Fifty years ago today, the South Wales Echo carried the front page news that the third and final phase of the Welsh smallpox outbreak was over.
Six weeks after the unexplained infection of patients at Glanrhyd Hospital in Bridgend, the ‘all clear’ was given.
It had been four months since the start of the crisis, when a traveller from Pakistan arrived in Cardiff and was diagnosed with the disease. Shuka Mia survived, but 19 people died – six in the Llantrisant and Rhondda areas and 13 in Bridgend.
During that period, 900,000 people in south Wales were vaccinated and a huge operation was mounted to trace contacts and contain the outbreak.
This site has tracked the story day by day, 50 years later. Over the past four months, it has registered more than 11,000 page hits and more than 50 people have contacted us with their personal recollections. You can read their stories and listen to audio recordings of some of them.
Smallpox1962 will continue as an online archive of an event which touched the lives of everyone in south Wales 50 years ago.
Almost a million people in south Wales were vaccinated during the smallpox outbreak 50 years ago.
Photo: Smallpox 1962
Davyna Anne Williams was 17 at the time of the outbreak in 1962, but it had a long-lasting and very significant effect on her family.
Her father, Ben Davies, was Headmaster at Ferndale Secondary Modern School For Boys and one of the very first people to be vaccinated in the Rhondda Valley. She believes it was this early inoculation that led to his death.
You can hear her story here.
Jean Herbert from Carmarthen was at the centre of a smallpox scare in Abercynon in 1962 when she developed modified smallpox after vaccination at the age of 10. She continued to suffer the after-effects for 20 years. She said she became something of a curiosity and was visited by student doctors. But fears about the disease caused Abercynon to become ‘a ghost town’.
Read her full account in What do you remember?
On 1 March 1962, with four confirmed – and unexplained – cases of smallpox in the south Wales valleys, the authorities were forced to give in to demands for mass vaccination, worried that ‘the spread of the disease had got out of hand’. Continue reading
Barbara Downing from Merthyr Tydfil contacted Smallpox1962 about the serious effects of vaccination:
‘My cousin and her husband – a Baptist minister in Gendros, Swansea – were looking forward to the birth of their baby. She had vaccination, unaware that it was detrimental to have it during pregnancy. Sadly they lost their baby and she nearly lost her life too. It was a dreadful time for them, as you can imagine. One of my colleagues’ very elderly mother-in-law had the vaccination and she died as a result of it.’
Read her full recollections under ‘What do you remember?’
Fifty years ago today, Cardiff was gripped by panic as news of smallpox in the city spread.
Long queues formed as people demanded vaccination.
The headline in the South Wales Echo read:
There were photos of queues for vaccination at Gabalfa and the paper reported:
‘Police disperse crowds at Llanrumney after supplies ran out’.
Photo: ITV Wales
THIS WEBSITE tells the story of the outbreaks of Smallpox in Britain in 1962, with particular emphasis on the impact of the disease in Wales, where 19 people died and 900,000 were vaccinated.
The outbreak began in January 1962. To mark the 50th anniversary content was added from January to May 2012.
The site is the work of James Stewart, who made a documentary about the outbreak for ITV in 2002. While he was teaching at the University of Glamorgan, a small group of students joined the project to record the memories of people affected by the outbreak in 1962.
CLICK on the tabs in the menu to follow the story in different locations.
If you have memories (or pictures) from the 1962 outbreaks, please get in touch by adding a comment. Your contributions will be added to the site (see below –
See people’s comments and add your own below (or on other pages). See also ‘What do you remember?’
Contact the project by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
>> STORYLINE – THE OUTBREAK IN WALES