Ian Friel MA, PhD, FSA
© Ian Friel 2020
This paper was first published in The Quarterly, The Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians, No 115, July 2020, pp 37-44, and is published here with the kind agreement of Peter Bower, General Editor of The Quarterly. I would also like to thank Peter for commissioning the original paper.
Iping Paper Mill, from a postcard of 1906 (image courtesy of Peter Bower)
Nowadays, the term ‘the Rag Trade’ is sometimes used as a description of the fashion business. In the 19th century it had a very literal meaning: the reuse of old clothes and other pieces of cloth to make different materials, including paper.
This study concerns a paper mill that once existed in the village of Iping in West Sussex, and a smallpox epidemic that spread from it in 1883. I came across this seemingly forgotten incident some years ago, while researching a house history. This paper has been written under the constraints imposed by the Covid-19 lockdown, and is based on my notes from that time, as well as additional research undertaken in online sources. There may well be more to be learned about the 1883 outbreak, and there is certainly more to be learned about the Iping paper mill.
I am not an historian of the paper industry or of medicine, and approach the subject from the point of view of local history. However, the story of the Iping epidemic is of more than local significance. It highlights a disturbing aspect of the Victorian paper industry and also shows how the outbreak of a deadly disease could be controlled and then stopped without the benefit of modern medicine. It may have resonances for some readers today that it would not have possessed before the beginning of 2020.
Iping Paper Mill
Iping is a small West Sussex village about three miles west of Midhurst and around fourteen miles north of Chichester. It straddles the banks of the western Rother, a river that flows into the River Arun, with the settlements of Stedham to the east and Iping Marsh to the north. The Rother valley was a prosperous area as far back as the Middle Ages, and the Domesday Book of 1086 listed at least seven mills in settlements on the river, probably all of them cornmills driven by water.
The Iping paper mill came much later, and its history has been expertly summarized in research by H E S Simmons and D Chamberlain. Their work shows that in 1665 a cornmill and malt-mill existed at Iping under the same roof. It is believed that this mill was converted into a paper mill: the exact date is not known, but the paper mill was certainly in operation by 1725.
Later map evidence suggests that the mill complex was built across a channel cut in the bank of the Rother, so that the part of the mill sat on a small island. For much of the 19th century the mill was owned by the Pewtress family, who are said to have supplied The Times with newsprint. They sold the company in 1867, and by the late 1870s it was in the hands of William Edward Warren and John Chalcraft Warren. They concentrated on the manufacture of blotting paper: according to a 1910 account, this was due to the introduction of machine-made paper, which effectively killed off the handmade paper industry.
The machinery at Iping mill was modernised in about 1885 with the installation of new equipment made by Bently and Jackson of Lancashire, but the Warrens continued to use rags as their main material. In 1910 it was said that the rags were gathered ‘throughout Sussex’, transported to Iping by road and rail. The rags were then cleansed, and then ‘torn and cut up’ by a staff of women and girls using knives, before a machine pulped the material was pulped. This traditional process seems to have continued into the 1920s, as in 1924, the mill advertised for six female rag-sorters. The paper mill was eventually destroyed by a fire on 11 March 1925, and papermaking at Iping came to an end.
In 1883, the rag-loft at the mill was the source of a smallpox epidemic, one that only seems to be recorded in a report by the county’s Medical Officer of Health and the accounts of the local Sanitary Authority. It was a small-scale event In terms of Victorian smallpox outbreaks, but must have been terrifying to those who had to live through it. The narrative of this epidemic is a story of disease, effective public health work and human courage, but it also exposes the unsavoury and rather callous workings of the paper industry in the 1800s. Before looking at the outbreak itself, it is necessary to discuss first, smallpox, and then the rag trade.
Smallpox epidemics are a thing of the past. In 1979, thanks to modern medicine, the World Health Organisation was able to declare the world smallpox-free. In earlier times, smallpox was a common killer, often on a large scale. The disease is thought to have developed from a version of cowpox that migrated from domesticated cattle, at some time after human beings started farming about 12,000 years ago. It killed readily, and survivors were left with pock-marked bodies and faces as a terrible reminder of their ordeal.
