Causes of Death

Land Introduction

Causes of Death, White Chapel, Cleckheaton

Most parishes in the West Riding of Yorkshire, did not include the of death in the parish records. Some, but not all, occasionally included the age.

For some reason, the cause of death and the age at death were included in the death records at White Chapel, Cleckheaton (a part of Birstall parish) from July 9, 1793 to March 4, 1813.

I believe that it can be assumed that the causes of death in Cleckheaton were similar to other parishes in the area and that the records from the White Chapel in Cleckheaton give an indication of the causes of death in the area in general.

There were 860 deaths recorded in Cleckheaton Chapel in the township of Cleckheaton between 1793 and 1813. In addition to the village of Cleckheaton, the Chapel covered the hamlets of Heaton, Popplewell, Scholes and Wike in the parish of Birstall.

Although there was no direct family listed in these records, the records themselves are very interesting because it gives a macrocosmic sampling of the causes of death in the area. This type of information is not available in any other form. The area covered by these records was within a few miles of Batley where the Land/Law ancestors were living during this time period. More importantly the causes of death probably had not changed much in hundreds of years.

There are several deaths where I could not read the entries, either because the ink was too faded or I could not understand the handwriting.

The deaths reported in White Chapel can be broken down into several categories:

  1. No noted or Unknown
  2. Non infectious diseases:
    1. "Decline" and "Mortification"
    2. Sudden Deaths
    3. Old Age
    4. Fits and Palsy
    5. Inflammation
    6. Jaundice
    7. Rheumatism
    8. Pleurisy
    9. Asthma
    10. Diseases of the Bowel
    11. Liver diseases
    12. Cancer
    13. Dropsy
    14. Gravel and Stone
    15. Miscellaneous
    16. Infant mortality
  3. Infectious diseases
    1. Consumption
    2. Small Pox
    3. Fevers
    4. Dry Gripes (Dry Cough)
    5. Croup
    6. Whopping Cough
    7. Measles
    8. Miscellaneous
  4. Accidental and Suicide
    1. Scalding and Burns
    2. Miscellaneous
  5. Female specific deaths
    1. Bloody Flux
    2. Child Birth
    3. Miscellaneous

Not noted or Unknown

One hundred and sixty-seven of the entries were listed without a cause of death. The space for cause of death was left blank.

Fifteen of these not noted deaths were of people over 75 whom I assume died of "old age".

Thirty-seven of these not noted deaths were infants. Infant mortality, was very high during this period.

Non Infectious Diseases

Decline and Mortification

The largest number of entries where a cause of death was noted was listed under "Decline". One hundred and thirteen deaths were listed under this category.

"Decline" was obviously a "catch all" category covering any slow versus contagious decease before the advent of more modern diagnosis. The age range for decline was from "infant" to "old age".

Several deaths of "decline" were given more specific indications as, "Decline after childbirth", "Decline Asthma". In these cases I have listed them with the more specific cause of death such as "childbirth".

In addition, eight deaths were listed as caused by "Decay" and eleven deaths were listed as caused by a "Wearing", "Long Affliction", "Pain and Sickness", "Afflicted 10 years", "Long Disease", "Disease and Always", "Feverish Decline", "Awaisting", "Weakened", "Cronical" and a 6 year old who is listed as dying from "3-year-old illness". I feel that these deaths could be described as "Decline".

This brings the total of people who died of an unspecified long-term illness to 132.

The only thing that can be sure about death by the "Decline" (and related causes) is that the person gradually became sicker. The actual causes of death, however, could have been many and varied. Possible real causes could have included cancer and tuberculosis. Tuberculosis was a common cause of death in the area.

The ages for deaths under "Decline" and related illnesses include:

  1. Eleven infants under one year old. This includes one death of an infant who is listed as "Constant Illness" and one who is listed as "Pined Away".
  2. Nine people over 75 (5 females and 4 males)
  3. Two females over 80 who died of "Decay"
  4. Two females over 80 who died of "Long affliction"
  5. One 88 year-old male who was "Afflicted 10 Years".

