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Honour for two heroes of fatal epidemic

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: September 23, 2013

The graves of William Baker and John Bowen in Bridgwater

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Two men who cared for the poor during one of Bridgwater's most heart-breaking times have been commemorated along with 88 victims of the cholera epidemic that ravaged the town.

William Baker and John Bowen were self-made, self-educated local men who rose to win national recognition in various fields.

Bridgwater Heritage Group has arranged the cleaning and repair of memorial stones to the two men, and to the 88 victims from one small area of the town alone who died in an epidemic which killed 235 locals in 1849.

The Mayor of Bridgwater, Councillor David Loveridge, and chairman of the heritage group, Dr Peter Cattermole, welcomed guests to the rededication service at St John the Baptist Churchyard last Friday.

John Mather, Emeritus Professor of Geology in the University of London paid tribute to Mr Baker, a Fellow of the Geological Society, natural historian, geologist and philanthropist.

As well as being an overseer of the poor, Mr Baker was a churchwarden, town councillor, alderman, magistrate, vice chairman of the Bridgwater Literary and Scientific Institution and a volunteer to both the local infirmary and the Bridgwater Savings Bank.

Local ward councillor Julian Taylor paid tribute to Mr Bowen, an engineer, merchant, journalist and philanthropist, who first worked in India on lighthouse and other engineering projects, before returning to the town as a wine merchant.

He became a tireless writer on social issues, reformed the pew rent system at St Mary's Church which had effectively stopped the poor hearing sermons, criticised Christian Missionaries' activities towards Hindus in India and spoke out against Poor Law failings. He also designed the town's Cornhill market.

Baker and Bowen were also good friends, who died just a year apart in 1853 and 1854

Edward Colgan, chief executive of the Somerset Partnership NHS Foundation Trust, described the brave actions of the health authorities during the cholera epidemic.

The infirmary relaxed rules which normally forbade the admission of patients, and it then became so overstretched that Bridgwater Health Committee converted the old poor house into a temporary hospital. Almost 1,000 people were treated at the infirmary between August to October 1849.

Mr Colgan told those gathered for the dedication service: "By September 1849, a day of solemn prayer was held across the town, with all shops closed and all churches holding services. Churches gave services of thanksgiving in December that year, also. Today, we echo that solemnity, and that giving of thanks. We echo the words upon this memorial "From plague, pestilence and sudden death, Good Lord deliver us".

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