Vaccination is something we tend to take for granted these days but the concept of vaccination can be traced back more than 2,000 years. The Chinese first discovered a primitive form of vaccination called variolation. However it was Edward Jenner who managed to demonstrate that people infected with cowpox did not go on to develop smallpox. By the early 19th century many European countries had adopted vaccination.
Public Vaccination in England
Reform of the poor law in 1834 and the Registration Act of 1836 gave England an administrative framework which formed the basis of a public vaccination service. During the 19th century a number of vaccination acts were passed starting with the Act in 1840 which made variolation illegal and provided for optional vaccination free of charge.
Vaccination was made compulsory in 1853. By this, every child was to be vaccinated within three months of birth by the public vaccinator of the district, or some other medical practitioner. The parents were to be advised of the requirement when registering births. This involved the local registrars of births, marriages and deaths. Blank vaccination certificates were handed out to parents. Every medical practitioner who vaccinated a child was to send a certificate to that effect to the local vaccination officer who kept a record in his register. The Poor Law Guardians were tasked with appointing a vaccination officer to enforce the Acts.
Because of the prominent role of the Poor Law Guardians in delivering the public vaccination scheme, most of the vaccination registers held here are found within the poor law class of records at Warwickshire County Record Office.1
For Nuneaton there are 66 vaccination officer’s registers covering a date span of 1857 to 1924. With regard to the Warwick Union there are:
- 43 vaccination officers registers for Warwick covering the period 1853-1919.
- 15 vaccination officers registers for Leamington for the period 1884-1932.
- 10 vaccination officers registers for Kenilworth for the period 1873-1907.
- 7 vaccinators registers for Leamington, for the period 1881-1902.
There are also 44 registrars returns of deaths of infants to the vaccination officer covering a period between 1872 to 1925. These relate to deaths of infants less than 12 months old for Nuneaton, Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth.
The extract shown here relates to an Alcester vaccination officer’s register,2 1893-1908. The information given to the registrar of births underpins the left hand side of the register and effectively identifies the child concerned. It includes the date and place of birth and the name and occupation of the father. Here all of the children have a named father. The next part of the register records to whom the notice requiring vaccination was given and when. Part III deals with the certificates of vaccination, and in this case most of the children were vaccinated, albeit not necessarily within the proscribed period of three months. There is no record of whether the parents were penalised – the legislation did stipulate fines could be levied.
We can see here that there are a number of medical practitioners noted, some of these would be a public vaccinator but some may have been paid privately. One child had died and one is recorded as being insusceptible. If the child had had smallpox that fact would have been recorded instead. As part of the machinery the registrar would also send registers of infant deaths.3
Septimus Bodger, public vaccinator
For the Alcester area the public vaccinator was the splendidly named Septimus Bodger. A native of Northumberland, he practised in the Alcester area for many years. He was the public vaccinator in the Alcester area, seemingly for at least 40 years (we hold contracts for him in 1896, 1907 and 1930). He was also a police surgeon and a Factories Act doctor, and retired in about 1935.
A recent accession from the medical practice in which he worked includes his vaccinator’s register for the period 1918 to 1928. The vaccinator’s registers are slightly different in that they include the name of the individual and their place of abode. It also records where the vaccinations took place. Sometimes there is evidence of a mass vaccination. CR51/1861, the register of A.W. Tomkins, shows that in February 1884 the patients in Warneford Hospital were vaccinated or re-vaccinated. It runs to nine pages of entries.
1 The largest series is within reference number CR51, which is the collection of the Warwickshire Board of Guardians. However there are other series such as CR798 which relates to the Alcester Union. The Unions in CR51 in respect of which there are vaccination registers are Nuneaton and Warwick, Warwick being divided into sub-districts of Warwick, Leamington and Kenilworth.
2 Warwickshire County Record Office reference CR798/93.
3 A very small number of these survive again mostly in the collection CR51.