Sadly, many diseases in Victorian times proved to be fatal, with children particularly at risk. Between October and December 1840, no fewer than 10 children in Chesterton died, an astonishing figure given the small size of the village. At that time a call from the Doctor was a last resort as they had to be paid for. The only vaccinations available at that time was for Smallpox.
The full list of deaths was as follows...
October 6th James Cunnington Infant
November 8th Elizabeth Dudley 2 Years
November 16th Sarah Petit 5 Years
November 17th James Dudley 5 Years
November 20th John Petit 9 Years
November 24th Charlotte Petit 2 Years
November 24th Sarah Anne Dudley 1 Year
November 29th Thomas Cunnington 6 Years
November 29th Elizabeth Sheffield 8 Years
December 4th James Sheffield 16 Years.
It was not just Chesterton which was affected in this way, in Victorian times it has been estimated that as many as one in four children died in families who were working, with the rate even higher amongst the unemployed. Neighbouring Alwalton was also badly hit at around the same time, as the picture on the left sadly graphically illustrates.....
According to the Census of 1801, Chesterton had a population of 112, most of whom were engaged in agriculture. These were worrying times for the village with the country at war with France and the threat of French invasion a very real worry. The Prisoner of War camp at Norman Cross, the Yaxley Barracks, which held French Prisoners Of War meant that the villagers of Chesterton had a closer encounter with the enemy than most.
By 1821, the population of Chesterton had dropped to 95, with just 18 inhabited homes.. Of 23 families in Chesterton no fewer than 19 were employed in agriculture. Health conditions in the 19th century were poor and an indication of how bad conditions were came in 1840, when no fewer than ten children died in a three month period from October until the end of the year. This was a staggering figure given the small population.
Electricity was brought to the village in 1933, piped water was not bought to Chesterton until 1939, prior to that time water supplies had to be fetched from Billing Brook unless there was a well in the garden. A sewerage scheme was proposed in 1962 and this was eventually completed in 1969.
With regards traffic, the crossing over the A1 was getting to be more of a problem as the number of vehicles increased. This was eleviated with the building of a fly over across the A1. This was opened in 1976 and the opening of the Elton bypass in 1990 took more traffic out of the village. Looking back to before the flyover was built, traffic was always at its worst in the village at East Of England Show time. The show used to run on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and queues of traffic to used to trail back the length of the village and part way to Elton!!
Over the years the village has had its fair share of weather related problems. Iin the Winter of 1979 the village was cut off for a time due to snow. This caused the A1 to be closed and the situation was so severe that 300 people were forced to spend the night at Wittering as things ground to a stand still. Over the Easter holiday in 1998, the A1 suffered again, this time flooded due to 24 hours of torrential rain. Large parts of Chesterton were flooded and, not for the first time, Priory Garden bore the brunt of the flooding. Casting my mind back to that storm I can remember seeing a tractor stranded in a field with only the top half visible, the rest submerged under flood water, and that tractor remained out of action for many days whilst the water receded.
The village celebrated the Queen's Diamond Jubilee by gathering at the Roman Singal Station at the enterance to Hill farm and lighting a beacon. From on top of the hill it was possible to see the corresponding beacon at Castor, a throwback to Roman times this when the signal station at Chesterton would alert those in the Roman Town of Durobrivae across the fields.