Given the looseness of this system of identifying the causes of death, the 11 infants who died of decline could be included under a general category of "Infant deaths" and the 14 people fourteen people over age 75 who died of decline could be included under the general category of "Old Age"

Subtracting the infant deaths and the deaths of people over 75, there were 90 people of other ages who died of "Decline" or related diseases. These remaining deaths include people of every other age and included among others:

  1. A person of 65 who was listed as "old age and decline" (putting the criteria for "old age" quite low)
  2. A 71 year old man and his 60 year old wife who were buried on the same day, (Sounds a bit strange that they would decline to the point of death at the exact same time)

There are several deaths that are equally vague as decline and decay and encompass the six people who died of "Mortification" :

  1. A 13 year old
  2. A 43 year old
  3. A 46 year old
  4. A 69 year old
  5. A 86 year-old
  6. 95 year and 10 month, Thomas Butterworth, who died of "mortified foot". I would assume that "mortified foot" was gangrene. This 95 year and 10 month old man, was the oldest death recorded.

Other vague deaths includes:

  1. The 64-year-old "Discouraged" widow
  2. A male infant who was "Always Badly"
  3. The 76-year-old male with "Testical Decay"
  4. The 69-year-old female with "Cholic".

Sudden Deaths

Sudden death also struck people of all ages including:

  1. 4 infants
  2. A 15-year-old male
  3. A 23-year-old female
  4. 8 females between the ages of 45 and 74
  5. 3 males between the ages of 66 and 67
  6. 4 people above the age of 75. The 75-year-old, two 78-year-olds, and the 84 year old who are listed under "sudden" are presumed to have been in good health until the time of their deaths and not to be suffering from afflictions of old age.

Old Age

There were 60 people who were 74 years or older at the time of their death.

Fits and Palsy

Fifty-eight people died of "fits". Thirty-six of these were infants or children from 5 days to 5 years old. Three were not listed with an age but the way they were listed would indicate that they were adults. The remaining 18 people ranged in age from 22 to 81and including a 22-year-old, a 29-year-old, two 40-year-olds, and one person each at 42, 48, 57, 60, 62, 65, 67, 68, 70, 73, 74, 76, 79 and 81.

In addition there were seven people of various ages who were listed specifically of dying of "apoplectic" fits or some similar indication like "apoplexy". This type of fit is commonly called a "stroke".

There were 5 deaths from "Palsy" which the dictionary describes as a word that is "(not used technically) paralysis, sometimes with shaking tremors". These deaths occurred at ages 68, 74, 75, 80 and 84.


Three people are listed with "Inflammation" pure and simple, a 26-year-old female, a 56-year-old female and a 71-year-old female. A five-year-old male is listed with "Inflammation of the Brain" and a 2-year-old male is listed with "Inflammation of the lung"


Five people died of some sort of jaundice, a 4-year-old of "convulsive jaundice" and 81-year-old of "black jaundice" and a 51-year-old male, a 59- year-old female and a 68-year-old male of simply "jaundice".


Six people died of rheumatism at ages 22, 37, 51, 60, 62 and 73.

One 11-year-old male died of Rheumatism and Pleurisy.


Two people died of Pleurisy: a 37-year-old and in May of 1897 and 55-year-old male.


Twelve people died from Asthma ranging in age from 7 to 83.

Diseases of the Bowel

Six people are listed as dying of bowel diseases, three male infants, a female of one and a half years, an adult female (whose age was not listed) and a 74-year-old male.

Liver Decease

Five people, all male ranging in age from 50 to 68, died of "Liver".


There were three death attributed to cancer: a 39 year old, a 61 year old and a 75 year old.


Twenty-eight deaths were attributed to dropsy, which is defined by Webster as "the accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body, esp. the legs". Three of the deaths were children and were listed as "dropsy in head". These deaths included a three-year-old, and 8 year-old and an infant.

The other 25 deaths ranged in age from 17 to 82, with 14 of these deaths being in people over the age of 60 and only three being 21 or younger.

Gravel and Stone

For a while I though the six deaths associated with either stone or gravel were accidental because one of them is listed as " hurt by stroke of mu(can't read two letters) also stone and gravel". The following deaths also include either the word stone or gravel or both: a 64-year-old male "gravel", 48-year-old female "gravel and dropsy", a 54-year-old male and a 72-year-old male both listed as "stone and gravel" and a 39-year-old male listed as "gravel".

