Today is Edward Jenner’s 264th birthday! He is celebrated today as the pioneer of vaccination to one of the most lethal diseases known to mankind.
Edward Jenner was the pioneer of the smallpox vaccination. Smallpox was one of the most feared and most dangerous killers of Jenner’s time and was considered as deadly as cancer and heart disease is today. It wiped out 10% of Britain’s population, rising to 20% in towns and cities where infection spread quickly.
It was rumoured amongst country lore that people who caught cowpox from their cows would not catch smallpox. Intrigued by this, Jenner made observations in his local area that led him to investigate the use of cowpox as a means to prevent catching smallpox.
A dairy-maid, Sarah Nelmes came to Jenner with fresh lesions on her hands and arms which he diagnosed as cowpox rather than smallpox. Jenner realised that this was an ideal opportunity to test the protective properties of cowpox by giving it to someone who had not yet suffered small-pox. He chose James Phipps, the 8 year old son of the gardener as his test subject. In May 1796 Jenner rubbed some of the pus from Sarah’s lesions on a small scratch on James’ arm. The 8 year old became mildly ill with cowpox for a few days and then made a full recovery. Jenner then knew cowpox would pass from person to person. The next step was to test whether cowpox would protect James from smallpox. Two months later Jenner inoculated the boy with pus from a small-pox lesion and no disease developed. As Jenner had anticipated, cowpox could be intentionally transmitted between people as a way of protecting them from the deadly smallpox.
Jenner published many case studies to ensure the whole world knew what he had discovered. The research finally led to the naming of this ground breaking process as ‘vaccination’.
|The temple of Vaccinia- Jenner's hut where he vaccinated the poor|
Jenner and his family lived in the Chantry House which became the Jenner Museum in 1985. Jenner built a one-room summer house in the garden, where he vaccinated the poor for free, saving hundreds of lives. Students from Bristol have been digging in the Jenner Garden for 6 years. Last year in 2012 a deposit of compacted stone was discovered below the garden soils and a layer of brown soil with occasional stone inclusions that contained a number of small finds. This compacted surface is thought to be an external yard or working floor. This overlaid a layer which contained a large amount of slag, mortar and stone. 2013 saw work continuing on this layer and will hopefully reveal possible Anglo-Saxon and Roman period features which are believed to exist below.