Market Lavington Museum

Smallpox in Market Lavington


Smallpox was a very nasty infectious disease, killing nearly one third of those who contracted it. Symptoms included fever, vomiting, mouth ulcers and a very blistered skin, leaving survivors pock marked, and sometimes causing blindness.

Our blog, They was nockalated, reminds us that innoculation became available and, fortunately, the disease was declared to have been eradicated in 1980. There was a local outbreak in 1785 and an account in Brian McGill’s ‘Village under the Plain’ (available from Market Lavington Museum or the Post Office) gives details of an unpleasant argument between the curate of St Mary’s Church and the overseer from Eastcott Farm as to whether the body of a smallpox victim could be buried in the churchyard.

There was another smallpox epidemic in the village in 1873. This may be the one alluded to in the Women’s Institute file of local history, where the daughter of the late Hannah Crasswaller, suggested that her mother’s childhood memories might relate to about 1868. The young Hannah, watching from her bedroom window, could see coffins being wheeled through The Grove and into the churchyard for burial as smallpox victims were not taken into the church building. However, the vicar or his curate did visit the sick at home and eventually he succumbed to the illness and died.

The Old Barn on Parsonage Lane was set up as a smallpox hospital (rather like the Nightingale Hospitals during the current Covid pandemic) but it was not used as the outbreak subsided.

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