Consumption Comes to Europe
Tuberculosis, commonly known as Consumption, made its way to Europe in the 17th century and lasted for two hundred years. It was recorded as the principle cause of death in 1650 and became a hugely feared disease, earning the reputation as the ‘Great White Plague’.
No effective treatments were available and it wasn’t until 1869 that Jean-Antoine Villemin demonstrated the contagious nature of the condition.
In 1882 the celebrated German physician and microbiologist Robert Koch found the causal agent of the disease, Mycobacterium Tuberculosis or Koch’s Bacillus.
With the developing knowledge of the disease, came a growing understanding that densely populated areas with poor sanitary conditions were a perfect environment for it’s spread. Post Office workers were particularly affected due to the crowded working conditions.
The Sanatorium Movement
Improved understanding of TB and knowledge of its contagious nature, led to the development of institutions to house sufferers. At this time, the poor and working class were more likely to contract TB but the middle or upper class sufferers would be the lucky ones, packed off to a remote location for at least 18 months.
By the beginning of the 20th century, TB was still one of the most urgent health problems, with no breakthrough in treatment. Public health campaigns tried to improve the health of the nation, including one to ‘Stop Spitting in Public’.
Whatever the purported benefits of sanatorium treatment, 50% of those who entered an institution, died within five years (1916).
Garland was a Post Office Clerk who was appalled by the number of colleagues contracting and dying of TB. Concerned at the lack of appropriate health care for workers, Garland came up with the idea, that if a thousand Post Office employees paid a small amount into a fund, there would be sufficient money to help those who contracted TB.
It was a long and challenging fight to achieve his goal but supported by Dr Thomas Lister, Advisory Physician and William Bunn, the first draft of the plan was presented to the Postal and Telegraph Clerks Conference in 1903. The plan was put into action.
A New Sanatorium – Bensan
Garland joined forces with a number of organisations and friendly societies that was initially known as The National Association for the Establishment and Maintenance of Sanatoria for Workers Suffering from Tuberculosis (also known as the National Sanatorium Association).
Together, sufficient funds were raised to purchase 250 acres of land at £20 an acre, near a village called Benenden.
It took a further two years to finalise the rules before Post Office Workers could join the scheme for two shillings a year.
Building was underway at Benenden.
In 1907, the first patients were admitted to The National Sanatorium at Benenden – Bensan.
The next post is titled ‘The Sandbags and Fresh Air Cure’, describing Benenden’s strict treatment regime from 1907 to 1940. Don’t miss the photographs of Bensan patients and staff by clicking on ‘Follow‘ (bottom right of the page) and providing your email address. That way, you will know each time a Benenden memory is posted.
- Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine
- Post Office Archive