Swanley History Group – July 2017 meeting
A poignant epitaph on a gravestone, recording the death of an infant through diphtheria in the 1860’s, was the catalyst for a deep interest in the history of the prevention and cure of diseases and this was the subject of our July meeting, presented by
Frequent epidemics of contagious diseases including cholera, diphtheria, smallpox and typhoid took the lives of thousands of people. In the year 1863 there were 30,000 deaths due to scarlet fever. In 1878 typhus was virulent in North and West Kent. ‘Hoppers’ coming into Kent from the overcrowded slums of London are thought to have been the source of the smallpox epidemic in Marden. In 1918 40 million worldwide died of Spanish Flu.
Hospitals for infectious diseases were set up but the facilities and conditions were generally inadequate – some had no running water and oil lamps were the only form of lighting. There was great over-crowding and some patients had to ‘top and tail’. Paupers were not accepted at all but those with sufficient money were provided with food, wine and spirits. Until the 1890’s provision of alcohol was included in the contract of employment of hospital staff!
Prevention was advanced when Louis Pasteur discovered the links between germs and disease and his work on vaccinations. Public bodies became aware of the links between health and sanitation, making it a requirement to notify the authorities of cases of infectious illnesses in the late 1800’s. The introduction of free school meals in 1906, when children were fed at a kitchen in every town, made a big difference - better nourishment provided greater resistance. Charities and generous individuals funded more advanced equipment and better facilities. Milk sterilisation and inoculation clinics contributed towards eradication of these diseases. Rat-catchers were busy destroying disease carriers during the ‘National Rat Week’ held each November.
Our next meeting is on 1 August when Group members Bob and Judy Brickell and Sarah Lewis will remind us of the strong protests made by local people against plans to route the Channel Tunnel Rail Link through Swanley and Sutton at Hone in the 1980’s - 7.15 for 7.30 pm start, at White Oak Indoor Bowls Centre, Garrolds Close, off Hilda May Avenue, Swanley, BR8 7BF. For further information – www.swanleyhistorygroup.weebly.com, telephone Terry on 07884493894 Or Email email@example.com
Christina Tyler, Programme Organiser