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November 1886, London. What a way to die.


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My great, great, great grandmother Mary Ann Roberts died on the 14th November 1886 aged 46 years at 25 Evelyn Buildings, Dorrington Street, Holborn, London. No 25 was a one room tenement, (a far cry from Mary's idyllic Sussex village house upbringing) She died suddenly of 3 aggressive but short infections.

I read that the smog was worst in November for London.

Also Holborn is a central London parish and the part of Holborn they lived in was then 4 miles from any countryside.

Mary's death certificate says that she had erysipelas for 12 days. Erysipelas is an infection of the epidermis, the layer of skin underneath the outer layer, often caused by a break in the skin such as an ulcer, cut, boil or rash. If she had the infection for 12 days and died on the 14th November, then she must have been diagnosed on the 2nd November.

She also had acute bronchitis for 3 days, probably diagnosed on the 11th November. A sudden swift infection of the lungs. By then her GP Dr Frederick Stearne Price LRCP probably knew he had little chance of saving her. The infection had spread.

At the church next door a prayers and thanksgivings was held for her. It listed her as sick in the church service records, along with a few other Holborn residents. They obviously were praying for her to recover.

Two days before her death she was diagnosed with pericarditis, which is swelling of the fibrous sac surrounding the heart. She succumbed on the 14th after 12 days in terrible pain, in bed probably vomiting, coughing and feeling terribly worn out.

Her and her husbands eldest daughter Kate Coombs registered the death. Mary was buried on the 20th November 1886 in the St Pancras & Islington Cemetery in Finchley, 6 miles north of Holborn, and which was still pretty much in the countryside, in a wooded area of the cemetery in a common grave, a far cry from her final years surrounded by gigantic buildings, crowds, dirt, noise, the constant clatter of horse and carts and smog, buried in surroundings that matched that of her childhood and teenage years.

I wonder if the smog contributed to her initial erysipeals infection, also the time of year.


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