A beautiful period house nestled among trees next to a church in a quiet English village is home to a little-known medical museum.
More than 200 years ago, the Queen Anne-style building (Baroque ‘English’ architecture) was the home of a humble country doctor. With its simple collection of artifacts in glass cabinets, it looks like a tourist attraction doomed to obscurity.
But now that UK museums are reopening with the end of restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Dr Jenner House in Berkeley, on the edge of the Gloucestershire Cotswolds, is preparing to receive a large number of visitors. Used to be.
This is because this is where the science of vaccination began. You can enter the Garden Shed where Edward Jenner gave the world’s first vaccine to his gardener’s eight-year-old son in 1796. It is the beginning of science that helped in the global fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the pandemic, the house was the third most popular in the village (after the medieval castle where Edward II was assassinated and a farm). Post-Covid, she could become a major international attraction.
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Visitors can view the candle-lit office behind the stairs, where Jenner’s scientific notes and drawings strewn with ivory pens sit at round tables covered in terry-textured fabric, batts.
This is where he coined the term “vaccine”. On the wall is a contemporary oil painting by Blossom the Cow. She was so central to her experiments that Jenner used the Latin word for “cow” “vaxa” to describe what she had discovered: vaccination.
Blossom, a large brown dairy cow from Gloucester, was the source of the original smallpox infection used to make the world’s first vaccine.
The story is heroic in its simplicity. Legend has it that Jenner was very concerned about a local outbreak of smallpox, one of the most dangerous viruses humans have encountered, with a mortality rate of about 30% and a horrific permanent morbidity of survivors. The churchyard next to its garden houses the graves of many contemporary victims.
One milkman reportedly told Jenner that she wasn’t worried about catching smallpox—since she had already contracted too many “cowpox” from her cows. The local milkmen knew that someone who got smallpox would never get smallpox again.
At the time, the medical profession was trying to understand emerging vaccination principles. This involved only injecting a dose of an actual disease, as is the case today at “chickenpox parties” – where parents gather to deliberately pass on the infection to their children at an early age in order to gain immunity against subsequent cases. Be sure, which can be far-reaching. Result. more serious.
Early vaccinators only injected patients with complete disease when they were young and strong, in the hope that they would survive and become immunized later.
Jenner was inspired by Milkman’s comments to design a better solution: a harmless but effective injection to build immunity. He speculated that if he gave people mild smallpox, it would lead to some sort of internal security system to protect people from smallpox.
In an era when leech and mercury purifiers were still used, this was a revolutionary concept. Nobody knew anything about the immune system. Jenner was centuries ahead of her time in many ways.
Whether her first patient, James Phipps — the gardener’s eight-year-old son — didn’t willingly know or even know what he was doing, Jenner took his contributions seriously.
The boy survived the procedure, became immune to the deadly disease spreading in the region, and proved a theory that saved millions of lives.
Jenner showed the world’s gratitude by giving James a home. Visitors can walk the tree-lined path from Jenner’s home to Phipps Cottage, which is now a private home marked by a sign on Church Lane.
In a corner of his garden, Jenner named the shed where he injected James the “Temple of Vaccinia” and considered himself a “faithful priest of vaccination.”
Surprisingly, this peculiar structure of stone, bark and straw still exists today. Perhaps it should become a sanctuary for the millions that vaccination has since protected against many diseases, including smallpox (now completely eliminated for vaccines), polio, and of course, Covid.
When news of Jenner’s miracle cure for smallpox spread, lines of poor farm workers were drawn from the shed to the cemetery. Jenner envisioned the life-saving doses for free, declaring that it would be “immoral” to benefit from it.
Seeing his flutes, books of poetry, and drawings of cuckoos, visitors cannot escape the impression that Jenner, the eighth son of the vicar of Berkeley, was an inquisitive figure of the Georgian era, well-meaning and openly cynical.
For example, he met his future wife when she accidentally dropped his hot air balloon in her garden.
He also took the seedlings of a vine in Hampton Court belonging to Capability Brown, a renowned 18th-century English gardener and landscape architect, to secretly plant it in his greenhouse, which is now completely filled with vines.
As might be expected, Jenner was ridiculed by London’s wealthy “specialist” doctors, who could not believe that a country doctor had achieved such a significant breakthrough.
Contemporary satirical cartoons depict injected people turning into cows. He was the first anti-vaccination in the world to oppose the new science.
It took some time for the dominant system to understand the meaning of its work. Parliament eventually erected a statue of Jenner in Trafalgar Square in 1858 – but following anti-vaccination protests, it was moved to the distant Kensington Gardens four years later.
The private charitable fund running the museum nearly closed down after the isolation measures imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out its revenue.
“We were threatened with a complete loss of income indefinitely,” says museum manager Owen Gower, the only full-time employee.
The hastily organized online crowdfunding campaign attracted the attention of well-wishers around the world and quickly raised over £40,000 in donations. That was enough to keep the house open.
There are many anti-vaccine activists today, but the importance of dosing against COVID has made Jenner more and more remembered.
“We were impressed by the generosity of people around the world,” Gower said.
“Individual donations are still coming in. This allowed us to start planning for the future.”
“The pandemic has highlighted the importance of vaccination. We want to not only update the exhibits and renovate the home – but also to grow our educational program and have an international online presence.”
The foundation has no government funding and is dependent on ticket sales. A team of 35 local volunteers maintains the house and the garden. A part of the residence is rented out as private apartments to generate income. It also includes Dr. Jenner’s old bedroom.
The success of the crowdfunding strengthened the confidence of administrators to rethink the future of the humble historical attraction. Now she can hire consultants and approach major sponsors.
“We could have done a lot with that money,” says Gowen, who has a degree in history from Berkeley.
“Crowdfunding was impressive, but we can’t depend on individual donations forever. Now we need to find great fundraisers.”
Future plans include the creation of an international center on the development of vaccination theory.
Museum administrator Gabriella Swayfield sees a positive future for the site.
“In five years it will undoubtedly be a thriving museum that welcomes visitors from around the world to tell the important story of the beginning of vaccination and its pioneering founder, Edward Jenner.”
Museum manager Swayfield at the historic Charterhouse in London joined the Jenner Trust in June 2020 at the height of the pandemic.
“It felt like the right time to combine my passion for museums and spread the important message of vaccination,” she said.
“The museum deserves more recognition. It’s a fascinating museum with beautiful gardens that tells such an incredible story that it has influenced everyone in one way or another in recent years.”
As the world began to realize how important Jenner’s invention was, accolades began to pour in. Although he never benefited from the vaccine, he probably valued some feedback more than any financial reward.
Then US President Thomas Jefferson wrote directly to Jenner in 1806 that “Mankind can never forget that you lived”.
Gower and the residents of Berkeley are trying to make sure that never happens.