Cholera first appeared in Britain in the autumn of 1831 at Sunderland, on the north-east coast. From there, it travelled both north - through Gateshead, Newcastle upon Tyne and into Northumberland and Scotland - and south, towards London. About 32,000 people died in this first epidemic.
Cholera killed between 40 and 60 per cent of victims, often within hours of the appearance of the first symptoms. Death came swiftly and painfully, and although there were many other diseases which killed far more people, the speed with which cholera struck caused widespread fear. Doctors could not agree about how people caught the disease or how it might be treated, so seemed helpless to prevent it spreading.
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