The process of inoculation can give someone a mild form of a disease, and so help them to build up immunity. The idea of inoculation was known in China as far back as the 10th century AD and in Africa, Turkey and probably other places by 1700. The process involved taking infected pus from the pustules of an infected person, and placing it in a scratch on the skin of someone without the disease. Known as variolation (from the Latin name for smallpox, variola), the technique was brought back to England from Turkey in 1717 by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who was the wife of the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. She had seen it being used to protect Turkish children, and had her own children inoculated against smallpox. The method came into widespread use in Europe and America, but it carried the danger that variolation could actually infect someone with smallpox and so start an epidemic.
Edward Jenner, an English physician, discovered a much safer form of protection in the 1790s. There was a well-known tradition that dairymaids did not get smallpox because they caught cowpox (a minor disease in humans), from the animals they milked. Jenner decided to follow this up, and his cowpox inoculations or vaccinations (from the Latin vacca, cow) were – literally – innocuous, and came into widespread use, replacing variolation.
Ignorant and vociferous cranks opposed the procedure, but in 1840 the British government passed its first Vaccination Act, which made free vaccinations available for the poor, and made variolation illegal. An 1853 Vaccination Act made vaccination compulsory for all newborns in their first three months, and in 1867 this was extended to all children of 14 and under. The state compulsion underlying these important and largely successful public health measures, provoked noisy and passionate campaigns from anti-vaccinators that have echoes in modern anti-vaccination movements. However, despite opposition, vaccination was a commonplace medical procedure by the later 19th century.
The Rag Trade
We tend to think of recycling as a modern invention, but in reality it has been practised throughout history. In the 19th century, one of the materials widely recycled was cloth, taken from old clothes, sheets and many other items.
It was well known that consignments of rags sometimes included contaminated material, and in 1865 an eminent physician, Dr John Syer Bristowe (1827-95) produced a report on the rag trade for the Privy Council. This was one of a number of enquiries into public health that he conducted for the government. Bristowe’s report is given an extensive summary here, because it has a lot to say about the operation of the rag trade, and how rags were used by the paper industry.
According to Bristowe, mid-Victorian Britain imported rags from many countries, with Germany, France, Russia, Italy and the Low Countries among the main suppliers, though it was not unknown for them to come from as far away as Japan. The rags were shipped in bags that came in through the ports and were sent (almost invariably unopened) to the wholesale rag dealers or the manufacturing companies that recycled them.
The wholesalers in big cities like London and Liverpool also handled rags that came from British sources, but the initial supplies were often gathered in small quantities by marine-store dealers. These enterprises sorted the rags and generally passed them on to ‘collectors’ (middlemen) or sold them direct to the big rag dealers, though in some cases rural manufacturers sourced their rags direct from the marine-store dealers.
The term ‘rags’ covered a great range of cloth, including cotton, linen and wool, or mixtures of them, and comprised everything from ‘best white rags’ or cotton and linen to canvas, jute and tailors’ waste. Though much of the cloth had been sorted before it got to the wholesalers, it often needed to be re-sorted, with workers employed to cut out things such as button-holes. The sorting work at the wholesalers’ warehouses was usually undertaken by women, with the sorted rags packed for dispatch by men: the biggest rag-merchant in London employed about one hundred people. The one thing usually missing from the process was any attempt to clean or disinfect the rags.
There was concern that infected hospital waste got into the supply chain, though London’s ‘small-pox and fever hospitals’ assured Bristowe that they did not sell off their old sheets. They kept the infected material so that it could torn up and reused as dressings. Hardly a comforting notion for patients, one might have thought.
