It’s fair to say that the current Covid-19 situation is as bad as anyone can remember in living history. But Lichfield has been the subject of many epidemics over the years, from late 19th century small-pox, the (incorrectly titled) Spanish Flu of the final years of World War One, through the Asiatic Flu, foot and mouth and whooping cough epidemics of more recent times – and even an ice-cream poisoning epidemic in 1922!
The following passages appeared in the national, and local, press through the ages and do show that, although we may all feel that this is the most dangerous and threatening time of our lives, that epidemic outbreaks of the past created the same type of feelings, fears and anxieties in the past.
They also show similar incidents of misunderstandings, and misinformation, that are visible now.
They make for interesting reading – and perhaps we will see similar newspaper, and online reporting, about the deadly Covid-19 virus of 2020 in the future?
Whatever happens – do stay safe and do keep well.
THE SMALL POX EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, January 1888
Dr. Clark, the Medical Officer of Health to the Authority presented the following report respecting the case of small-pox at Spade Green, Burntwood:
Lichfield Union Rural Sanitary Authority – Lichfield, January 13tb, 1888. —Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen – I beg to report that the case of small pox at Burntwood is now convalescent. Its virulence through the man having been imperfectly vaccinated in early life, abated. There is now every reason to believe that the precautions taken to limit the disease, aided by the season of the year, will prove successful. The re-vaccinations have taken full effect and have probably prevented some of the inmates and others from being attacked by the disease. In about the course of a week, the house ought be thoroughly infected and lime washed, and what bedding clothes etc that cannot be steeped in disinfectants and boiled ought to be burnt, I also recommend that the same detached cottage under the same roof where there is a family of children should be thoroughly cleansed and lime washed at the same time. It has had nothing done to it for years, and is in very filthy condition especially the scullery where the bread has to be baked. The water supply to these cottages also very bad, and requires immediate attention as the people have to carry their water all the way from Pipe Hill Farm. There seems unfortunately at the present time, ground for fearing that a general epidemic of smallpox is imminent.
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, May 1891
During the past week the influenza in a serious form has made its appearance in Lichfield and district, and a large number of persons have been more or less afflicted. The Hon Mrs Maclagan and one of her children have been confined to their rooms at Bishopstowe, and several of the doctors of the City have suffered. Whole families have in some cases been attacked, in one instance eight persons in one household, and the sickness generally through the epidemic has been almost unprecedented. Amongst those laid up in Rugeley ana the district are the Rev Samson (vicar of S. Michael’s, Brereton), Mrs Samson, and several other members of the family, Mr J Hackett (district registrar), the Rev A Copeman (of Brereton), Ac. Amongst the troops at Whittington Barracks illness has been very great, and the sufferings of some of the patients have been very severe. The Mayor of Tamworth (Mr R Nevill) has been confined to his bed for several days with an attack of influenza. He is, however, reported to be improving and less feverish.
MEASLES EPIDEMIC AT LICHFIELD – Evening Despatch, January 1916
Several Deaths: All Schools Closed. A very serious epidemic of measles is raging at Lichfield, one doctor alone having over 200 cases on hie books. Several deaths have occurred, and there is a difficulty in procuring suitable isolation accommodation for the more serious rases. All the schools have been closed until the end of the month, and the city has boon placed out of bounds to the soldiers at Whittington Barracks. The outbreak is the most serious experienced in the city for many years, and is naturally creating considerable anxiety, especially in the poorer parts of the city, where majority of the deaths have occurred.
INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC IN LICHFIELD – Lichfield Mercury, October 1918
An epidemic of influenza raging in Lichfield and all the schools, with the exception of the High School, have been closed. The epidemic is the most widespread that has occurred for very many years, and it has developed with great rapidity. There are quite a large number of instances where four or five members of a household are down with the disease and one case reported where eight persons in one house are under treatment. Happily, the cases are for most part of mild type, though a proportion are of a more serious character. One noteworthy feature is that number of cases the influenza is accompanied by nose bleeding and vomiting, while others the sufferers are delirious. The outbreak has increased the strain on the local doctors, who. for a long time have been working at high pressure consequent on the absence on military service of members of the profession who formerly practised in the district.
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, November 1918
LESSON’S FROM THE OUTBREAK. THE POLICY OF THE FUTURE. The influenza epidemic is still causing acute anxiety in Lichfield. Fresh cases continue to occur in the City, though they are not as numerous as they were a fortnight or three weeks ago. Unfortunately, the disease seems now to be spreading to the outlying districts and the schools are closed at Armitage, Gentleshaw, Fradley, Alrewas Shenstone. Wall, Chasetown, Kings Bromley, Whittington, Weeford, BrownhilIs and Norton Canes. It cannot, therefore, be said that there is any real abatement.
The impression has been gaining ground that disease which has made its appearance with such virulence and over practically the whole world is not really influenza. This impression arose from the fact that the symptoms seemed to be in general to be of a quite different type from those experienced in previous epidemics. In the minds of people there was a suspicion that the outbreak was a form of plague. The latter suspicion, is, according Sir Walter Fletcher, Director of the Medical Research Committee, and Lieutenant-Col. Harvey, at the Royal Army Medical College, entirely without foundation. Research work has been proceeding for some time and no such organism as the plague bacillus has been found. Further it is pointed out by another expert that influenza manifests itself in several ways, and bacteriologists may find that what we call influenza is really a group of distinct diseases. The widespread nature of the outbreak is responsible for the great public attention that the disease is attracting at the present time.
AN EPIDEMIC ATTRIBUTED TO ICE-CREAM – Lichfield Mercury, February 1922.
