A Pandemic in the Village

A Pandemic in the Village

Much like today, 130 years ago the world was in the middle of a pandemic. This time it was influenza* and it was also known as the “Asiatic flu” or “Russian flu”. The pandemic took place between 1889 and 1890 but recurred for periods during the following 5 years. It killed around one million people worldwide.

In parallel with our current pandemic, the Prime Minister at the time, Lord Salisbury, became ill with the “Russian flu” in January 1890 and was incapacitated for several weeks.

St Michael and All Angels' Church, Kerry.
St Michael and All Angels’ Church, Kerry.

By June 1891, this influenza had taken hold again in the village of Kerry in Montgomeryshire, Wales. In the 16th June 1891 edition of The Montgomeryshire Express it is reported:

THE SCHOOLS – The medical officer of health, Dr Gowan, has ordered the schools to be closed on account of the prevalence of influenza, and as it is uncertain how long the prohibition may continue, it has been decided to take the usual summer holidays at once, and re-open on July 13th.

The article continues and notes the number of deaths in the area of the village from the flu since April…

DEATH OF MR JOSEPH DAVIES, NEW HOUSE – On Tuesday Mr Joseph Davies, New House, Sarn, succumbed to influenza and broncho-pneumonia, making the twenty-eighth death since the 1st of April in the Kerry registration sub-district, where the annual average is thirty-four. Mr Davies, whose age was 71, but who, until recently, comparatively a hale and strong man, had occupied New House some 50 years, and like Mr Pryce Jones, was well known and highly respected. He was buried at Kerry on Saturday last.

During this year’s lockdown, a brilliant team of volunteers in the village banded together to ensure those in need didn’t go without. Back in 1891, the village had Mr Leyland and Miss Naylor to thank for helping those in need (although the newspaper gives Mr Leyland all of the credit).

MR. LEYLAND’S BENEVOLENCE – Influenza is so prevalent around Kerry (many whole families being “down” with it) that there is the greatest difficulty to find nurses, and many instances of increased suffering and risk have been the consequence. Since Mr Leyland’s return to Brynllywarch, he and Miss Naylor have daily ridden and driven long distances, visiting every family in the neighbourhood where the sufferers have needed assistance, and carrying soup, wine and everything required, as well as providing nurses when they could be obtained. Naturally, Mr Leyland’s unstinted “friend in need” benevolence has evoked the deep gratitude of the ailing families and their neighbours. Mr Leyland has been alone in this work, and it is pleasing to record the efforts that have been made to afford relief.

(I love that Mr Leyland gave out the all-important wine!)

The newspaper article goes on to mention the death of Mr C. Pryce Jones mentioned earlier. It says he was “one of the great many victims of influenza”. Mr Jones had been ill for a week when on the Friday his symptoms considerably abated. He sat up to sign some papers, and by doing so he took a chill, rapidly developed pneumonia and died on the Sunday evening. Mr Jones was a well-known man, at the time of his death he was a waywarden and a guardian of Kerry Parish, as well as an enterprising agriculturalist.

The 30th June 1891 edition of The Montgomeryshire Express makes note of the death of Mr Robert Brown of Church House, Kerry (formerly of the Herbert Arms, Kerry). His funeral was well attended and friends in attendance included Sir Pryce Pryce-Jones (a Welsh entrepreneur who formed the world’s first mail-order business and whose patrons included Queen Victoria and Florence Nightingale). The newspaper reports Mr Brown as “an ardent sportsman. Many a story of hair-breath escapes is related of his reckless daring in the saddle, and to the last he continued to take a keep interest in sporting matters.”. At the time of Mr Brown’s death, his wife was also inflicted “with a severe attack of the epidemic”.

Mr Robert Brown
The gravestone of Mr Robert Brown reads: “In Loving Memory of Robert Brown / Born September 26. 1810, / Died June 19. 1891.”

The edition also reports of the death of “another well-known villager”, Mr Richard Williams, former sexton at the Parish Church. The newspaper says “His genial face, ready wit, and intimate acquaintance with the history of the neighbourhood for some seventy years made the deceased a remarkable character in the village, where he will be greatly missed, and where there is much sympathy with his daughters in the loss they have suffered.”

Seven months later, the 26th January 1892 issue of The Montgomeryshire Express announced the death of Mr Thomas Holmes of Dolforgan Villa, Kerry. Mr Holmes is described as a “highly respected agent of the Dolforgan estate”. 

The gravestone of Mr Thomas Holmes.
The gravestone of Mr Thomas Holmes reads: “In Loving Memory of Thomas HOLMES, of Dolforgan Villa, Kerry, Mont: / Born Dec. 27th. 1844 – Died Jan. 21st. 1892. / For many years the valued agent and esteemed friend of the WALTON family. / “They rest from their labours, and their works do follow them.” Rev. XIV, 13.”

The newspaper also reports: “During the many years Mr Holmes has occupied his important position he has gained the goodwill of the tenents and workmen on the estate by his never-failing sympathy and anxious efforts to benefit them whenever practical, and the sincere regard of his neighbours and many friends. At Easter in 1886 Mr Holmes was elected churchwarden, and became ex-officio, an overseer of the parish, and a trustee of Kerry Endowed Schools. After three years’ successful service in these capacities, on the retirement of Mr Moore, he was appointed by the vicar senior warden, and in the following year he became representative of Central Kerry on the Highway Board. By his conciliatory disposition and scrupulous exactness in fulfilling every duty he undertook Mr Holmes won the fullest confidences of whom he represented and with whom he became associated, and it will be difficult to provide an equally capable successor.”

