“They rise like columns of smoke from the woods over there, and sometimes stretch above the trees. We have to close the windows and draw the curtains to have a chance of keeping them out. There are swarms of the pests about and it is time something was done about it.”
In early June 1935 St Margarets, Twickenham, Whitton and parts of Richmond and Hounslow were under attack from an insect invasion that was filling doctors’ waiting rooms with scratching victims and driving local ratepayers to distraction. The enemy was from the family Culicidae - the Mosquito.
Local Health Committees, aware of the nuisance, were taking the infestation seriously - but as their spokesman Dr. G.H Dupont commented, “The mosquitoes are more of an annoyance than a serious menace to health”. A reporter from the Richmond and Twickenham Times disagreed.
“Let me say at once that there have been no exaggerations in the reports that have filtered through from the battle front. The mosquitoes are winning all along the line and people living in the areas under fire have their backs to the wall.”
Mrs Delahunt of Ellerman Avenue was one of those backed up to the wall. The bites she had received had swollen so badly that she had to go to her doctor to have them lanced. Her neighbour Mrs Ridley at number 33 was also under attack…
“When dusk comes the walls and ceilings are covered with them and all the windows have to be shut. My children have been bitten by ‘skeeters’ and gnats which have a habit of dropping on to the floor. One of my neighbours has had to go to hospital because she was bitten so badly.”
Everyone knew where the mosquitoes were coming from including Mr A.W Stevens from Twickenham.
“The River Crane here is disgraceful and as it is the centre of the district therein is the danger. We want the Crane clean!”
On June 13th the reporter from the “Richmond and Twickenham Times” conducted his own riverside research…
“After crossing a rather unpleasant mess of mud and water by means of a fallen tree trunk I came to the Crane…I should imagine however that it is from the many stagnant pools surrounding it that the insects must come, for they were well populated, even in the early afternoon. They are soggy and nauseating to the nose and eye.”
By June 22nd and according to the same reporter, things were getting worse…
“There is no abatement in the fight waged between West Twickenham residents and the mosquito menace from the River Crane. Enemy squadrons have scored a very considerable victory and one which makes it increasingly obvious that drastic action will have to be taken before the summer arrives.”
On June 27nd Twickenham Council, now being increasingly badgered by local residents, roared into action. They did absolutely nothing. When Councillor Miss Brewin pointed out that it might be necessary to drain the local swamps before they had an Egyptian plague on their hands, her fellow councillors burst out laughing!
Incensed by all of this, on 6th July the Twickenham Ratepayers Association sent a petition with 80 names to the Ministry of Health demanding action. A couple of weeks later - as temperatures soared to 90F - an open air meeting was held at the junction of Ellerman and Sherringham Avenues alongside Crane Park demanding “that the Medical Officer of Health visit the affected area with a view to remedial measures being taken.”
By July 25th the Twickenham Ratepayers had received a reply to their petition from the Ministry of Health promising action from Middlesex County Council. Encouraged by this and with a 600 strong petition under his arm Mr A.W Stevens approached Twickenham Council once again…
“We earnestly ask you to take some action to relieve us of this great trouble which is upsetting our peace of mind and wrecking the welfare of our homes.”
Councillor J.R Potterill said that of course the Public Health Committee had been looking into this issue since it was first raised a month or so ago. (Oh yeah?) Councillor F.J Neighbour reported that the Borough Engineer had calculated that preventative spraying would cost between £300 and £400 but now was not the time to do it. The real problem, said the good councillor, lay in pools of stagnant water outside the Borough boundary. They were other people’s mosquitoes, not ours! Miss Brewin, the Councillor who feared an “Egyptian plague”, was cheered by the public gallery when she expressed the opinion that the River Crane was not receiving the attention that it should. Motivated by this Twickenham Council decided to refer the entire matter back to the Public Health Committee again for further consideration. In short, they did nothing.
As July passed into August and then into the cooler weather of September the Skeeter Menace of 1935 was slowly forgotten. Across the Borough people hoped that with the improved drainage that was bound to follow the opening of the brand new Sewage Works at Mogden in 1936 the mosquitoes would never return!
– from Martyn Day