With vaccines very much in the news at the moment, The Folly Flâneuse was reminded that a little rustic hut, in a garden in Gloucestershire, played a role in the development of inoculation in Britain and across the world. In May 1796 Edward Jenner successfully vaccinated a child against smallpox, and as news of his work spread globally, he began to inoculate the poor of his neighbourhood in this summerhouse in his garden.
Jenner (1749-1823) trained with the renowned physician Dr John Hunter, and then settled in the village where he was born, Berkeley, south of Gloucester. He wasn’t the first to investigate vaccination, but his pioneering work (often against considerable opposition) made him the leader in the field and eventually led to the eradication of the dreadful smallpox disease.
His home, The Chantry, was set in pretty gardens and at the ‘southern extremity’ was the summerhouse, built in the late 18th century to take advantage of the view to Stinchcombe Hill, and as Jenner himself said, to give a ‘rural appearance to that part of the garden’.
By 1804 it had been ‘converted into a place of utility’ which Jenner playfully named of The Temple of Vaccinia*, because like a ‘faithful priest’ he always hoped to find it full of ‘worshippers’, in this case the local children awaiting inoculation. Here, as his biographer John Baron wrote, ‘wonders were wrought’ as Jenner protected the poor from a lethal disease.
The picturesque rustic shelter was constructed out of branches and roots to a design by Jenner’s friend, the Reverend Robert Ferryman (c1753-1837). Ferryman is an interesting character; a conviction for violent abuse and assault, ‘pecuniary distress’, and accusations of neglect by his churchwardens, suggest that he perhaps enjoyed socialising more than sermonising, and as we shall see his considerable talents lay in other fields.
The Reverend Fosbroke wrote about Jenner’s garden in 1821 and described the designer of the ‘thatched cottage’ as a Clergyman of ‘very original and surpassing taste’, particularly in picturesque gardening and ‘perfect rustic work’. Baron, writing in the 1830s, suggested that Ferryman’s talent as a landscape gardener outstripped all others: ‘in the style of ornamental improvement, which within the last half century has done so much to augment the natural beauties of England, Mr Ferryman was quite unrivalled’. This is surely hyperbole, and Humphry Repton may remain as the period’s preeminent landscape gardener, but Reverend Ferryman’s garden design prowess clearly demands further research. There’s a tantalising reference to the clergyman ‘laying-out’ grounds ‘in the neighbourhood of Glocester’ [sic] in a letter from Samuel Lysons to Joseph Banks in 1789, so Jenner’s garden may have been one of Ferryman’s commissions at this date.
After Jenner’s death The Chantry became the vicarage, and the summerhouse in the garden remained an ‘object of interest’ for visitors to the town. By the 1950s it was no longer in good repair and there was concern for its future, although it had been listed at grade II* in 1952. The Jenner Trust was formed in 1966 when a group of doctors got together with the aims of restoring the Temple of Vaccinia, ensuring it was kept in permanent repair, and forming a museum to celebrate Jenner’s life and work. Ironically, it is a virus that now threatens Dr Jenner’s House, Museum and Garden, as without visitors during the COVID-19 pandemic the main source of funding has been lost. Find out how you could help the only folly that can claim to be the world’s first vaccination clinic here https://jennermuseum.com/support
Thanks to Owen Gower, Museum Manager of Dr Jenner’s House, Museum and Garden, for enabling the virtual visit and for help with this post.
* when first described in an account published in 1804 the name was given as ‘Temple of Vaccina’ but it is more commonly known today as the Temple of Vaccinia.