The report continued:
‘As regards cleanliness, it may be added that rags collected in country districts are, as a rule, cleaner that those collected in large towns…, that Irish rags are generally very filthy, and that many foreign rags (such as Italian, Spanish, Russian, and especially Egyptian) are often not only dirty, but stink’.
Rags were used to help make manure, poor-quality flock bedding (something discontinued by the time the report came out) and for making shoddy (shoddy was low-quality cloth remanufactured from woollens). However, the paper industry was the chief user of rags, and for this reason Bristowe paid it special attention. The industry itself was very extensive. A directory of the time listed 304 paper mills in England, 10 in Wales, 54 in Scotland and 21 in Ireland. The counties with twenty or more mills were Buckinghamshire (20), Kent (36), Lancashire (39) and Yorkshire (33). Sussex had only eight (at this date ‘Sussex’ meant both modern West and East Sussex).
The demand for paper was, of course, huge, and covered everything from writing paper, newspapers and books to wallpaper, blotting paper and papier-maché. The paper-industry’s need for rags was even greater, as it was reckoned that for every ton of paper made in a mill, the weight of rags used had to be about five per cent greater.
Bristowe outlined the multi-stage process used to make the best rag-based handmade paper. The first steps involved dusting the rags, cutting them up and then sorting them. They were then subjected to superheated steam, before being soaked and washed in a caustic solution. The dusting was designed to get rid of particles of dirt and what Bristowe described as ‘animal filth’. In some bigger mills a large cylindrical sieve was used for the purpose, though in many others, cutting and sorting preceded dusting. Where the mechanical sieve was used:
‘the rag-cutting room, which is always a dusty and not agreeable place, is rendered much more cleanly and sweet than it would otherwise would be’.
Rag-cutting was always carried out in a separate part of a mill, and was mainly the work of women, aged from fifteen or sixteen years upwards, though a few boys might also take part. Some people might work for decades as rag-cutters, particularly those in rural districts – presumably for lack of other employment opportunities:
‘The rag-cutters work for the most part in a large room or rooms, which of course vary much in their size relatively to the number of occupants, and vary much in their ventilation, in their other arrangements, and generally in their suitability for the purposes to which they are applied. They are always dusty, and always have a more or less musty if not more offensive smell. They generally, however, appear to me to be fairly ventilated.
‘Each rag-cutter, while at work, stands at a board with a knife fixed in it in front of her vertically, with the cutting edge forwards, provided on the one hand with an adequate supply of rags, and on the other with a kind of bin furnished with compartments, into one or other of which she throws, according to their character, the rags as she cuts them’.
There were normally some female overseers, depending on the number of cutters, with a foreman in overall charge. The largest paper mill in Britain at the time, belonging to a Mr Joynson, employed 250 rag-cutters.
Bristowe’s enquiry was made in response to two complaints that smallpox outbreaks had been caused by infected rags at paper mills. One outbreak had occurred in 1858 in the vicinity of mills at Wraysbury and Colnbrook on the Buckinghamshire / Berkshire border, and the other was at Thetford in Norfolk in 1864. The Medical Officer of the Privy Council had investigated the first epidemic at the time, but could come to no definite conclusion. After the Thetford outbreak, Bristowe was ordered to investigate that incident and to make a more general enquiry into the rag trade.
Bristowe interviewed about a dozen rag merchants and some twenty marine-store dealers in London, but he also visited eighty-six paper mills across England, mainly in Kent, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Devon and Lancashire. He was generally received with ‘great civility’ and openness, and in only one case was he refused admission to the ‘rag house’. As far as possible, he spoke to both managers and workers. Few of the managers claimed to know of any cases where smallpox was caused by rags, and in most of the mills ‘the workpeople appeared to have no dread of the rags on which they were engaged’. People in the majority of the mills had had smallpox while working with the rags, but Bristowe only recorded instances where the people themselves believed that they had caught them from the rags. This anecdotal evidence surely undermined the validity of Bristowe’s conclusion that the evidence:
‘…seems to me to show that smallpox and other infections are very rarely introduced into paper mills by rags, but to show that at the same time that their introduction is possible, and even occasionally takes place’.
