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Scarlet Fever & Diphtheria in Croydon 1936

In 1936 an outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria led to many Croydon residents being hospitalised for lengthy periods. Thornton Heath resident Wally Plummer recalls his own stay in isolation at. Waddon Hospital over the Christmas period, after he contracted diphtheria at the age 11.

"I can remember a time in 1936 when I was hot feeling too well, "My symptoms were fever-like and I could not swallow properly. Eventually the doctor arrived and after looking down my throat and feeling around my jaw line said that I had diphtheria !

Image: Wally in 1931 with mother and grandmother.

"Private cars were few and far between in the 1930's so was taken to the isolation hospital at Waddon Marsh by ambulance.

"The hospital was just to the left of the old gas works, which has long gone.

"I remember being placed in a large ward with other boys, while a team of nurses rushed about, keeping an eye on us day and night.

"No visitors were allowed, they could only look through a sliding glass door. We were in strict isolation, if any books or letters were left for us they were put through a baking system to kill off bacteria. I found out later that my case was just one of a much larger outbreak of scarlet fever and diphtheria.

"Things got so bad that there was a shortage of beds at Waddon Hospital.

"I was moved into a small side ward with about six beds. I must have been getting better by then for I can remember highly polished floors and wood panelled walls.

"Christmas was coming and I was hoping I would be home for the festivities, but no such luck.

"The ward was run by a short, Irish matron Who would not stand for any non­sense from anybody.

Image: Wally in 2005

"She put on the best Christmas she could. There were presents my family had left at the door plus comics and crackers with hats.

"I had been in bed for so long that when I was told I could get out I jumped up and found that my legs would not work at first.

"We devised one game at Christmas, that if we kept our socks on we could skate or slide across the polished floor. We were caught by matron but she bent the rules a lot over Christmas and turned a blind eye.

"A few days later some of us were relocated back to the large ward which had a lot more daylight in it.

"Here, I was awoken one night by whispering in the next bed that somebody had seen a shadow on a blind. It didn't take long, for the word 'ghost' to go up and down the ward.

"A much younger boy said he could see a man at the window and by this time two nurses appeared and told us all to quieten down and go back to sleep while they pulled on small blue shoulder capes over their uniforms. They went out into the grounds with small torches. What a brave thing to do, many years before security guards. It was lucky they never found anything.

"A few days later I was told I could go home. My mother and grandmother came to fetch me. As they came up to the glass sliding doors quite a crowd of boys waved goodbye.

"As an only child I missed them all and we were all very quiet. But as the ambulance pulled into Zion Road in Thornton Heath, where we lived, I think half the road turned out to see me.

"I had another Christmas waiting for me at home with presents and toys, as well as a large part of the family. I was very lucky, I never realised just how ill I had been. I later heard that some people had died with the same complaint."

Last modified: 10th November 2010 - Copyright Canning and Clyde Residents Association
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