Fighting smallpox in the laboratory

A vivid account of the work of scientists in combating the smallpox outbreak in 1962 has been sent to the site by Edward Meyrick, who went on to be Principal Scientific Officer at the Public Health Laboratory Service, Colindale.

He describes how – 50 years ago – the small team, based at Cardiff Royal Infirmary, used the only open-fronted safety cabinet in Wales to deal with potentially lethal samples. He also recalls the primitive protection and safety measures available when he had to visit smallpox patients in isolation.

See Laboratory in the front line.

‘All clear’ – end of smallpox outbreak – 21 May 1962

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.

Life at Penrhys smallpox hospital – new audio

Mr Bowden at Penrhys Smallpox Hospital (Photo: ITV Wales)

The isolation hospital at Penrhys above the Rhondda valleys was at the centre of the 1962 smallpox outbreak in Wales. The caretaker was Donald Tudor Bowen, who lived on the site with his wife Sheila and daughter Dawn.

Fifty years after the outbreak, Sheila and Dawn spoke to David Williams about life before, during and after the smallpox outbreak.

Listen to their story.

£500 compensation for loss of property at isolation hospital

Documents in the official files reveal the battle which the caretakers of the Penrhys Isolation Hospital had to fight to obtain compensation for all their property which was destroyed after the smallpox outbreak in 1962.

Donald Tudor Bowden, caretaker at Penrhys Isolation Hospital in 1962 (Photo: ITV Wales)

Mr and Mrs Bowden left everything behind – clothes, cutlery and children’s clothes. Their claim was eventually accepted and they were paid £500 in compensation.

See the original documents from the files in the National Archive.