In St Edburg’s Churchyard there is an old weatherbeaten headstone that is largely unreadable now but does bear the names of 64 people. The stone, with the names upon it, is a historic record of the cholera epidemic which scourged Bicester 190 years ago. The epidemic struck Bicester in 1832, and within a few days 64 people in the town - men, women and children - were dead. Bicester like most towns in the country, could do little but let it run its course.
In those days medical and hospital services were practically non-existent, doctors and nurses were few, and the standards of public hygiene were generally low. People who contracted cholera died within a few hours. Terror quickly mounted in the town, and so did the death toll.
But the total of 64 deaths was nearly increased to 65, if not for the remarkable story of a young boy who escaped being buried alive just a few hours before his funeral.
A young boy named John Hudson fell ill with the disease. He collapsed into unconsciousness and was later certified as being dead by his doctor. The funeral arrangements were made by his family and the boy’s body was placed in a coffin.
A few hours before the time fixed for the funeral, and before the undertaker had screwed down the coffin lid, the boy’s grandmother bent down to kiss her grandson for the last time. She felt him move. Quickly the boy was lifted from the coffin and as the hours passed he showed further signs of being very much alive.
Subsequently young John Hudson made a complete recovery from the dreaded cholera and lived a full and active life. As a young man he entered domestic service and travelled hundreds of miles on stagecoaches. For nearly 40 years he worked at the Bicester brewery owned by Charles and William Shillingford, until the firm disbanded in 1891.
Apart from his remarkable escape during the epidemic, John Hudson was the first old-age pensioner in Bicester to receive his pension application form from the Post Office.
On 7th June 1909 John Hudson was struck down by a cerebral haemorrhage and died at his home in Manchester Terrace, Victoria Road. He was 78 years of age.