The Edward Jenner Museum, Berkeley
On: 12/04/2010 In: Heart of England stories
The small south Gloucester town of Berkeley held a number of events in the summer of 2010 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Eradication of Smallpox, announced by the World Health Organisation in 1980.

The Edward Jenner Museum stands right in the centre of the town,  adjacent to the 13th c. Church of St. Mary & the prestigeous Berkeley Castle.  The story of vaccination started here, back in 1796,  a medical breakthrough which has had a world wide success in fighting disease,  culminating in the total eradication of smallpox 30 years ago.

Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire, son of the local vicar, in the middle of the 18th century.  By the age of 5 he was orphaned & at 8 years old was sent to a small boarding school in the neighbouring town of Wotton-under-Edge.  Here, something happened to him that was to influence the rest of his life - he was subjected to "variolation",  a primitive & dangerous early form of immunisation which involved puncturing the skin & introducing matter from smallpox blisters. This was inevitably a risky procedure, although the death rate from the disease caught in this way was lower than if caught "naturally" & it involved an unpleasant few weeks whilst it took its course.  Jenner of course, survived, although he did contract the disease, but the whole episode haunted & traumatised him for the rest of his life. As a doctor, he refused to carry out these procedures.

Jenner, a countryman interested in all things natural, was well aware of the tales of country folk that milkmaids never caught smallpox & therefore enjoyed true English complexions, unblemished by the scars.  In 1796, he therefore performed an experimental vaccination ('Vacca', latin for a cow) on James Phipps, son of his gardener, using the matter taken from a Cowpox blister on the hand of a local milkmaid, Sarah Nemes.  She had caught this mild disease, related to the more deadly & dreaded smallpox, from Blossom the cow.  This momentous experiment paved the way for the eradication of the disease almost 200 years later - the only infectious disease ever to have been thus eliminated.

Jenner did not die a rich man, although he was famous even in his day.  The Chantry in Berekeley was where he principally worked & lived out his days,  & where the Museum is now housed.  He is buried beneath the Chancel of St.Mary's Church, next door to the house where his daring experiment took place.

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