He did confess that the ‘quality of the evidence [for actual epidemics] which I have collected is not very good’, given the fallibility of memory and in some cases the time that had elapsed since the outbreak.
Though Bristowe had gone far and wide in the course of his enquiry, and had investigated the nature of the rag trade, his overall conclusions were questionable, and overly complacent, given that smallpox and many other infectious diseases could be real killers in the mid-19th century. He did seek advice from ‘practical men’ in the industry about precautionary measures that could be taken to ensure that infected rags did not reach the workers. Unsurprisingly, they said that proper treatment would be very difficult.
The best time to disinfect rags would have been before they were disposed of, because anyone handling contaminated rags thereafter should have been protected. This could have been made a legal requirement, but Bristowe doubted that it could ever be enforced. The only practical solution he could see was to ensure that ragworkers at mills had already been vaccinated against smallpox, or were re-vaccinated when they started working with rags. The ‘use of disinfectants, or any process for purifying rags, either at the rag merchants or in the mills, would be attended (so far as I can ascertain), not only with great inconvenience, but with considerable expense’: such additional expenses, ‘in the present condition of the rag and of the paper trades, would be in a high degree injurious to these branches of industry’. This was most probably the nub of the objections from the ‘practical men’ in the industry, and so issues of cost and convenience trumped the health and safety of the workers.
The 1883 Iping Smallpox Epidemic
The 1883 smallpox epidemic at Iping, Iping Marsh and Stedham was recorded in forensic detail by Dr Charles Kelly MD, FRCP, the Medical Officer of Health for Sussex in his 1883 Report on the Rural Sanitary District of Midhurst (Midhurst is the town nearest to Iping). It was headed ‘Small Pox at a Paper Mill’.
As is said above, the mill was owned by Warren & Co, and made blotting paper. According to Kelly, the rags used in the mill came from all parts of the country, and also from abroad. They were carried by train to a station that then existed near the village of Elsted, a couple of miles to the south-west. They were loaded on to wagons and taken to the rag-loft at the mill, where they were sorted, dusted and cut into small pieces ready for boiling and bleaching. On average, it took about two days to convert the contents of a bale into paper.
The Iping area as shown on the First Edition Ordnance Survey map of Sussex, published in 1813. Iping Marsh is in the top left-hand corner, with Knap Farm (The Knap) just below. In 1883 there were two Stedham Commons, one to the south of the village, on the eastern end of what is named as ‘Trotton Common’ on this map, and one to the north, in the area described as ‘Stedham Marsh’ in 1813. It is likely that the tented hospital was set up on the more- accessible southern Common.
The rag-loft was a wooden building, standing separate from the mill itself on the opposite side of the millstream (probably on the south side). The loft was described as ‘old’, but also well-ventilated. It was staffed in 1883 by fourteen women and two men. The women mainly worked as sorters, while the men opened the bales and carried the sorted rags across the stream to the mill. The mill employees were all local, living within two or three miles, in Iping or in the nearby settlements of Iping Marsh and Stedham.
Kelly maintained a degree of privacy for the people involved in the outbreak by giving their first names, followed by the first letter of their surnames. He simply gave their homes as ‘cottage 1’, ‘cottage 2’ and so-on, in order to pinpoint which households were affected and where the disease spread. The surnames of some of the affected families in Iping and Stedham can be established with certainty in the 1881 Census, though by no means all, and none of the last names of those living at The Knap in Iping Marsh in 1883 can be matched with those listed there in the Census two years before.
Iping Paper Mill in 1874. The mill buildings are shown in solid black. The rag-loft was most likely on the south side of the river, by the road to Elsted Station (redrawn and reinterpreted from Ordnance Survey 6-inch map Sussex XXI, surveyed 1874 and published in 1879).
