The Pest House in Watford
The Watford pest house was situated at the end of Willow Lane, and it was known as Pest House Lane. It was situated near the river Colne and old lime kiln mills. This house was demolished in 1914. It is mentioned in the Book of Watford, and includes an entry about a nurse being paid to look after smallpox sufferers there (see below).
An earlier entry of 1694 in the Vestry Books records: ‘It is ordered that in case of sickness, no physic be allowed to the poor, but in providential distress, plague or small pox, broken bones or wounds’. In May 1738, it is noted that Edward Finch was appointed ‘to look after the poor of the parish as an apothecary, to be paid £12 for the year’, then in March 1749, Mr I Aihway, Surgeon ‘to take care and find suitable medications for the poor for the year enforcing at the rate of £12 per annum and that all surgeons and apothecaries belonging to the town take it alternatively at the same rate’. In cases of sickness in the workhouse, a separate room was taken as an Infirmary, but in the case of infectious diseases, such as smallpox, there were Pest Houses. These, however, were not always in good repair and in 1754 it was noted that the local pest houses were not fit for the reception of sick persons, estimates being passed for their repair. In 1758 the governorship of the workhouse had passed to William Jennings, who resigned his agreement with not satisfying the Pest House nurse who, for nursing the sick with the smallpox at her annual salary of 10s. per week for nine weeks. It was after agreed that the nurse, for her good services in times for the poor of the parish, be paid the sum of £4.10s. for her nine weeks’ servitude, the Master having refused to do such nursing. The Watford Pest House was situated near the end of Pest House Lane (now Willow Lane alongside Watford General Hospital), some distance from the town (the land surrounding the town at this time being predominantly fields). It is noted in the records of May 1765, that William Jennings, of Hemel Hempstead, was still Governor at a salary of £70 per annum. Probably the same William Jennings who drew up the contract between himself, along with his executors and administrators and the Churchwardens and Overseers in 1765.
The pest houses were built to contain disease, as an example of health protection. Isolating those with infectious disease gave the rest of the family and the community a fighting chance of survival. There were the economic aspects too; if the whole family died from the plague then the economically active would be unavailable, at a time when the country was enjoying greater recognition and wealth, with the opening up of new trade routes. The lessons from the great plague of 1348 were that once there was a scarce supply of labourers, then the workers could set the wage rate and determine conditions of work. This would have had a hugely detrimental effect on the parishes, and would have destabilised the whole economy. Public health work today is shaped by the economic climate.
Pest House inhabitants: Inhabited 1841 by Daniel Woods paper-maker, wife, 2 children, 3 agricultural labourers and a servant
1881 census shows inhabited by John Blandford, an agricultural Labourer from Devon with wife, 6 children and 1 domestic servant.
1883 burial of a 24 week old boy to Thomas and Jane Miles resident in Pest House Lane.
1893 used for small pox cases, cleansed on discharge of patients.
Isolation hospital 1894
1902 leased by Council
1914 showing as disused. No occupiers in 1911 census.
Vestry Records 1694
Book of Watford – Bob Nunn