Stedham/Iping Smallpox 1883

In November 2020 we posted a Charles White photo on Facebook. It showed rag-pickers sitting outside the building that is now the Masonic Hall in Bepton Road, taken in 1916. It was one of our Sunday Puzzle pictures. Not only was it easily recognised, but Ken Mordle named one of the figures!

"Masonic Hall, ladies were rag pickers sorting out the rags that would go to Iping paper Mill, the lady on the gate to the left is our gran Florence Elizabeth Jarvis (nee Amey) - Flo's mum who died in 1921 of the flu virus. She was born in 1899 Brighton and her parents George Amey and Florence Elizabeth Cottrell moved from Brighton to Midhurst and lived at 1 Bennett's Terrace. My mother was only one and a half years old when her mother died.”

The photo prompted Reg Symonds to refer me to an article, written by Ian Friel, about the smallpox outbreak at Iping paper mill in 1883. Ian kindly sent us a precis of his article and gave permission for us to reproduce it here.

  Smallpox and a Sussex Paper Mill Dr Ian Friel MA, PhD, FSA

There is a postscript to the story of |Iping Paper Mill, as recounted by Allan Walder in our book Midhurst in Living Memory.

“Iping had a Mill – that was paper. Yes, it was the top blotting paper place at Iping. It was always famous for that. During the war, the man at Iping – he had a van there, (not in the Mill because they had stopped doing any paper), and he used to go to Petersfield station, load the van up with paper, take it back, stamp it, take it back to Petersfield and send it off – so it looked as if it was Iping paper. And Iping Mill became a secret place – they made the petrol tanks for aeroplanes – they made them with all different sorts of plastic things so that if they were shot at the hole would close. That’s what they did there – experimental things. Nobody was supposed to know what was going on – my Dad was called up to do something – he was a carpenter, and it was to do with making the tank - because it was a rubbery sort of thing. You had a four inch hole every so far and you had to be able to put your hand in undo the piece of wood, so that you could take it out – so you had it made to this frame of wood – whatever they wanted but you had to be able to take them out of the four inch holes. Then they went up to where the doctor lives {Dr Hill} which I suppose in the beginning was a narrow field because the river was there, and there was a public footpath and in between they had this place where they would take a tank up, then use guns – machine guns like they would shoot at aeroplanes - to shoot to see if they would explode – and they had blue petrol. Because if you were lucky, you could get hold of a gallon! It was very powerful, not really right for cars. No because this was aircraft fuel. Yes, quite powerful.”

Note: This article was prepared by Harvey Tordoff for The Midhurst Society from records in the possession of The Society.  The article has not been fact-checked by The Society.