The first person to be infected was probably a 25 year-old married woman, Fanny L. She worked as a rag-sorter at the mill, and lived in a terraced cottage at The Knap with her husband, two small children and a young woman lodger, Mary A. Fanny was last at the mill on 5 May, but on 7 May she began to experience backpain and a headache, followed by a smallpox rash that appeared on 9 May. She went on to suffer a severe infection, but eventually recovered. In the meantime, Mary A, who was also a rag-sorter in the mill, started feeling ill on 11 May and developed a smallpox rash on 15 May. Fortunately for her, it was a mild attack. Like Fanny, she recovered.
The second person to catch the disease seems to have been a fifteen year-old named Clara. She lived in Iping with her stepfather Frank Horlock and her mother Jane Horlock, and three younger siblings, one of whom was a baby (Clara’s name was given in the Census as Clara Booker, but Kelly called her ‘Clara H’). Like Fanny and Mary, Clara also worked at the mill. She came home at midday on 8 May with pains in her head and back, and feeling sick. The rash appeared on 10 May and she eventually fell into a coma on the evening of 11 May. She died the following day, and was buried before nightfall. Frank moved out with two of the children, while Jane remained behind to nurse the baby. Frank soon returned however, and lodged in a nearby shed, from where he was able to help sick people by running their errands.
The cottage next door to that of Frank and Jane was home to 20 year-old Emily Hill, her brother and his wife, three children, and two young male lodgers, William D and Moses S. Emily, William and Moses were all employed at the paper mill, Emily working there as a rag-sorter. She, too, fell ill with smallpox, and went to the house next door, where Jane Horlock had agreed to look after her.
The Hills’ landlord seems to have moved the family and the lodgers out of the house very quickly, and they moved to stay with their families a few miles away (the Hills and Moses went to Bramshott and William D to Kingsham, a suburb of Chichester). This was hardly a good idea as regards confining the spread of infection, though no-one outside the Iping area is known to have caught the disease.
At the same time, tragedy struck a family in Iping Marsh. Mrs M, a 58 year-old rag-sorter, fell ill on 9 May. The smallpox rash appeared four day later, and she died on 18 May, after a severe attack. She was buried the next day.
Yet another rag-worker succumbed to the disease, this time a male employee. Frederick Denyer lived with his father James, mother Ann and four brothers and sisters in a small terraced house at Stedham. He caught the disease; his father moved into an empty cottage with three of the children while Ann stayed behind to care for Frederick and her infant daughter. Sadly, Frederick died on 18 May, and was soon interred.
Dr Kelly received early reports of the outbreak at Iping and Stedham, and moved quickly, visiting Iping and Stedham on 11 May. However, smallpox moved faster.
By 18 May there had six primary cases of smallpox, and three of them were dead. There had been no recent cases of smallpox in the district, none of the people who fell sick had been absent from work (except on Sundays, their one day off), and there had been no fair locally to introduce the virus from somewhere else. Besides the fact that they lived within a few miles of each other, the only other linking factor was that all six worked in the rag-loft at the paper mill.
Fifty-two people in eleven houses were affected directly by this first phase of the disease – twenty-nine adults and twenty-three children – with infections in five houses. Interestingly, it emerged that vaccination had been practised in the area before the Vaccination Acts. Many of the adults had been vaccinated in the past, some as children, including a woman born in about 1817. On Kelly’s instructions, some people were now re-vaccinated with cow-pox from a calf, but this was not always seen to be successful. An effective vaccination was supposed to raise a small lump if there was a positive immune response.
A man was employed in each of the three settlements to run errands for the people in the eight houses where the inhabitants self-isolated, fetching food, medicine and other necessaries. The people in the infected houses could not go out to work, so the local Poor Law Guardians supplied them with what they needed. Houses where there were deaths were fumigated with burning sulphur, and sick-room clothes and bedding were burnt. This was not enough, however. Secondary infections now started to appear.
