Local History Society

 Memories - Rabies Scare, 1920




In Autumn 1920, the local papers gave warning that a case of rabies had been confirmed in Reading. The 'Reading Mercury' reported this as follows on October 2nd:


As a result of the outbreak of rabies at Reading, an area of a circle of 20 miles has been placed under the Muzzling Order. The removal of the dogs from this area is prohibited except under a licence issued by the Ministry of Agriculture. The scheduled area consists of Chepping, Wickham, Watlington and Didcot on the north; Farnborough and Odiham on the south; Beaconsfield, Windsor and Windlesham on the east; and the boundary of the Wilts area, which consists of Whitchurch, Woodhay and Frawley, on the west.

In consequence of dog-madness at Reading, special regulations have been applied to a “dangerous area”. Within the “dangerous area”, all dogs must be muzzled at all times, unless confined in an enclosure from which they cannot escape. Dogs kept in houses must be tied up, muzzled, or so confined that escape is impossible. Dogs tending cattle or sheep need not be led, but must be muzzled. In a public place all dogs must be led. No dog may be used for any sporting purposes within the “dangerous area”. No dog may be removed out of the “dangerous area” to any destination except by licence of the Ministry of Agriculture.

The Notice-Boards outside the Police House opposite Newland FarmThe “dangerous area” comprises: -

Berks: The parishes of Sonning Town, Woodley and Sandford, Earley, Winnersh, Newland, Arborfield, Shinfield (except its detached part), Grazeley, Burghfield, Theale, Sulham (including its detached part), Pangbourne, Tidmarsh, and Saltney Mead.

Oxford: The parishes of Whitchurch, Mapledurham, Kidmore End, Eye and Dunsden, Shiplake, and Harpsden. And the county borough of Reading.


Notices would have appeared on Parish notice-boards throughout the village, and there would certainly been a notice outside the Police House at the Cross. How many local families would have owned dogs as pets, let alone as working animals?

The October 9th edition reported two more cases in Caversham.

By November 6th, the South Berks Hunt met at Stratfield Saye, and the opening notes for the Garth Hunt referred to the restricted area for Rabies becoming much smaller so that hunting could commence in the countryside.


Where did the Rabies come from?

We haven’t found an analysis so far in the local press. However, we can speculate that there was a major opportunity for animals to be brought in undetected to the enormous ‘Dump’ at Slough (which later became the Slough Trading Estate).

This site, covering 600 acres off the Bath Road to the west of the town, was originally intended to be used to build a huge motor repair depot to service the war effort. It was still unfinished when the war ended in November 1918. Buildings to house the soldiers and workers formed an extensive complex of wooden huts which later became known as Timbertown, and which housed many of the unemployed who poured into the parish in the 1920's and 30's looking for work.

There was plenty of opportunity for animals to be hidden undetected in the many vehicles that were brought back from France and Belgium after the War. The vehicles are likely to have been brought to 'Slough Dump' (as it was known) by train from the military port at Southampton, and might have been left at marshalling yards in Reading en route.

The site at Slough eventually contained 17,000 used cars, trucks and motorcycles left over after the war. The idea was to refurbish them and sell them to meet the steadily growing public demand for vehicles, and this became the spur to create the Slough Trading Estate. The local bus company, Thames Valley Traction Co., was known to have bought several Thorneycroft chassis from Slough, and no doubt many local carriers and business equipped themselves from the same source.

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