Dr. L. S. Tomkys, medical officer of health for the Lichfield rural district, in his annual report, expresses the opinion that ice-cream purchased from an itinerant vendor from Walsall was the cause an epidemic of enteric fever which broke out in the Lichfield rural district last year. The number of cases notified in this outbreak 17. It was found that all the notified cases, and also all the suspicious ones, had partaken of this ice-cream. The medical officer for Walsall (Dr. Shore) reported that, after a thorough investigation, he had failed find any evidence connecting the ice-cream with the outbreak. In spite of that, he (Dr. Tomkys) thought there could be no reasonable doubt the ice-cream was the cause, and. all the affected persons had purchased’ on two succeeding Sundays, was probable that those were the only two deliveries which were contaminated.
FLU EPIDEMIC HITS STAFF – Lichfield Mercury, February 1951
Hospital Has Volunteer Helpers: The ‘flu epidemic, one of the most virile in recent years, is causing serious concern to hospital authorities in Lichfield. Hardest hit of local hospitals is St. Michael’s, where five out of six sisters in the maternity section and two from the main wards have been struck with the illness. Over a dozen patients have died since the epidemic began to spread, and so many of the staff are ill that emergency measures have had to be put into operation. On Sunday, members of the local branch of the Red Cross were called in to assist the staff and an extra midwife had to be hurriedly sent for from Wolverhampton. During the week volunteers from Lichfield Round Table have been working in shifts in the evening in order to give the over-worked nurses a chance to rest. The Matron (Miss J. Lewis) told a “Mercury” reporter that illness was particularly prevalent among the older patients. “I have been very grateful for the help the Red Cross and the Round Table have given me,” she said. “The Round Table, with no previous experience, have worked wonders.” The Victoria Hospital has suffered less than St. Michael’s. The Matron (Miss M. F. Cant), herself a temporary victim, told a ‘”Mercury” reporter the – situation was under control and conditions were virtually normal.
KOREA MEN HIT BY ‘FLU WAVE – Birmingham Daily Gazette, September 1953
Epidemic sweeps Lichfield barracks. Medical officers at Whittington Barracks, Lichfield, yesterday commandeered a barrack block as an ” overflow hospital” and called for volunteers to help nurse victims of a ‘flu epidemic which has struck the barracks. Parts of the former military hospital, which has been out of commission since 1946 and is now Mercian Brigade headquarters, may be recommissioned if the outbreak spreads. More than 40 men are in bed, including men of the King’s Shropshire Light Infantry who recently returned from Korea. An officer said last night: “The barrack block we have taken over has four rooms, each to hold 20 men. One room is full, as well as the ordinary sick quarters, and we expect to open another room tomorrow.” The outbreak at the barracks is part of a wave of ‘flu. mumps and the seasonal coughs and colds which is striking most parts of the Midlands, though in most of the area it has not reached epidemic proportions.
THE ASIAN FLU EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, October 1957
The Incidence of cases of Asian ‘flu In Lichfield continues to be high and from all hands there are reports of sufferers. Mainly the outbreaks appear to be without serious complications. although they are none the less painful and distressing to the patients. Doctors advise that bed is the best place when the ‘flu strikes. From almost every public event held in Lichfield and district in the past week comes the comment that attendances were down because of the outbreak. For factories and offices the position made particularly serious with firms trying to carry on with half the staff – sometimes much less than half.
THE INFLUENZA EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, October 1957
Although it difficult to assess exactly. the incidence of the Asian ‘flu epidemic in Lichfield, it is obviously continuing at a pretty high rate and very few families in the city have escaped. The M.O.C. for the area, Dr. C. E. Jamison, tells that the doctors the city are still extremely busy and the indications are that the epidemic has not yet reached its peak, but should do fairly soon. The best advice that can be given is for the patient to take to his or her bed as speedily possible, although It is well known that this isn’t always easy, particularly when there are other people to be looked after or when conscientious workers know that their absence will mean difficulty at their office or factory.
MEASLES IN LICHFIELD – Birmingham Daily Post, December 1960
There is a measles epidemic in Lichfield, the Medical Officer of Health, Dr. C. E. Jamison. said last night. “There is no cause for alarm,” he said. “It is the kind of thing we get about every two years and it is not in any way exceptional.”
CATTLE MARKET FIRST TO RE-OPEN – Walsall Observer & South Staffordshire Chronicle, February 1968
The first cattle market in Staffordshire to open since the foot and mouth epidemic began, was Lichfield’s Smithfield Market, which opened on Monday for the first time since mid-November, when it was held under special license. Mr. T. F. Winterton the auctioneer had to obtain another licence to re-open the market and said: I hope that the market can now be held each week, but while restrictions are still in force we will have to get a special licence from the County Council each time.
TURKEYS GALORE! – Lichfield Mercury, 25 December 1970
There seems to be enough turkeys for everyone despite the threat of soaring prices and short supplies brought about by the recent Fowl Pest epidemic. This Lichfield trader was pictured hard at work last weekend preparing his stocks ready for the on rush of customers. It looks like being a happy, well-fed Christmas for everyone . . . except the turkeys, of course!
CHILDREN AT RISK FEARS IN NEW EPIDEMIC – Lichfield Mercury, 1986
Hundreds of local children are at risk from a whooping cough epidemic which is sweeping Lichfield and the surrounding area. Corresponding figures from six months of last year show that the number of children with whooping cough has jumped from 13 to a massive 137 this year. Now, child health care officers are urging parents to have their youngsters vaccinated against the disease.
Jono’s Lichfield Tourism April 2020
Articles courtesy of the British Newspaper Archive.