Scarlet fever hit Suffolk

Scarlet Fever was relatively common until antibiotics were introduced. Many died of the dreadful disease. The days when homes were fumigated, bedding burned and sometimes members of their families isolated, were recalled in Kindred Sprits recently by Ken Wilding, who lived as a child in Lely Road, on the Gainsborough estate, Ipswich.

Scarlet Fever was relatively common until antibiotics were introduced.

Many died of the dreadful disease.

The days when homes were fumigated, bedding burned and sometimes members of their families isolated, were recalled in Kindred Sprits recently by Ken Wilding, who lived as a child in Lely Road, on the Gainsborough estate, Ipswich.

Ken had Scarlet fever and he recalled his time in St Helens Hospital on Foxhall Road and being kept in isolation.

Now 85-year-old Dorothy Gray (nee East) of Waterford Road, Ipswich, recalls her horrors of this dreadful disease, which hit so many families up to a couple of generations ago.

Dorothy said: “When I was eight or nine I had Scarlet Fever. I went to hospital at the end of August and apart from a rash I felt quite well and was annoyed because the doctor said that I was ill. My brother, who was about six years older than me, also went to the hospital in the same ambulance. On arrival at the hospital boys and girls were separated. Visitors, if they could get out to the hospital, had to stand outside whatever the weather to talk to patients. Discipline was very strict.

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“I began to feel quite ill after several days. They started to treat me. At first I was stripped and laid on a rubber sheet, and then a nurse came in with a bowl of steaming blankets. I was wrapped in the sheets like an Egyptian mummy. A rubber sheet went over this and then the bed clothes. The radiator was on full blast at the head of my bed and three hot water bottles were placed two at the sides and one at the foot of the bed. This I endured for six times. I can't remember how many days between, but I lived in dread of those days.

“The last time it happened I screamed and yelled. They examined me for scalds; I still felt very ill and was made to drink a lot of water and milk, which I hated. Then I really felt as if I had been blown up like a balloon and my body was heavy like lead. The other children were worried because I could not drink my milk. That evening I went into a coma for about three days. My parents were called to the hospital so I must have been bad because it was not visiting time. I have no memory of those days and my mother was told I might not survive.

“When I recovered I had to learn to walk again, which was quite frightening. I came out of hospital in the middle of November. When I left hospital my mother was advised to make me drink a lot of water and keep my back warm around the kidneys. I went to call on my grandma and had a beautiful steak and kidney pie.

“When I was 14 years old I went to work in an office, I had to wear a boned corset, which had the effect of having a ramrod on your back. Despite my parents disapproval I soon had the “whale bones” out of it, but you did not oppose your parents in the 1930s. I had a severe case of “kidney failure” but I had no surgery or dialysis. I have had four children and I had a good doctor through my pregnancies.

“The last one at the age of 41 years, was a late gift.”

Scarlet Fever is a rash accompanied by a sore throat caused by the streptococcus bacteria.

The disease most commonly affects children, but can occur in any age group. The characteristic symptoms are a rash and a 'strawberry tongue'.

The disease is now treated with antibiotics and it is usually resolved without complications. It is a notifiable disease in the UK. This means that cases are required by law to be reported to a health officer or local government authority.

There are still a few rail lines around the dock area of Ipswich. As the area, now called The Waterfront, changes rapidly, much of it is paved and the rail lines are disappearing.

Michael Collyer of Cambridge Road, Kesgrave, recalls driving steam locomotives and working as a maintenance fitter at the Ipswich Dock. Michael said “As a lad my dad used to take me for walks around the docks in the 1920s and I remember seeing the huge sailing ship which brought grain from Australia, if I recall correctly one was Archiball Russell.”

“After the Second World War as a railway locomotive fireman with the London and North Eastern Railway company I spent many happy trips steaming around the dock side with a little tram engines. These engines went round by the custom house and gas works and then joined the other route by the promenade by New Cut, which was used by the little side tank engines. These continued over the swing bridge by the lock gates as far as Cliff Quay where the bigger vessels docked. Later I left the railway as a result of an accident. I had a short spell as a maintenance fitter with the dock commission. It was quite an exciting experience climbing to the top of a crane jib and being able to look down ship's funnels! I discovered quite quickly that I had to take two sets of spanners with me to avoid another climb up and down a crane jib, as the old cranes had been refitted with more modern bolts in some places which had different sized heads to the originals. Something that intrigued me was the result of a crane trying to pull a boat out of the water! The crane driver often could not see into the ship's hold and was working from instructions from a docker on the quay.

When the cranes empty hook was being raised up out of the ship it could catch on the edge of the hold. An electric or diesel crane would immediately cut out, but a steam crane just kept going. It obviously couldn't pull thousands of tons of ship out of the water, but would pull itself down onto the vessel if the crane driver wasn't quick enough to shut off steam!”

“The port was always busy in those days with sailing barges, boats of timber, coal, stone and materials for the engineering works of Ransomes Sims and Jefferies, Ransoms and Rapier etcetera. Now all rail traffic has gone and it's another world. I wonder what the present day drivers would think of having to wait for several minutes whilst a train engine shunted backwards and forwards several times across the road near Stoke Bridge”.

The Tourist Information Centre at Stephens Church in Ipswich is holding its annual 'Taster Day' this Saturday (November 10).

Staff have invited me along to sign copies of 'Just a Moment', a new book of photographs of life in Suffolk during the 1920s and 30s from the negatives of Ipswich photographers The Titshall Brothers, which I have complied with co author Roger Smith, plus copies of 'Pocket Images of Ipswich' which has over 200 photographs of the town from the past. I will be there from 9.30am to 11am if you would like to come and say hello.

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