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.
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”.
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 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.