Emily Hill, who had stayed in Iping when the rest of the family went to Bramshott, soon recovered. Her sister-in-law Ellen was not so lucky. She was taken ill, and the smallpox rash appeared on her body on 27 May. The family moved back to Iping that day, but Ellen’s condition quickly deteriorated and she died on the morning of 30 May. She was buried that evening by her husband and one of the local gravediggers.
With a secondary outbreak brewing, Kelly requested that the Midhurst Rural Sanitary Authority should give him powers to remove all fresh cases to an isolated spot. There was no building available for use as a hospital, and the weather was fine, so a tented camp was set up on Stedham Common (probably the common to the south of village).
A marquee measuring 40 x 20 ft (12.2 x 6.1m) was erected on the Common on 31 May, along with four bell tents. Beds and bedding were brought in, with six beds there by the end of 1 June, and wooden planks were laid to provide flooring. A horse-drawn cart was used to bring in existing and new patients. One of those was William D, who lodged with the Hill family, and had fallen sick at Kingsham. He was able to walk, but was kept in bed for a day or two in the large tent. A hospital nurse (unnamed) took up residence in a bell tent, and two other bell-tents were occupied by patients’ families.
Some more bell-tents were acquired on 1 June, and patients from Stedham were brought in, accompanied by another hospital nurse and their families. The newly-arrived families lived in the bell tents, and by the end of 1 June all of the known Iping and Stedham patients were at the tented hospital, twenty-five people in all, plus the two nurses. The Iping Marsh patients were all doing well at that time and it was considered better not to move them.
The sandy Common made for a pleasant location, and the camp was well-supplied with food and water. The water came in a water-cart which could hold enough for two days. Cooking and washing was all carried out on site, with a mangle brought in to help dry clothes, and the contents of the latrines were buried. Anyone who wanted to deliver anything to the patients and families had to leave it at a flagpole some 300 yards away.
Some people from Iping Marsh now became sick enough to require hospitalisation. Two of these were Mrs Ann H (64) and her granddaughter Elizabeth L (13), and they came to the hospital on 4 June. Mrs H was a pauper, receiving poor relief, and had been bed-ridden for the previous month. She lived one hundred yards from an infected house, and believed she had caught the smallpox from a doctor who had had contact with one of the infected people.
Another Knap patient came in on 10 June. George C was aged 68; he had fallen ill two days earlier. He did not think he had ever been vaccinated, and refused it now. He died five days after admission to the hospital, and was buried the next day at the Knap.
Two grave-diggers were employed to bury the victims. They had to be supported by the local parish for a fortnight because no-one would take them in, and were forced to live in a hut on Midhurst Common. One of them caught a mild case of smallpox (for the second time in his life) but he refused to come to the hospital. He and his colleague were stuck at the hut for twenty-three days, but they were provided with food, and, according to Kelly, passed the time by either fishing or reading. No-one caught smallpox from them.
The camp reached its peak numbers on 14 June, with twenty-seven patients and their families, and the two nurses. George C’s death on 15 June was the last of the epidemic, however, and on 20 June fifteen people went home. All of the patients were well by 30 June, and the camp was broken up. Tents were fumigated, and the bell tent and bedding used by George C was burnt.
While the patients’ houses were empty, more fumigation was carried out. The process involved the use of smoke from burning sulphur, burned on three separate occasions. Walls and ceilings were washed down with hot lime solution, and floors and woodwork were scrubbed. Any clothing and bedding that was not burnt was disinfected with carbolic acid and boil-washed. The Sanitary Authority replaced all items that had to be destroyed.
The six primary cases exposed another 59 people to infection, in total. Nineteen fell ill, and five of them died. Kelly believed that vaccination or re-vaccination had played a big part in keeping people alive, even if it did not always protect them from infection. Of those who caught smallpox, sixteen had been vaccinated before, and four of them died.
