Smallpox was an infectious viral disease which was evident for centuries in places with poor sanitation, poverty, and malnutrition. Worldwide millions of poor people died, and there was no cure. By the end of the 18th century the disease was following the natural course, burning itself out on the human population, confining itself to those with the lowest immune capabilities.....young children and the old.
|Haworth main street|
Over 40% of children died before attaining the age of six years, and the school records from this time are testament to the poor health of local children with many dying from smallpox, measles, whooping cough and scarlet fever. The average age of death in the village was 25.8 years, which was about the same as in Whitechapel, St.George-in-the-East, and St.Luke, three of the most unhealthy of the London districts.
As the following page from the Haworth burial records shows in September/October 1794, smallpox was rampant in the area around this time. The records for this six week period shows 15 out of the 20 burials in this small village were due to smallpox, and nearly all were young children.
|Haworth burial 1823|
His wife Ann and family seem to have carried on living in the same area, but not at Old Snap, After William's death, Ann is shown as living nearby at Deanfield as a servant with a farmer called Joseph Heaton…the Heaton family being the large landowners in the area at the time, and the owners of Old Snap farm, which the Bancroft had probably been renting from them.
Locally there remained however much opposition to the vaccination and in July 1876 Thomas Harrison, a shoemaker of Glusburn, was brought before the Skipton magistrates court for failing to have his child vaccinated. A fine and costs were imposed upon him but when he failed to pay, he was sent to Wakefield Prison for one month’s hard labour. He was released on Saturday, September 4 and on his arrival at Kildwick and Cross Hills Railway Station he was met by a large crowd of supporters. They celebrated by launching a paper balloon with the effigy of Sir Matthew Wilson, the magistrate who had convicted him, drawn on it and then setting fire to it. The crowd then processed in triumph to the Friendly Societies Hall in Cross Hills where a substantial tea awaited them.
Support for Thomas Harrison had been widespread, particularly in Keighley where the Board of Guardians had refused to comply with the 1874 Vaccination Act that made them responsible for implementing the local vaccination programme. In August 1876, whilst Harrison was in prison, a Writ of Mandamus was served upon the guardians for their arrest and incarceration at York Prison. Two surrendered voluntarily and the others were rounded-up and taken into custody by the sheriff’s officers. They were initially held at the Devonshire Arms on Church Street but when the transport arrived to take them to Keighley Railway Station, they found their passage down Low Street was blocked by a large mob and so they set off via North Street and Cavendish Street. The mob took the shorter route and met them at the station where they unhitched the horses and pulled the guardians and their captors back to the Devonshire Arms. Despite verbal abuse and threats to throw them into the North Beck, the sheriff’s officers were eventually released unharmed and the next day the guardians surrendered voluntarily. They were taken peaceably by train to the prison at York Castle, the newspapers of the day excitably reporting that they were incarcerated in Clifford’s Tower.
Organised opposition to vaccination began to dissipate after a further act, the 1898 Vaccination Act came into force and introduced a conscience clause that gave parents who did not believe in vaccination the right to refuse.It was however, not until 1977 that smallpox disappeared worldwide.