The Bills of Mortality were introduced in 1665 primarily to provide statistics on deaths caused by the plague and were based on registers kept by local Parishes, the spiritual and administrative pillars of communities. It was not until 1837 after Britain had been gripped by a new deadly epidemic – cholera – that the General Register Office was set up to take over the recording of population mortality and the introduced the certification of deaths by cause.

When the plague visited this country, it was most fatal in the districts on the south of the Thames as in those on the north [...] the plague resembles cholera in being much promoted by crowding and want of personal cleanliness.

—John Snow, On the mode of communication of cholera, 1855. p.123