I am not at all sure what this means but the female who is listed as "gravel and dropsy" leads me to believe that the deaths were from some sort of disease or affliction.

In March 2006 Karen sent me an email saying:

You note that "gravel" is an unknown cause of death to you. My great-great grandfather died of "gravel" which was the common name for kidney stones.

Bloody Flux

"Bloody flux" was a term for Dysentery. There are two deaths listed of "bloody flux", both female, a twelve-year-old and a 20-year-old.


There are several one of a kind entries which included the following:

  1. "Thrush and cough"
  2. An orphaned female
  3. "Excess"
  4. "Eruption"
  5. An infant who died of "toothing"
  6. A 69-year-old "complication"
  7. A 78-year-old "Deflection"
  8. A 64-year-old "Lung and severe affliction"
  9. Two deaths of "Infirmity", a one-year old female and a 79-year-old male
  10. Four death from "swelling" including one infant, an 18-year-old male, a 48-year-old female, a 17-year-old male who died specifically of a "Swelled Throat"
  11. A female child of "Anemia"

Infant Mortality

There were 143 deaths of infants or children one year or younger. Some of these infants were listed with specific diseases like small pox and scarlet fever. Other were listed with no cause of death. The tally of deaths of infants might be higher as many children were listed as "child" with no age given.

There was one death of an infant who was listed as "hurt in birth".

Infectious Diseases

By far the biggest killers in the parish during this 20-year period were infectious diseases which included Consumption (Tuberculosis), Small Pox, Worm Fever, Fevers of various types (Chin, Scarlet, Worm and just plain old "Fever"), Dry Gripes (or Dry Cough) and Croup, Whopping Cough and Measles.

There was no understanding of microbiology and the fact that germs caused disease until Louis Pasteur concluded in the 1860's that disease was caused by living organism too small to be seen with the naked eye. It was only in the 1840's that antiseptic methods were introduced and the 1850's that the spread of cholera was linked to drinking water.


Consumption, also known as "tuberculosis of the lungs" and "Phthisis", is either an acute of cronic disease that generally attacks the respitory tract. The symptoms are fever and weight loss.

Consumption was the leading cause of death in the White Chapel records. It killed 87 people from as young as 1 years to as old as 72 years, including a 30 year old mother and her 1 year old infant who were buried together in February 1804.

Consumption reached near epidemic proportions in in industial Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries.

At least two Land ancestors died of consumption:

  1. Robert Walker of Adwalton in 1857
  2. William Law of Batley in 1861

Adwalton and Batley are a few miles from Cleckheaton.

In 1882 Robert Koch, a German professor of public health, validated germ theory and in 1882 determined the bacteria that caused tuberculosis.

Although the number of cases has been greatly reduced, Tuberculosis is still a problem in the world today.

Small Pox

The second biggest killer was Small Pox. During the 20 years covered by these records 71 infants and young children died of Small Pox.

There are 10 entries where no age was listed, however, all these entries were listed as "the son of" or "the daughter of". I know there were unmarried adults who were listed in this way but, I assume that these listings represent children as small pox was an affliction of the young.

Due to the regularity of small pox epidemics, most adults had already had the disease or had developed an immunity.

The youngest death was of 8 month-old Robert, the son of Richard Seller of Scholes in October 1801. The pox came in waves and killed:

  • Sixteen between February and July in 1794
  • Six between April and August in 1797
  • Two in the January and February 1798
  • Five from July to October 1798
  • Seven in the winter (December to March) of 1801
  • Twelve from August to December of 1801
  • Four between April to September 1804
  • Three between September and November in 1805
  • One in 1806
  • Fourteen between January 1807 and January 1808 (one in January 1807, four in April, one in June, one in July, one in August, one in September, one in December and 4 in January 1808)

Of all these deaths only two occurred among siblings, three year old and six year old sisters who died in Scholes in 1801.

In 1796 Edward Jenner developed a vaccine against small pox from the cowpox virus after he observed that milkmaids exposed to cowpox did not get small pox. There was no understanding of the reason that the vaccine worked, but many people were vaccinated with the cowpox vaccine and became immune to small pox.

