Grave for Forty Three Strangers, East Farleigh, Kent

The Strangers Grave - East Farleigh ©Rachael Hale 2013
The Strangers Grave – East Farleigh ©Rachael Hale 2013

There are no names on the cross, no fancy markings and the inscription is barely legible yet this simple headstone marks the mass grave of forty three ‘strangers’ who died from cholera in 1849.

Cholera had been sweeping the British Isles for two years, thriving amongst the squalid conditions of the lower classes and killing up to 2,000 people each week. One of the worst hit sectors were Kent’s hop pickers who lived, if they were lucky, in a twelve foot square hut made from brick or corrugated tin each September.  Straw covered the floor and up to ten people squeezed into each hut. Primitive communal washing and cooking facilities were on offer but despite the pickers’ attempts to keep themselves and their huts clean, illness was rife.

Pickers, known as ‘strangers’, came from all over.  Many travelled down from the East End but it’s believed the people now buried in East Farleigh’s churchyard were refuges from Ireland who, faced with the potato famine back home, had travelled to Kent in order to find a better life.

Sadly, it was not to be and on September 12 1849 cholera swept through Mr Ellis’ farm at Court Lodge, Barming.  The doctor’s medical account is quoted in Bob Ogley’s Chronicle of the Nineteenth Century as follows: ‘The disease arose entirely from causes which are remediable and removable; namely impure air rising from overcrowded and ill-ventilated apartments, impure water derived from wells containing the soakage of cow yards and human filth and impure food sold at cheap rates by unprincipled vendors of putrid fish and adulterated bread.’  Thirty four other workers had died from the same disease on Mr Ellis’ farm some fifteen years beforehand.

In a ceremony performed by Rev. Henry Wilberforce on September 23 1849, the lives of these forty three hop pickers were briefly marked but who they actually were is now a mystery.

Rachael

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11 Comments

    1. Rachael Hale aka the 'History Magpie'

      Hi Lynne, omitting their names makes me feel like their lives weren’t valued but perhaps it was simply due to the fact that they were trying to prevent the cholera spreading and they needed to have the hoppers buried as quickly as possible. Either way it always makes me feel sad but the memorial is under a beautiful tree and the actual graveyard is a wonderful calm place with fantastic views of the locks. It also has lots of links to local Wilberforce/slavery abolishment history 🙂

  1. esmeraldamac

    I read recently that some victims of the horrendous 1913 train crash in Cumbria were buried in unnamed graves in a nearby church yard. I suppose they had to be practical in those days, and at least the graves weren’t wholly unmarked.

    1. Rachael Hale aka the 'History Magpie'

      Hello Diane, thanks for stopping by. I can understand the need for practicality too but hope that someone took a moment to write them down somewhere – both here and in the case of your train crash.

      Absolutely love your blog on Cumbrian history btw – feel very envious of some of your counties treasures 🙂

  2. historicalwritings

    It is wrong their names were not marked on the cross, for cholera a disease we like to forget from the 19th century has its victims, and each and everyone should be shown to all.

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