The Foxearth and District Local History Society

The Hysterical Hystorian

For occasional articles, snippets and announcements by the Resident Historians.These articles are presented in date order, but if you explore the back-catalogue, you may find much of interest. Historical information doesn't really go out of date! Any member of the F&DLHS may add an entry or make a comment to an existing entry once they have got their userID and password from the Webmaster.

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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The last outbreak of The Plague in Suffolk

When, you probably occasionally wonder, was the last outbreak of  plague, the Black Death' in Suffolk? The seventeenth century? (see 'A Plague on Braintree') No. The last serious outbreak I can find was on September I3th, 1910 , a child nine years of age, the daughter of a labourer at Holbrook in Suffolk, fell ill with symptoms of a pneumonic nature complicated with diarrhoea and vomiting.

The last major outbreaks of plague were in the seventeenth century
The vomit and diarrhoea were hemorrhagic in character. There was high temperature, collapse, and death on September 16th. On September 21st the mother fell ill with the same symptoms. The case was fatal on September 23rd. On September 26th the woman who nursed the previous case and the
husband of the first woman fell ill with the same symptoms. Both these patients died on September 29th. It was identified as being pneumonic plague.

Bubonic plague is the most common form of plague and is caused by the bite of an infected flea. The bacteria travel from the site of the bite to a lymph node which becomes inflamed and painful. This is called a ‘bubo’.

Pneumonic plague is the most severe form of plague and is usually rare. It may result from spread to the lungs from advanced bubonic plague. However, any person with pneumonic plague may transmit the disease via droplets to other people. Untreated pneumonic plague, if not diagnosed and treated early, can be fatal.

At the start of the twentieth century, there were two, and only two, primary cases of infection. There was one at Shotley that was responsible for seven deaths, whilst the one at Holbrook was responsible for three others. They were both virulent. However, in nether case did the disease spread widely from the primary cause of infection.

At Holbrook, there were at least eleven contacts who lived in the houses in which the cases occurred. Of these one was an adult, whilst the remainder were children. These people came into more or less close contact with the infected, but none of them developed the disease. In addition there were four medical men, a clergyman and his daughter, and three nurses who were closely associated with the cases. None of these developed the disease, although in the case of the nurses exposure to
infection was prolonged and intimate.

In the part of East Suffolk where the infections happened, rats were dying of acute plague. and
infected rats were found all over the Samford district, near Manningtree in Essex, and at Hollesley Bay in Suffolk. They were also being found in Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Kirton, Trimley, and Levington. The disease was spreading to hares and even a cat. The plague was essentially a rat plague, caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis, spread by rat fleas. It was just occasionally that a human was bitten by infected rat fleas. How did it happen? Suspicion at the time was on the disease spreading from Ipswich Docks and an infected cargo, but the rat deaths were greater outside the Ipswich area. The Ipswich rats had a higher immunity, presumably picked up after previous bouts of the ship-borne plague. Why was this the last outbreak? It was really because of a continued and determined effort to reduce the rat population, in which the disease was endemic.This wasn't just about direct extermination of the rats, but a determined effort to clean up the types of waste that were food to the rats.


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