Small Pox has been eradicated through vaccination.


Four types of fevers were listed; "Fever", "Scarlet Fever", "Worm Fever", Chin Fever", and "Yellow Fever".

Thirty five people of all ages died of "Fever" between 1793 and 1813.

There is no real pattern in the deaths by "Fever". There were one or two deaths in the years 1793, 1794, 1795, 1802, 1804, 1805, 1806, 1808, 1809, 1810, 1811, and 1812. There were three deaths in 1803 and six deaths in 1801 and 1807.

I would assume that "Fever" could include what we would call "flu".

Scarlet Fever killed children from ages one year to 13. Unlike small pox, which seems to have killed only the very young, scarlet fever deaths for this period included a 6 year old, a 9 year old, two eleven year olds and a thirteen year old. There were a total of 18 deaths due to scarlet fever: two in 1793, three in 1796, three in 1800, one in 1802, one in 1804, one in 1807, two in 1809, one in 1810, two in 1811 and two in 1812.

I had originally written: "Scarlet Fever is now preventable with vaccination." In April 2010 Lynne Goldsack-Rowland pointed out that the vaccine is no longer used. Since the 1940s Scarlet fever has been treated with antibiotics.

Worm fever killed 13 children ranging from infants to a 9 year old. The deaths occurred as follows: one in 1799, one in 1801 (this child is also listed as having small pox and was counted under the small pox deaths), three in 1803, one in 1803, two in 1804, three in 1806, two in 1810 and one in 1812. There is no real pattern by locality or age. says"

Worm fever is probably a term that indicates the ignorance (or naivety to be kind) of doctors in the past. Of the three common types of worm, (thread, round and in the past tape) none would cause what anyone today would consider an illness. It is likely that the cause of death was an unrecognised fever (possibly one where there would be diarrhoea like typhoid and worms would be passed) in someone who just happened to have worms
Chin fever killed five young children ranging in age from 1 year to four years and a thirty year old. There was one death in 1802, two in 1802, one in 1804, one in 1807 and one in 1810. I have no idea what "chin Fever" was.

Yellow fever killed a 22 Year old male who died in September 1795. Yellow fever is a mosquito transmitted tropical disease. Why someone in Yorkshire had this illness is open to question.

Dry Gripes (Dry Cough)

"Gripes" is now spelt "grippe".

I am assuming that Dry Gripes and Dry Cough were the same disease, although I might be wrong. According to Webster Grippe is influenza.

Dry gripes or dry cough killed thirteen people ranging in age from a one year old to a 73 year old, (10 infants or children and three adults). Deaths by year were as follows: one in 1795, one in 1797, five in 1798, two in 1799, two in 1806, two in 1810 and one in 1811.


Croup is a nonspecific term to identify several children's disease causing inflammation of the larynx and trachea and accompanied by difficulty in breathing, cough, and sharp intakes of breath. Croup frequently occurs in children under the age of three and is more common during the winter months.

There was one death due to croup in 1803 and five deaths due to croup in January 1812, four in Scholes and one in Liveredge. One of these deaths in Scholes in 1812 is listed as "Croup & measles". The child who died, four-year-old Elizabeth Thornton, was buried the same day as her six year old brother, William, who is listed as dying of "Croup & inflamed lungs". Two other siblings died in this croup epidemic, four-year-old, Mary Peel and her two-year-old sister, Susan Peel.

Whooping Cough

Whooping Cough is an infectious bacterial disease most common among children. Symptoms include frequent cough followed by a loud convulsive intake of breath and frequently vomiting. There were four deaths attributed to Whooping Cough; a three-year-old in 1796, a three-year-old and a thirteen-year-old in 1808 and a seven-year-old in 1810.

Whooping Cough is now preventable with vaccination.


The last of the infectious killers was measles, again, a childhood disease. There were twelve deaths due to measles including 3 in 1807 and nine in 1812. Two siblings, one-month-old, George Dolby, and his three and a half year old sister, Juliana Dolby, cover the age ranges.

Measles is now preventable with vaccination.