The contemporary local papers, the West Sussex Gazette and the Horsham, Petworth, Midhurst and Steyning Expresscan be fully searched via the British Newspaper Archive, yet neither appears to contain any mention of the Iping outbreak. The Horsham Advertiser, another West Sussex paper, devoted one short sentence to it in a review of Kelly’s 1883 report. The paper noted that it was attributed to rag-sorting at an (unspecified) paper mill, but did not take the issue further.
The 1875 Public Health Act (Section 126.3) had imposed a penalty on anyone who ‘Gives lends sells transmits or exposes, without previous disinfection, any bedding clothing rags or other things which have been exposed to infection…’ The penalty was not to exceed about £5 (about £2,500 in modern wage values), and enforcement was left up local authorities. Kelly was in no doubt that the outbreak started with rags that had been brought into the rag-loft at Iping, but no action appears to have been taken to get the Warrens to clean up their working practices.
It is possible that the re-equipment of the mill with new machinery in the mid-1880s also involved a change in the rag-loft, but there is no actual evidence of this. Comparison of maps surveyed in 1874 and 1910 show that the mill seems to have got smaller in the intervening years, but this does not mean that there was any change in the way it handled rags. The most that can be said is that there does not appear to have been another smallpox epidemic that can be linked to the raw material used by the Iping mill.
Kelly’s prompt action, with a programme of vaccination and the rapid isolation of the affected households, seems to have stopped the disease from spreading. The epidemic was killed off within two months of its outbreak.
The wider picture
The dangers of infection from untreated rags were well known across the world. In the early 1890s the US Surgeon General, the national medical authority, was very concerned about rags that were being imported into the United States from Germany, and that might have been contaminated with cholera, smallpox or other communicable diseases. A German survey of nearly 700 firms that used rags across Europe included three returns from English paper mills. Two of these reported smallpox outbreaks, though the US report noted that there had been more than 70 epidemics at rag dealers and paper mills in England.
In Britain, local authorities were supposed to be the first line of defence in public health matters, but they were not always very proactive – and nor was central government. In 1896 there a consignment of infected rags was sent from Gloucester to a paper mill at High Wycombe. The issue was raised in Parliament, and the government response was to more or less wash its hands of the matter. It was said that the need to enforce the Act as regards infected rags was being ‘pressed’ upon Gloucester Corporation. At the same time the government stated that paper mill workers themselves had a simple and effective remedy in the form of vaccination or revaccination by the public vaccinator, a process that was free.
Newspapers and other sources between the 1860s and the early 1900s record various smallpox outbreaks that emanated from rags at paper mills. The 1864 Thetford smallpox outbreak, investigated by Bristowe, was a serious one. It began with two female rag-cutters working at the Mackay and Watson paper mill. There had been no cases of smallpox in the village for some years previously, but this epidemic lasted for six or seven months, and infected thirty-two people. Sixteen or seventeen of them died.
Bristowe also reported on eleven cases in which individuals believed, or were believed, to have caught smallpox from rags. One of these incidents occurred at the Eashing paper mill, near Godalming, Surrey. Coincidentally, the mill was owned by Pewtress & Co, the company that also owned the Iping paper works at that time.
There were other examples:
- In 1881 a girl employed as a rag-cutter at paper mill in Holywell in North Wales caught smallpox from infected rags; the Local Government Board (LGB) said that it had no power to enforce the cleansing of rags as they went ‘through many hands’ on their way to the mills;
- in the same year there was an ‘extensive’ outbreak among rag-sorters at a mill in St Mary Cray, Kent;
- an 1886 epidemic caused by a mill at Woburn in Bedfordshire led to a statement in Parliament by the Local Government Board that it had no powers to enforce the cleansing of rags, but had sent out information as to the best way to prevent infection and had recommended the re-vaccination of everyone in the paper industry;
- in 1887 the Board investigated three outbreaks – in 1883, 1884 and 1886 – caused by untreated rags in paper mill in Ivybridge, Devon;
- in 1900, two girls employed in the ‘rag department’ of Inveresk paper mill, East Lothian, fell sick with smallpox;
- in 1902 nine people caught smallpox from infected rags at Chirnside Paper Works, Berwickshire, Scotland, but the outbreak was stopped by the effective action of local doctors and sanitary authorities.
