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September 2020
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Dates for your Diary

Closed until further notice.

Museum opening times

Closed until further notice.

100 Club

Suspended pending re-opening of museum. 

Museum update

We are in the process of looking at ways that we can safely re-open our doors.   Please bear with us; we hope to be able to welcome you back soon.

Thanks to Vera Smith for the following poem:

Harvest by Maggie Ingall

Harvest cartoon It’s time for counting blessings,
It’s time for thanks and praise,
For celebrating harvest
And soft September days.

It’s time for giving homage
For nature’s bounteous yields,
For berries from the hedgerows,
For mushrooms from the fields

For crops that grow and ripen,
For apples, crisp and bright,
For all the fruits of autumn
That nourish and delight.

So let us go rejoicing,
Let hearts and spirits lift,
May we always be grateful
For every harvest gift.

Gunnedah Water Tower Museum

Gunnedah Water Tower Museum

In June’s edition we heard from Marie Hobson from New South Wales, Australia, who is the Secretary of the Gunnedah Museum. She has sent us some photos of their unique museum one of which is reproduced here.  The murals painted on the exterior are there to honour their Vietnam War veterans.  To see more of her photos including some of the interior of this very unusual museum, visit our Facebook page.

Do You Remember Zoo Quest?

David Attenborough, who turned 94 in May, is a household figure and is rightly praised for his role in educating us about the world and its wonders and the threats they and we now face from climate change, urbanisation, intensive agriculture, pollution and disease.

Millions have watched his television series such as 'The Blue Planet' and 'Life on Earth' and read the books that went with them. The wonderful coloured images on our screens, usually quite large screens these days, and in the books, are a far cry from the grainy black and white images in his early television series and books.

Do you remember Zoo Quest which was on our small boxy television screens in the fifties and early sixties? Those series took David Attenborough to places such as Madagascar, New Guinea and North Australia to film the people and wildlife to be found there, and to collect specimens for the London Zoo, hence the name of the programmes. Nowadays the credits for programmes such as 'The Blue Planet' are understandably long, involving a cast of hundreds. The Zoo Quest programmes were much more modest, sometimes only involving David Attenborough and a cameraman whilst on location, relying on local guides and porters to help them find the people and animals they were seeking and to carry whatever might be needed. Sometimes they made do simply with an old jeep which inevitably seemed to require running repairs. There were no mobile phones in those days; they were largely reliant on bush radios to keep in touch.

I've been prompted to write this because I have just finished reading a book called 'Journeys to the Other Side of the World: Further Adventures of a Young Naturalist' which, although it came out in 2018, is a compilation of three of David Attenborough's Zoo Quest books;  it makes for fascinating reading.  In the book, David Attenborough says in the introduction "Television techniques...have changed beyond recognition. Sound recorders no longer use tape and do not refuse to work in the tropical sun. Television cameras are electronic and tiny compared with the monsters we used and no longer need to be swathed by special padding to keep them quiet. What is more, they can now replay their pictures immediately so that we no longer have to wait for months before we know whether or not we have the pictures we hoped we had."

The images we see now are nothing short of stunning but it is worth remembering that today's programmes about the natural world owe much to early programmes such as Zoo Quest and the enthusiasm of people like David Attenborough. I am old enough to remember Zoo Quest and my best-remembered programme of the series is the one featuring the Komodo dragon.  Originally filmed in 1956 this particular programme showed David Attenborough tracking down and capturing a Komodo Dragon – a venomous lizard that grows up to 3m in length and is found in the Komodo Islands of Indonesia. You can still see this particular programme on i-player or watch a snippet on u-tube. It's worth watching if only to compare the quality of the images with those of modern series.

Dick Whittington

We have probably all seen the pantomime Puss in Boots featuring Dick Whittington and his cat but who was Dick Whittington? Was there really a Dick Whittington who made his way to London to find riches? The answer is yes. He was either a younger son or a member of a junior branch of a family Gloucestershire gentry. He went to London and made his fortune by setting up as a dealer in costly textiles, subsequently supplying the royal household with cloth of gold and richly embroidered velvets in the early fifteenth century. Those sales, worth £1000 a year, is equivalent to about £400,000 today – clearly he was a shrewd trader. His wealth gave him great influence and he served three separate terms as Mayor of London and was a Member of Parliament. He was rich enough to make substantial loans to Henry V when the latter was raising money to finance his cause to recover lands in France.

Although Richard Whittington did not start off as an especially wealthy man he was certainly not poor and no-one seems to know how the myth started that he was a penniless young orphan who made his money by selling his cat in a rat-infested country but this rags to riches tale appeared in ballads and poems in the 1600s and their popularity ensured that the tale persists to this day.
Jen Price

Demon Drink

Drunkenness on the streets is regrettable but it's nothing new.  Have you ever heard of the Habitual Drunkards Act 1879? This provided retreats for 'habitual drunkards' but was not successful, mainly because the inmates had to pay and most of those who needed it the most were too poor to be able to afford it.

Fast forward to 1898 and the Inebriates Act. Local authorities, needing an establishment to which people with an habitual drink problem could be sent, could apply under this act to build or purchase suitable buildings as 'inebriate reformatories' certified by the Secretary of State.  Habitual drunkards could be sent to such a reformatory for a two to three year period instead of a short prison sentence or a fine. Most of the offenders sentenced under this Act were women and it has been suggested that the authorities were reluctant to send men as the local authority would then have responsibility for supporting the man's family and the cost that entailed.

There was also at this time a concern for the moral welfare of the women, since drunkenness among women was often also associated with promiscuity, prostitution and the breakdown of families.  By 1904 women accounted for 91% of the inmates of the reformatories while accounting for just 20% of convictions for drunkenness and by 1906, nine of the eleven reformatories in England (and available also to authorities in Wales) were exclusively for women.

