Dates for your Diary
Closed until further notice.
Museum opening times
Closed until further notice.
Suspended until museum re-opens.
‘Only Fools & Horses’ Stamps
‘Only Fools & Horses’ has been on our screens for 40 years, and to mark the occasion Royal Mail has released a set of 12 stamps featuring iconic scenes from the show, including the ‘fall-through-the-bar’ moment, the ‘exploding coach’ and the moment they finally become millionaires. The set is on sale now.
It’s looking increasingly likely that, thanks to the vaccines, ‘social distancing’ will soon be a thing of the past. If not though, work has now been completed on making the museum café ‘Covid safe’ or at least as safe as it can be. Skilled local carpenter Martin Hoare, has done a grand job creating ‘booths’ using part plywood, part clear Perspex and a walkway to reach the counter which itself has a protective screen. Here’s hoping it won’t be too long now before we can re-open.
Above, two of the booths
The walkway, leading to the counter
Get Well Soon
Best wishes to Mrs Margaret Dyer, our Secretary, who took a tumble recently and is currently in hospital with several broken bones. We wish her a very speedy recovery.
Did you know that on 2nd February, Christians celebrate the festival of Candlemas? This year’s Candlemas Day brought back memories of January 2019 when I visited the pretty town of Cirencester with some friends. It was a girlie day out, an excuse for shopping, sightseeing and a nice lunch, back when we took those things for granted! The church at Cirencester, in the centre of the town, is quite magnificent and is one of the largest parish churches in the country. We all went inside and were surprised to see a large Christmas tree still lit, still complete with its Christmas decorations. We were all familiar with the Twelve Days of Christmas, at the end of which the tree and Christmas decorations come down (usually 6th January). Indeed, all of us had done just that, as a matter of tradition rather than any strict religious beliefs – the religious background is that the twelfth day, Epiphany, celebrates the revelation of God incarnate as Jesus Christ. We asked one of the guides at the church why the tree was still lit – and it looked absolutely magnificent so we were glad to see it – and he explained that this year, for the first time, the decision had been taken to leave the decorations in place until Candlemas. I have since read that if you miss taking your decorations down at Epiphany, they should stay in place until Candlemas as it is considered inauspicious to remove them between those dates.
But what is Candlemas? It’s the commemoration of the presentation of Jesus to God in the temple at Jerusalem, as part of the ritual of the purification of a woman after giving birth by the presentation of an offering on the 40th day. It is also known as the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus Christ and the Feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Jesus was said to have been presented on that day as being a Light for the World. One website says that this explains the use of lights – candles – in the celebrations. Another says it was because this was the day that all the church's candles for the year were blessed, but perhaps both explanations are right. Some people still recognise the significance of the day by placing lighted candles in their windows.
Many of the Christian festivals celebrated today have their roots in pagan practices and this includes Candlemas. In pre-Christian times, the mid-point between the winter solstice (the shortest day) and the spring equinox was marked by a festival of light. Rather like the myth about the weather if it rains on St Swithin's day, some people believed that Candlemas foretold the weather for the remainder of winter. The old rhyme goes:
If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain
Winter will not come again.
Other superstitions include that if you bring snowdrops inside on Candlemas day, it symbolises a death. Likewise if a candle drips on one side when carried into church this also symbolises a death. Grim superstitions aside, it wouldn’t have been a bad idea if we had all left our Christmas trees up until Candlemas this year to bring us all a bit of cheer in these dark days.
Edward Jenner Update
In the January edition was an article on Edward Jenner and the smallpox vaccine. One reader, Sue Davies, showed the article to a friend, Liz Lane, who lives in Gloucestershire and very close to the place where Edward Jenner lived. Liz was able tell Sue that his home is a museum which is open to the general public (though not in the current circumstances of course).
The Jenner House and Museum
Another thing I was not aware of is that in recognition and gratitude for the part played by young James Phipps in being a human guinea pig, the cottage he lived in was given to him by Dr Jenner.
Ms Lane, has very kindly supplied photos of the museum and cottage, one of which is reproduced here. In addition there are several other photos of hers, including one of James Phipps’ cottage, that can be viewed on the museum’s Facebook page.
For more information on the Jenner House, Museum and Garden use the link below.
Keeping You Posted!
Keeping in touch at the moment - during the pandemic - seems to have become even more important. Having restrictions on meeting friends and family has made it imperative to keep up communication by any means possible - maybe even by carrier pigeon.....if you own one!
Being in touch with others has never been easier: - landlines; mobile phones; texts; e-mails; twitter etc.etc. But what about the good, old-fashioned letter or card?
Maybe you’re like me and love to see a nice, handwritten envelope coming through the letterbox. Who can it be from? Do I recognise the handwriting? The postal delivery is something we don’t even really think about do we? Post of all shapes and sizes gets delivered all over the country and is just part and parcel (excuse the pun!) of normal everyday life.
But when, where and how did the UK postal service, taken for granted by us all, start?
Last year - just a week before lockdown - I was lucky enough to travel by coach to London and visit the very interesting and fascinating Postal Museum. This visit gave me the idea for an article for this Newsletter.
Did you know it was Henry VIII who first established a ‘Master of the Posts’ in 1516? This was renamed as The Postmaster General in 1710. But it was Charles I who made The Royal Mail Service available to the public on 31st July 1635. Initially the recipient paid the postal charges but eventually this changed to the sender paying the charges, which we all know is still the system today.
