In September 1866 the village was visited by an epidemic of cholera.  Before chlorinated tap water came into use there was always a danger that the springs and wells on which people relied might become contaminated by harmful matter.

As this illness is passed through contaminated drinking water we can only assume that certain springs or wells or even part of the Fairwater Leat had become polluted.   The latter may well have been the case. In 1765 the case of a certain John Sugg was brought to the Court Leet for “making dung in the potwater”, which suggests that he was using the leat as a latrine.

The burial registers show that most victims lived in the village itself and thus may have shared the same water supply. When one considers that many houses near the leat used earth closets and that the Fairwater Leat was also used as a means of disposal of waste such as fish heads, ashes, and domestic crockery and many gardens nearby had pigsties, there is a strong possibility that this stream may have been the source of infection.  It also underlines why it was seen necessary to cleanse the bed of the stream at least once a year.

The Kingsteignton Vicar brought the state of the Leat to the attention of the Local Board of Guardians in September 1866, reporting that a young boy was taken home from school at 4 o’clock in the afternoon and was dead by the evening. He was referring to six years old James Sanders, who died after only six hours illness, whom he buried on 23rd September.

Mr Hext complained to the Board and asked them to do something about the drainage. He told the Board that a friend of his had said to him, “Hext, you may take me blindfolded at night to any part of Kingsteignton and I will tell you where from the stink.”

The Board was told that there was a problem with the drainage under a portion of the road of the Totnes Trust (this would have been the culvert that takes the Fairwater under Fore Street , this stretch of road being the responsibility of the Trust). Mr Creed, a member of the Board,  said he had visited the place and could confirm the matter needed attention, but residents did not wish to share the cost of remedying it with the Trust. The Chairman of the Board was of the opinion that the matter rested with the vestry (the forerunner of the parish council).

 As the various bodies deliberated as to who was responsible for what, during the following month seven more people were claimed as the illness reached its height.  Three members of the Osborne family, son William Jnr, father William Snr and mother Elizabeth were buried within the space of four days. Their bodies were not taken into the church for fear of spreading the infection. The next victim was 6 years old Henry Carnell who lived at Hackney and was buried on 23rd October, whilst three days later brother and sister Thomas and Sarah Heywood were laid to rest, as was their mother Mary, the following day. Villagers became stricken with terror of the disease and neighbours were afraid to visit each other.

The residents witnessed another burial on 1st November for 5 years old Mary Bunclarke. The last person to succumb to the disease was another child, Mary Henley, who was approaching her third birthday and lived at The Butts. She was buried on 11th November.

Throughout the epidemic a young woman named Martha Beardon showed great courage by visiting the unfortunate families and nursing the sick. Although many people were taken ill one day and died the next, Martha was undaunted by the fear of the infection.  As well as being a fine baker Martha was a dispenser of homeopathic medicine and her nursing brought comfort to many.  When the plague subsided in November, after claiming eleven victims, the village felt a great sense of gratitude for the devoted work she had carried out.  To express their thanks the villagers presented Martha with a gold watch with an inscription recording their appreciation.