Friday 7 December 2007

The 1865-66 cattle plague in Bedfordshire

In these days of increasingly frequent alarms about foot and mouth disease, bird flu and now blue tongue disease, it would be easy to think that epidemics in cattle were a recent phenomena. Far from it, as I discovered accidentally while searching one of my favourite online sources – the London Gazette

Under the heading Cattle Plague, the Gazette of 15 December 1865 carries notices from the Petty Sessions for Ampthill and Woburn prohibiting the movement of cattle from the two districts for exhibition or sale. They are just two in 18 pages of orders made by petty sessions around the country.

By January conditions had worsened and the Gazette of 19 January 1866 contains orders prohibiting the movement of cattle “with a view to prevent the spreading of the disorder now prevalent - among cattle, generally designated the ‘Cattle Plague’” made by Quarter Sessions or Liberties of the Royal Burgh of Lanark, Plymouth, Nottinghamshire, Suffolk, Walsall, Oldham, Canterbury and Kent, Durham, Bedfordshire, Ripon, Paisley, Bottisham in Cambridgeshire, Lymington, Cumberland, Sussex, East Riding of Yorkshire, Lancashire, Clitheroe, Swansea, Stalybridge, Faversham, Devonport, Havering-Atte-Sower, in Essex, and Middlesex. The orders were in force from 18 January to 1 March.

The Bedfordshire order, signed by Theed Wm Pearse as Clerk of the Peace, is particularly long and concludes with pro forma declarations and certificates for use on the limited occasions when movement of animals was permitted.

On 9 February 1866 more orders were made prohibiting “raw or untanned hide, skin, horn, hoof, or offal of any animal” being brought into Bedfordshire and also prohibiting “dung, hay, straw, fodder, or litter, likely to propagate infection” and “sheep, lamb, goat, or swine” from being moved out of Bedfordshire from places “where the cattle plague exists”. Similar orders were made for many other areas.

This was the outbreak of rinderpest, noted by Joyce Godber in her History of Bedfordshire as having arrived in Britain from the continent in 1865. The effect of the 1865-66 outbreak can be more easily imagined in light of recent ones. I wonder how many Bedfordshire farmers were ruined in 1866 and how many farm workers lost their jobs? Did it contribute to the move to industrial towns and emigration?

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