It might be possible to find many other accounts of such infections from rag-lofts in this period, though judging by newspaper reports, they do seem to have declined in frequency after the early 1900s. A 1917 account attributed this to the taking of greater precautions, without specifying what those were. Vaccination probably played a large part in this, along with better medical responses to outbreaks and a decline of the use of rags in paper manufacture.
The 1883 Iping outbreak was stopped by the prompt and professional action of Dr Charles Kelly and the local Sanitary Authority. However, halting the epidemic also relied on the courage of the doctors, nurses and family members who cared for the patients. Five dead represented a tragic toll, but it could have been a great deal worse.
A view of the north side of the Iping paper mill ‘island’ site, photographed from Iping Bridge in 2020. All traces of the mill appear to have gone, apart from the weir across the River Rother, and the site is used for private housing.
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Savage-Smith 1997 E Savage-Smith, ‘Europe and Islam’ in Loudon 1997, pp 40-53
Shorter 1996 E Shorter, ‘Primary care’, in Porter 1996, pp 118-53
Wolfe and Sharp 2002 R M Wolfe and L K Sharp, ‘Anti-vaccinationits past and present’, British Medical Journal, 24 August 2002, 325 (7361), 430-32, via https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1123944/
 Contemporary sources sometimes describe it as ‘paper mills’ in the plural, presumably implying a double set of machinery, but to avoid confusion it is referred to in this paper in the singular.
 I would like to thank Mr Peter Bower, editor of the Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians, for asking me to write this paper.
 Morris 1976, pp 23a, b, c and 29d.
 Chamberlain 2018, pp 533-36.
 West Sussex Gazette, 28 July 1910, p 6 and 7 November 1935, p 12; Chichester Observer, 16 April 1924, p 8. The West Sussex Record Office has deeds and other papers relating the mill dating between 1827 and 1869 – WSRO Add MSS 18995-18998 and SP/283, plus much other material concerning Iping and Iping manor. Unfortunately, these papers could not be consulted for this paper due to coronavirus restrictions.
 This account is based on: Porter 1996, pp 9, 375 and 377; Kiple 1996, pp 21, 36 and 39; Pickstone 1996, p 321 and 322; Shorter 1996, p 130; Savage-Smith 1997, p 53; Cook 1997, p 89; https://broughttolife.sciencemuseum.org.uk; Wolfe and Sharp 2002.
 Bristowe 1865.
 West Sussex Record Office WDC/CL 74/1, Reports on the Sanitary Condition of the Combined District of West Sussex 1875-1877, 1881, 1883, 1885, 1888-1911: the account of the Iping outbreak is on pp 96-108 of Kelly’s 1883 Report; WG7/59/3 Minutes of Midhurst Union Rural Sanitary Authority 1879-85, pp 193-94, 195, 264-65 and 267-78.
 Horsham Advertiser, 10 November 1883, p 5.
 www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/1875/55/pdfs/ukpga_18750055_en.pdf; modern equivalent penalty calculated from: http://www.measuringworth.com; maps: Ordnance Survey, Sussex XXI 6-inch map, surveyed 1874 and published 1879 and Sussex XXI.11, 25-inch map surveyed 1910 and published 1912.
 Annual Report of the Supervising Surgeon-General of the Marine-Hospital Service of the United States, 1893, Vol 1, pp 246-51
 Bristowe report, pp 205-07.
 Winsford & Middlewich Guardian, 25 June 1881, p 6; The Medical Times and Gazette, Vol 1, 1882, p 589; Blackburn Standard, 22 May 1886, p 3;Western Morning News, 7 January 1887, p 5; Dundee Evening Telegraph, 13 June 1900, p 4; Parliamentary Papers, House of Commons, London, 1902, p 96.
 Bucks Herald, 1 December 1917, p 2.