Suffer the little children

 

Arthur Charles Bailey was baptised at St. Saviour’s church, Valley End, on March 31st 1907.

He was the first child of James and Eliza Bailey. His sister Margaret arrived a few years later.

The family lived in Apple Tree Cottage on the Chertsey Road, opposite Ribsden. This was convenient, because James had been trained as a gardener in Berkshire, and was working as head gardener on the Ribsden estate.

Then in 1912, Arthur fell ill with diphtheria.

In many ways life was safer than it had been in the 19th century. The terrible epidemics such as cholera had been contained by public health initiatives.

But diseases spread by droplet infection, (coughing, sneezing,) such as diphtheria, measles, whooping cough and chicken pox could not be controlled.

Of all these, diphtheria had the highest mortality rate, and was especially dangerous for young children. It was not until after 1939 that immunisation against this disease became widespread.

Arthur was desperately sick. An antitoxin serum for diphtheria had been discovered in 1894, but this had to be administered within the first few days of the illness, when the symptoms may not have been obvious. Was he given it, or was it too late?

Arthur Bailey died on 17th April 1912. He had just turned 5 years old.

His family was grief stricken. They took him to be buried at St. Saviour’s.

The people who met them at the church were afraid. They knew diphtheria was a killer, and they knew it was contagious. But they did not understand how it was spread.

Because of this ignorance and fear of infection, the funeral party was not allowed inside the church.

The burial service took place outside, and Arthur was buried in a quiet corner of the churchyard.

His mother never recovered from the loss of her son. The day of his death nearly coincided with the sinking of the Titanic, and for years every mention of the shipwreck reminded Eliza of her lost child.

Arthur Bailey lies to the right as you enter the churchyard. His headstone reads;

In loving memory of Arthur Charles Bailey who died April 17th 1912 Aged 5 years.

“Suffer the little children to come unto me.”

It was some years before his mother felt able to add another inscription. The final words were;

“Thy will be done.”

 

Old pictures 008.jpg

Arthur Bailey’s grave at St. Saviour’s.

******************************

If you would like to find out more about diphtheria ; http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/diphtheria/pages/introduction.aspx

If you would like to find out more about vaccination for diphtheria;

http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Diphtheria/Pages/Prevention.aspx

Sources;

“A history of English public health 1834 – 1934.” M. Frazer. London, 1950.

“The people’s health. 1830 – 1910.” E. B. Smith. London 1979.

With many thanks to Helene Parris.

*******************************