There were several one of a kind listings:

  • 83 year old male "Tedevus of Teclevus"
  • 43 year old female "Pneumonia"
  • 62 year old female "Inferious (sic)"

Accidental and Suicide

There was only one death listed as a suicide.

There were 26 deaths that were listed as accidental. These included 18 children and 8 adults.


The one suicide was a 67-year-old male who hung himself in June of 1809.

Scalding and Burns

Seven children under two years old died of scalding.

Two children (age three and six) died of burns.


Other accidental deaths of infants and children include:

  1. A female infant who was smothered in bed
  2. A female infant who is simple listed as "killed"
  3. A 3-year-old male who was "shot dead"
  4. A seven-year old who drowned
  5. A nine-year-old who was "killed in pit"
  6. A 10-year-old who was killed by a horse
  7. A 11-year-old who is listed as "killed mill"
  8. A thirteen-year-old who "fell in coal pit"
  9. A 13-year-old who is simply listed "accident"

The deaths in the pit and mill reflect the dangers of child labor. Small boys worked in the coal mines where they were small enough to go places that a man could not enter due to his size. Likewise, children of both sexes had jobs in the mills that required small size and flexibility.

Adult accidental deaths include:

  1. A man who fell off a wall
  2. A man "killed in quarry"
  3. A man simply listed as "killed"
  4. A man who drowned
  5. A man killed by "fall of earth"
  6. A man who "fell of a horse"
  7. One "accidental"
  8. One "hurt"
  9. One "hurt by stroke of mu(two letters I can't read) also stone and gravel" who I counted him with the stone and gravel deaths (See Stone and Gravel above.)

Female Specific Deaths

Child Birth

The most amazing things to me about the deaths from childbirth are:

  1. There were far fewer than I though there would be
  2. I was surprised by the ages.

There were 13 deaths that were specifically labeled "childbirth". Two of these did not include an age. The other ages were 21, 22, 28, 29, 30, 32, 34, 41, 42, 43, and 45. Two of these deaths also list the infant being buried with the mother, the 30-year-old and the 45-year-old.

There were seven deaths that were related to childbirth but appear not to have occurred immediately. These include the following:

  1. Two "decline after childbirth" (one of these women was 45 years old)
  2. Two "fever after childbirth"
  3. One "childbirth consumption"
  4. One "milk fever"
  5. One "disposed after childbirth"


There were, I believe, two additional female specific deaths; a 51-year-old woman who died of "change" and a widow who died of a "miscarriage". Both of these deaths are interesting. Did the 51-year-old really die of menopause, or is there another meaning of "change"? Did the widow really die of a miscarriage, or is the result of a failed abortion?

Tallies of the Deaths by Year

I excluded the years 1793 and 1813 because I have only a partial count for these years. Between 1794 and 1812 there were a total of 826 deaths, with an average of 45.8 deaths a year. The following years were above the average:

  1. 1794 with a total of 51
  2. 1798 with a total of 54
  3. 1801 with a total of 76 (the highest death rate of all these years)
  4. 1807 with a total of 68
  5. 1812 with a total of 71

According to Joshua Lederberg's article "Infectious History" in Science, Vol 288, April 14, 2000:

"The mortality statistics fluctuated considerably during the first half of the last century. Much of this instability was due to sporadic outbreaks of infectious such as typhoid fever, tuberculosis, and scarlet fever"
There was a small pox outbreak in 1794 that killed 16 children between February and July.

There is no apparent reason for the high mortality in 1798. There are, however, eight deaths of infants with no cause of death noted and seven cases of small pox.

There were 18 deaths due to small pox in 1801. There were also nine deaths of infants and children where no cause was noted.

There were 10 deaths of small pox and 3 deaths of measles in 1807.

There were no reported deaths from small pox in 1812. There were, however, six deaths from croup, a cause of death that had not appeared in the records before this, and nine deaths from measles.

Transcription of the causes of death 1789 to 1804

To see a transcription of the age, sex, cause of death, place of death and date of death in White Chapel, Cleckheaton between 1789 and 1804 click on the photo of the White Chapel grave yard.

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This page was created March 2006 and updated April 2010