In South East Wales use was made of the reformatory at Brentry near Bristol.  An official inspection following complaints about the poor food being provided, found that the place had very dirty kitchens and dirty living quarters.  At some stage there was also an outbreak of enteric fever there.

By the early 20th century inebriety was often regarded as a medical problem, a disease marked by lack of self control.   In 1905 Dr T N Kelynack described inebriety as “a pathological condition in which there is both mental derangement and bodily disturbance; but it is also a morbid state which involves serious consequences to the person and property of the sufferer and others, and considerable damage to the well-being of the state”.  Habitual drunkards came to be considered as mental defectives and were sent to mental institutions under the Mental Deficiency Act 1913.

Wine glass cartoon The success of the Certified Inebriate Reformatories was limited and many inmates returned to insobriety on their release.  The reformatories had closed by the 1920s, many having been reclassified as mental institutions.

This makes for rather dismal reading and so I'll stop here and have a gin and tonic… just a small one!
Jen Price

How Secure is Airport Security?

Aeroplane cartoonSince September 2006 there have been restrictions on carrying liquids though airport security but twice last year I unintentionally passed through airport security with liquids in my hand luggage that I had forgotten about and both went undetected!  The first occasion was coming home from Paris.  I had put all my liquids in the required clear bag, or so I thought, only to find on emptying my bag back at home that I had several sachets of (don’t ask) tomato sauce and mayonnaise!  

The second time was later in the year, coming home from Cyprus.  I was in the airport departure lounge, having passed through security, and was rummaging in my flight bag for a magazine to read when I found a large pressurised can of antiperspirant that I had intended to put in the hotels donation box for other guests to use.  I disposed of it in a bin before boarding the flight but it made me wonder just how effective the bag search really is!

If you’ve had a similar experience, do let me know!

Typhoid Mary

The term ‘asymptomatic’-  meaning a carrier of a disease without showing symptoms - has been bandied about a lot of late in relation to Covid-19 but perhaps the most famous asymptomatic person of all time was Mary Mallon who was the first person in the USA to be identified as a carrier of Typhoid Fever…

Mary was born in Cookstown, in Northern Ireland on 23rd September 1869.   Her mother had typhoid when she was pregnant and it is thought this passed to Mary in the womb.

In 1883, as a teenager, Mary immigrated to New York and lived with her aunt and uncle where she went into work as a domestic servant, initially as a maid.  Later, somewhat aptly given her town of birth, she worked as a cook as it paid more.  It should be stressed that Mary was healthy and never had any symptoms of typhoid.

In 1906, Mary was working for a wealthy banker called Charles Warren.  Charles decided to take his family on holiday and hired an apartment at Oyster Bay, Long Island.  He took Mary with them as their cook.  Six of the eleven Warren family members became ill with typhoid fever during the holiday.  The owner of the holiday let, concerned it would affect his business, hired a freelance sanitary engineer, George Soper, to find the cause of the outbreak.  Soper took samples from the pipes, taps and cesspool but all came back negative for typhoid.

Then in early 1907, Mary was working for another wealthy man, Walter Bowen.  Their maid got ill first, then Walter Bowen’s only daughter contracted typhoid and died.  Soper got to hear of this case and it was then that he made the connection to Mary Mallon as the common factor in both cases.  The story says that he confronted Mary at Bowen’s house and she threatened him with a carving fork.  When she refused to give samples for testing, he started to look into her employment history.  He discovered that she had worked for seven other families and all had reported cases of typhoid fever!  Each time typhoid broke out, Mary would leave her employment quickly and quietly, without giving a forwarding address.

Soper theorized that if Mallon was a carrier and had poor hand hygiene, her work as a cook preparing food was how she was infecting people, however he was puzzled as to why any bacteria wasn’t killed during the cooking process.  Then he discovered one of her ‘signature dishes’ was raw peaches cut up, added to ice cream and then frozen.  He is quoted as saying ‘I suppose no better way could be found for a cook to cleanse her hands of microbes and infect a family’.

As a direct result of Soper’s investigation Mary was taken into custody by New York City’s health department.  Her stool samples showed massive amounts of typhoid bacteria and Mallon confessed she rarely washed her hands!

On March 19th 1907, having refused to give up working as a cook, Mallon was sentenced to live in isolation on North Brother Island and henceforth became known as ‘Typhoid Mary’, a name she always hated. She refused to accept she was a carrier and even managed to find the money to have her own tests done which came back negative and a quarter of samples taken during her forced quarantine also came back negative.  After nearly three years she was released back to the mainland after promising not to work as a cook.

She found work as a laundress but it paid less than half that of a cook and so she changed her name to Mary Brown and started once more to work as a cook.

In 1915, Mary ‘Brown’ started working for a maternity hospital when typhoid fever struck.  Twenty-five people fell ill and two died.  The outbreak was traced to the hospital’s cook whom they dubbed ‘Typhoid Mary’ little realising at that point that it was actually ‘The’ Typhoid Mary.  After this incident, Mallon was once again confined to North Brother Island where she spent the last 23 years of her life in isolation.  She died there of pneumonia on 11th November 1938 aged 69.

In total it is thought she infected fifty-one people and killed three.  In many ways she was her own worst enemy by refusing to co-operate.  If she had been prepared to stop working as a cook and/or to learn better hygiene, in particular hand hygiene, she may have led a more normal life.

And therein lies the moral of this story, good hand hygiene;  a lesson for us all in these dark days!  
Sally Murphy

Article sourced from


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