Addiewell in sickness and in health

Horrible diseases of the old days

Outbreak of measles and typhoid

The Public School was closed yesterday for three weeks owing to the prevalence of measles in the village and neighbourhood. 

Typhoid fever had broken out at Stoneyburn, and in three cases at least, the patients have been removed to the Drumshoreland Hospital (near Broxburn).

 West Lothian Courier, 22 October 1898, page 5


And in 1897, the Courier reported an outbreak of typhus fever in Addiewell.  Typhoid is caused by drinking water that has been infected with the faeces of a person with typhoid.     Typhus is spread by human lice.  

The presence of typhoid indicates that the water supply to Addiewell’s houses was not pure.  Typhus is a sure sign of deprivation, lack of washing facilities, and lack of decent clothing.  Once modern sanitation and water supplies were installed in the houses, typhoid and typhus no longer occurred in the village.


Paraffin cancer and smallpox

Writing under a pen name, “Breich Mill” describes how his family came from Glasgow to Addiewell in the early days of the village, and encountered two terrible diseases. 

Paraffin cancer

The lodgings were very unsatisfactory as the man from whom the room was let suffered from the then very prevalent disease of workers in the oil refinery, paraffin cancer. Coming from such different surroundings in the city, the family were much upset by this introduction to the oil industry, and were thankful when the addition of the east side of Graham Street, Baker Street, Simpson Street and Campbell Street was made to the “low rows”, and they were given a single end [a one-roomed house] in Simpson Street. 



A number of workmen were accommodated in wooden huts on a site between the present retorts and the low road.  There was a virulent outbreak of smallpox among the men in the huts, and residents in the village were given instructions to combat the disease, which included burning sulphur under the bed each morning.

Excerpt from a longer article, Old Days at Addiewell Recalled, in the Midlothian Advertiser , 6 January 1950, page 6.  The whole article can be opened as a PDF on the Addiewell Histories page.

Paraffin Carcinoma  - for photos of carcinomas in the hands and arms of former shale workers, caused by prolonged exposure to paraffin -

This page was added by Sybil Cavanagh on 03/10/2013.

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