ON the south side of the churchyard, near to the entrance to the cemetery, stands an old and worn stone.

Once the names were easy to read and were a reminder to the inhabitants of Bicester of the price the town paid during the Asiatic cholera epidemic of 1832.

Those who died are actually buried further to the south east and the memorial stone was originally closer to the church.

The first death occurred on June 7, the last on August 7, with the 64 who died ranging in age from babies to 87 years.

The disease arrived in England in October 1831 and in some places lasted for many months.

In Oxfordshire it raged from June through to the end of November. During its two months in Bicester, 199 cases were recorded, mainly amongst those residing in the poor Crockwell and New Buildings (now North Street) areas of the town, many of whom were living in small, overcrowded cottages.

The cause and prevention were not fully understood but the chairman of the Board of Health at Bicester, Viscount Chetwynd, took on the task of getting houses cleaned, contaminated bedding burned, and arranging for healthy food, clean water and medicine to be delivered to the sick.

He received huge acclaim for his excellent work, and it may well have been down to his quick and thorough response that the disease did not linger longer and kill more.

Nevertheless, the death of 64 people from a population of just over 3,000 must have had a huge and lasting impact on the residents.

The stone, paid for by public subscriptions, is a memorial to them and a reminder to us of an important, and tragic, period in the history of Bicester.

By the 1880s it was showing signs of wear and the Vicar, the Rev. John Blackburne Kane, took it upon himself to get it restored at his own expense.

In the 1940s it was sent away for cleaning by Rev. Cowland Cooper, when he had extensive work done on the churchyard.

It is impossible now to read the names, but at least it is still standing, and we know who they were and their ages from the parish registers.

But there was at least one other victim of the disease whose name is not included on the stone, as he was not buried with the rest.

The Rev. Richard Fletcher, minister at the Congregational Church in Chapel Street, died on June 27, 1832, but there is no indication in their church register or on his memorial tablet, of his cause of death.

We find him in the national press, who published daily updates on the cholera.

They reported: ‘The Rev. R. Fletcher was seized with the malady on Tuesday (on the evening of which day he was in apparent health), died on the following day, and was buried on Thursday.’

He was described as a ‘faithful and affectionate pastor of the Independent Church.’

There was a revival in numbers attending the church during his time as minister, so his death must have been a huge blow to his congregation.

The Congregational Church closed in the 1970’s and in 1986 a member of the family asked St Edburg’s Church if the memorial tablet to the Rev. Fletcher and his family could be moved there.

It can be seen on the south wall inside the church.