A much-loved character of the village indeed!

An article from the 13th January 1891 edition of The Montgomeryshire Express mentions the vicar addressing the children upon the many drawbacks of the previous year, including the closing of the schools by order of the Medical Officer of Health due to measles in December and January, the severe epidemic of influenza in February and March (which reduced attendance to less than half the usual), and the almost equally serious attack of whooping cough in July, August and September. Despite these untoward circumstances, both schools had, by the hard work of the scholars and teachers, maintained the high position they had for many years held at both Dioscean and Government examinations.

It seems 2020 isn’t alone in the competition of being the worst year ever!

*Apparently, a group of scientists in Belgium now believe the “Russian flu” may have actually been coronavirus.


  1. Jo says:

    They do say that everything goes around in cycles. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Coronavirus hasn’t been around for a lot longer than we think.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if what Jo says about Coronavirus having been around for much longer than we think is correct and I reckon that it is going to be around for some considerable time to come, regardless of whether or not a vaccine is found. You only have to take smallpox as an example, when despite a mass immunisation programme, the disease was not totally declared eradicated until decades later!

    I always enjoy reading old archived news reports and documents. My MIL used to spend ages trying to track down her family tree and some of the documentation she uncovered was amazing!

    I am a firm believer that you can’t and shouldn’t try to change the facts and events of history, but we should learn from them and make sure they are never repeated. Although that is quite a challenge, when all around us everyday, countries are making the same bad choices as their forefathers! Perhaps we as humans never do learn from our mistakes!

    Thanks for such an interesting post 🙂

    Yvonne xx

  3. The virus is not taken seriously with people not following the restrictions. All we can do is wear masks, limit our contacts and social distance when outside. Only time will tell how this pandemic is recorded in history.
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  4. Susan Paynton says:

    Interesting research Nicky. How awful that they had to battle with measles and whooping cough at the same time as influenza.

  5. Hi Nikki, an interesting read and proof that these pandemics do happen and they do pass intime. Of course these days it can be viruses and disease can be spread much easier globally, but we also have medical advancements on ourside. Hopefully in a few years this will all be history and we will be better armed with knowledge of how best to handle these outbreaks.


  6. Marty says:

    Fascinating to see how it was all reported back then. I too enjoyed the wine anecdote — medicinal purposes, after all! 🙂 That you have pics of the gravestones is so interesting to see along with those news reports from the period. I too wonder how “novel” this virus really is. Great post.

  7. Sophie says:

    This was such a fascinating read! I’d never heard of Russian flu before, really interesting to see the parallels with present day. I hope the 5 years element doesn’t turn out to be another one x


  8. Kelly says:

    What a fascinating post! I’m glad you shared it with us and provided the grave marker visuals. I know I owe you a letter… I’ve meant to write all week, but life got in the way. I’ll explain in a note to you soon!

  9. A terrific post!
    I was out shopping today, and although other shoppers were wearing masks (some, however, let them slip under their noses), a few folks just couldn’t get the social distancing thing. I kept moving to get away from them, but they never realized (or cared) that I couldn’t look at what I was looking at because they got in my zone. Oh well; it saved me some money.

  10. Kris P says:

    A historical perspective is helpful, as well as interesting. I wish more people studied history. As the saying goes “those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

  11. CherryPie says:

    An interesting piece of local history.

    Virus pandemics are cyclical, there are many historical incidences including the Bubonic Plague.

    I recently read a book written in 2017 by the director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (in America). He warned that it was only a matter of time before the next pandemic and how we should be prepared for it.

    In modern times we are more globally connected with fast transport so these diseases can spread far and wide almost instantly.

    Quarantining to stop the spread of disease is not new:


  12. Lady Fi says:

    Nice shots – and good to remember that pandemics have been and gone before. But still – as we are treating nature and the Earth without care, the number of pandemics and viruses is likely to increase.

  13. jeanie says:

    What a terrific post! A fascinating read — I love how they were writing the descriptions. (The wine made me smile!) Everything old is new again, isn’t it? That’s curious, the concept of this being Covid. I love how local history is reported and it’s interesting to look back at other times. This is really one I think I may need to re-read!

  14. Ann Coleman says:

    Whenever we begin to feel too sorry for ourselves for the hardships we are enduring, a quick check of history usually reminds us that suffering is nothing new. I hadn’t heard about that flu, but it sure sound similar. Thanks for sharing this article…it was interesting. And in a way, hopeful, because reminds us that this pandemic will end one day, just the way the others did too.

  15. Aimsy says:

    Wow this is so interesting! I knew about Spanish influenza, but not the Russain one. It’s crazy how things come back around, isn’t it? I wonder if they coped better than we have back then, although I know medical knowledge will be better now.

    Thanks for sharing!
    Aimsy xoxo
    Aimsy’s Antics

  16. Gosh this is interesting Nikki & certainly puts things into perspective! I’m interested in seeing what they eventually discover about the Coronavirus once all the dust has settled – however long that takes. Just goes to show though – threats to mankind are always around….

  17. Convinced Mr T and I along with several friends and family had it before it became a thing, I too am convinced this virus has been around a lot longer.

    What a beautiful and haunting piece you have shared, fascinating to read, thank you.

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