Scarlet Fever

In 1870 Rev. Peter Thomas Ouvry wrote to the papers regarding the impact of scarlet fever on Wing. It was recorded thusly:

The Rev P.T. Ouvry, vicar of Wing, Buckinghamshire, invites notice to the destruction of life in peace. He is the incumbent of a parish where scarlet fever is now prevalent and very fatal. Straw-plaiting, in so-called “plaiting schools”, forms the chief occupation of the children. The medical officer on Saturday morning found a child suffering from scarlet fever lying in the corner of a room full of children engaged in straw-plaiting. Already 20 children, out of a population of 1500, have died, and several others are not likely to recover. The rev. gentleman adds :- “The law punishes people having infectious diseases for exposing themselves in streets and public places; should it not also punish parents who send their children into infected houses, and houseowners who receive children when an infectious diseases is in the house?

John Bull newspaper, 27 Aug 1870

These numbers may be a little exaggerated, as the burials register in August only records 13 child deaths. The outbreak had certainly begun by mid-June as newspaper reports on the death of Alice Thorp (who died in childbirth on 21 June) mention that one of the doctors called to attend her had been in Wing to visit scarlet fever patients, so some of the child deaths in May and Jun (there were none in July) were likely attributable to the disease.

There were also outbreaks of scarlet fever from around May 1894 (when the school was closed) through to 1895, and again in 1928 when the library was reported as being closed to prevent the spread. Generally multiple family members would be affected, and those who fell sick were often ordered to be taken to the Sanitary Hospital at the Leighton Buzzard workhouse (the hospital’s location unfortunately meant that people were reluctant to go to the hospital, whether under formal order or not) as homes did not have sufficient space to satisfactorily quarantine the patients. In September 1894 there was at least two who died from subsequent kidney disease. Henry RANDALL was charged with failing to comply with an order under the Infectious Disease (Notification) Act to remove his sick son Charles to the hospital, and the family also suffered the death of another son four-year-old Henry to the disease. In October 1894 it was reported that around £25 in costs had been incurred in relation to the Wing outbreak, however the Rothschild and Cotes families made donations to cover these costs. While some community activities were curtailed to stem the contagion, others continued – one issue of the Leighton Buzzard Observer mentions both a smoking concert that was held, and an update on new infections! The Wing scarlet fever outbreak actually managed to fill the Sanitary Hospital to the extent that temporary hospitals had to be set up in other locations to handle certain other disease outbreaks in other villages in the catchment area.

There are other stray mentions of scarlet fever, such as 4-year-old George GARDENER of Littleworth who was visited by the Leighton Buzzard district medical officer several times in May 1878.