You’ve probably heard of the Penny Black - the stamp introduced in 1840 during the reign of Queen Victoria. An original of this stamp today would be highly prized and sought after......and expensive.....costing much more than a humble penny! The introduction of this stamp meant there was a single rate for delivery to anywhere in Great Britain, pre-paid by the sender.
Did you know there is a narrow gauge, driverless underground railway, which was built by the Post Office, to transport mail between local sorting offices? It opened in 1927 and operated for 76 years until it closed in 2003. The London Postal Museum is sited within the former railway and it is possible to take a ride on this train and to see where the post was taken. It’s a bit of a squash to squeeze into the carriages but it’s a totally fascinating piece of living history and well worth visiting.....when we are able of course!
Royal Mail estimates there are one hundred thousand post boxes in the UK though I’m not sure who’s been round and counted them!
We all recognise the good old, red British pillar box don’t we? First introduced in 1856 and initially coloured green to fit in with the environment. The colour red was introduced to make the boxes more noticeable by the public. Most pillar boxes have the initials of whichever monarch was reigning at the time, included on the front.
Many would call letter writing terribly old-fashioned but the pandemic has apparently prompted a return to this more traditional method of communication.
So.....here’s a little challenge for us all. Let’s get on and write a letter to someone we know will appreciate it. You never know - you may even receive a written one in return. You’ll then have the little thrill of that envelope plopping through the letter box and onto the doormat. All you need then is or sit down quietly with a nice cup of tea, open that letter and enjoy the contents written specially for you.
Many thanks to Kath for the above and to find out more about the Postal Museum use the link below.
Sir Waldemar Haffkine
The Unsung Vaccine Hero
There are some among us who are cautious about the newly developed Covid vaccines, mainly because of the speed at which they have been produced; however it is not the first time that a successful vaccine has been produced at speed, and with less testing and far fewer resources…
Waldemar Haffkine was a Jew, born in Ukraine in 1860 and a qualified zoologist. In 1888 he left Ukraine and found work as a librarian in the Louis Pasteur Institute in Paris which was, at the time, the world’s leading centre in bacteriological research. There in his spare time, he began experimenting with the cholera bacilli and managed to create a cholera vaccine that he used successfully on guinea pigs. In 1892, Haffkine tested his concoction on himself and although he suffered a fever he recovered and went on to inject some Russian friends as well as a few volunteers, all with success.
At this time, bacteriology was regarded with suspicion and so, when he arrived in India in 1893 claiming a vaccine against cholera, he struggled to be taken seriously and consequently had difficulty finding enough people to vaccinate. Then in 1894, after an outbreak of cholera in one of the villages in Calcutta, he was able to vaccinate around half of the 200 or so population. He observed around 10 cases there, of which 7 were fatal but notably, all the cases were among the uninoculated. Impressed by his work, he was then given government funding for a bigger trial but finding enough people willing to be vaccinated was still proving tricky. To encourage vaccination, Haffkine publicly injected himself and soon, thanks in part to help from local doctors, queues were forming for his vaccine and he found himself working long hours to meet the demand. Haffkine did a lot of good work in the back streets of Calcutta but unlike Edward Jenner, who developed the smallpox vaccine, he never acquired fame.
In 1896 bubonic plague arrived in Bombay which was then British India. The governor of Bombay turned to Haffkine for help. He was given a very small two-room laboratory, a handful of untrained assistants and the task of coming up with a vaccine from scratch. He worked non-stop that winter and by January 1897, he had a formula that he again tested on himself first and with a dose much stronger than he intended to use on others. It gave him a fever but he made a full recovery. Later that same month an outbreak occurred at a prison and Haffkine vaccinated some inmates, leaving others unprotected. There were no deaths among those vaccinated. Thanks to Haffkine, hundreds of thousands were then vaccinated against the plague and in 1901 he was knighted by Queen Victoria.
Then tragedy struck…in 1902 some 19 people died of tetanus after being injected with Haffkine’s plague vaccine. An investigation showed all 19 had received the vaccine from the same bottle, bottle 53N, and an inquiry by the Indian government very hastily pointed the finger at Haffkine and concluded that the contamination had happened at his laboratory. Haffkine was fired and, in disgrace, left India and returned to London where, despite his knighthood, despite having developed a vaccine at breakneck speed, he found himself ostracised by the scientific community especially the medical community because he was not a doctor and therefore ‘not one of them’. Without Haffkine’s vaccine, the plague swept unchecked through India killing more than a million people while Haffkine himself remained in London fighting for his name. Eventually, in 1907, Haffkine was finally exonerated after it was found that an assistant had uncorked bottle 53N using forceps that he had dropped on the floor! Haffkine, his name cleared, returned to India however the damage had been done; he was still distrusted and only allowed to indulge in theoretical work. Disheartened, he eventually returned to France where he died in 1930 aged 70.
The world owes a great deal to Haffkine who developed not one but two vaccines at a time when viruses were much less understood than they are today. He saved many lives but could have saved many more had it not been for the incident with bottle 53N. This story shows how important it is that we have faith in our scientists and take whatever vaccine we are offered. Listening to the TV recently, I was struck by some rather profound words uttered by Noel Josephides of the Association of Independent Tour Operators. He said ‘you don’t have a vaccine only to prevent you from dying; you have a vaccine to enable you to live.’
To read Haffkine’s story in more detail, use the links below:
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