With the threat of polio rearing up once again, the County Press archive provides a record of when the disease was a high risk here.

The late Brian Greening wrote a heritage article in January 2019.

He wrote: The treatment of diseases has thankfully moved on in the last 100 years.

Unlike our Victorian ancestors, who encountered the scourge of such ailments as typhoid, cholera, whooping cough and leprosy, today those diseases no longer pose such a threat to human life.

There was a serious outbreak of typhoid, however, in Newport in 1894 and all of the county councils’ many meetings were transferred to Ryde.

Moving the meetings was not surprising when one learns that raw sewage was deposited into the Lukely stream and the River Medina which both fed into Newport Quay where it was reported that “on a hot summer day the sewage stewed in the sun on an ebbing tide”.

Added to this the outfall pipe was 4ft below the high-water mark, thus an incoming tide washed it back from whence it came.

This story did however remind me of a period within my lifetime when there was another serious threat to loss of life when, in the early 1950s, there was an outbreak of polio or infantile paralysis on the IW and I recall the turmoil that it caused.

One thing that the local authorities sought to avoid at the time was the gathering of crowds in one place.

To avoid this, the local education authority decreed that pupils attend school for just half a day at a time.

What did not help me was that the local swimming pool at Seaclose was closed down, a place where I would have spent many a happy hour.

Any function that would mean people coming together in large numbers was to be avoided.

Newport’s carnival dance was cancelled as was the police swimming gala and even a garden fete at Freshwater.

At Ventnor, the local council even went as far as spraying the roads with disinfectant.

It was a worrying time, especially for the local boarding house and hotel trade that relied on visitors coming to the Island.

Following adverse reporting in the national press, the local member of parliament criticised them for scare tactics but numerous holidays were cancelled even though the local council sought to reassure any potential visitors.

Dr John Mills, who was employed by the local council, had the unenviable title of infectious disease specialist, and he admonished one hotelier who made a visitor with suspected symptoms leave the building and walk around the corner to a waiting ambulance, because he did not want the public to see such a vehicle at his main entrance.

Isle of Wight County Press: Dr John Mills.Dr John Mills.

They did, however, advise against camping holidays due to the lack of adequate toilet facilities.

The main causes of infection were uncleanliness and the authorities highlighted such things as the contents of rubbish bins, flies and failure to wash dirty hands.

Those suspected of having the disease were taken to Fairlee Isolation Hospital, the site of which is better known today as the Mountbatten hospice.

However, one additional ward was set aside at Ryde Hospital and two more were set aside at St Mary’s Hospital in order to take the number of cases.

It is worth noting this was a much smaller St Mary’s Hospital to that of today, while Ryde Hospital has long since disappeared.

Around 50 cases were spread around these three establishments.

An appeal that went out for additional nursing help to assist the overstretched nursing staff was well responded to.

The matron at Fairlee even sought additional radios for patients as there was only one at the hospital.

Curing the disease appeared to revolve around cleanliness and fresh air, much like that tried to cure tuberculosis at Havenstreet and Ventnor hospitals.

Isle of Wight County Press: Polio vaccine dropped onto a sugar lump for child patient. Picture by Wellcome Images.Polio vaccine dropped onto a sugar lump for child patient. Picture by Wellcome Images.

The worst cases of polio were placed inside a metal contraption known as an iron lung, that assisted the patient to breath more easily.

This meant that all that could be seen of the unfortunate person was their head projecting out the end of a long metal case.

I recall seeing a lady inside such a contraption at Fairlee Hospital as my father was at the time the hospital gardener and the dear lady had requested that I be taken in to see her and say hello.

She must have been bored out of her mind just laying there with a mirror in front of her to view more of the ward.

Reports, however, record that this treatment was effective in its ability to save lives.

Looking back, it was quite a frightening time.

Deaths were thankfully few, but I recall there was a van driver in the Freshwater district who died as a result of getting the disease.

Also, in that district, a local doctor and a German nurse became suspected cases, but thankfully their symptoms were later put down to exhaustion because of the number of hours they had been working.

Mr Greening finished his article by saying: "A worrying time, and as the incidents appear to occur around every 60 years, we might ask what will be the next health scare."

Little did he know, the Covid pandemic was just over a year away.

Mr Greening died in September 2020.