Custom Search


Edward Jenner Museum, Gloucestershire

In many ways it was in medicine that science as it is now known came into being. In the fifteenth century there was a rediscovery of the learning of ancient Greece, which characteristically attempted to understand the world from direct observation. Inspired by this example doctors and surgeons started drawing their conclusions in the same way. Edward Jenner (1749 - 1823), a doctor from Berkeley in Gloucestershire, worked in this new tradition. Jenner was a practical man who had no time for the classical education which eighteenth century doctors commonly went through. He was more interested in studying the habits of birds and mice than reading Latin texts. Knowing that university would not suit him, Jenner became an apprentice in a surgical partnership at Chipping Sodbury in 1768. Rapidly making a name for himself as a sensible and observant doctor, he went to work in London's St George's Hospital in 1770, and was offered a place as a naturalist on Captain Cook's second voyage in 1771. Turning this offer down, Jenner returned to Berkeley, to work as a doctor and continue his wide ranging researches. Smallpox was always an interest. Jenner had been given a dose of smallpox as a boy, using "mild" strains employed in those days to try and confer immunity without killing the patient. The suffering he then endured led to a lifelong obsession with the disease. 1796 saw the famous experiment based on folk wisdom that people who caught mild disease called cowpox were immune to deadly smallpox. In May 1796 Jenner took some material from the pock marked hand of one of his patients with cowpox, and rubbed it into a few scratches made in the arm of James Phipps. James was the eight year old son of Jenner's gardener. An attempt was then made to infect the boy with smallpox, using "mild" immunising strains. James proved immune to the virus. Jenner's research was published in 1798 as An Inquiry Into The Causes And Effects Of The Variolae Vaccine; A Disease Discovered In Some Of The Western Counties Of England, Particularly Gloucestershire, And Known As Cow Pox. With this paper the modern practice of immunisation began. This was a huge medical advance. In the eighteenth century 10% of all deaths, and 35% of child deaths were caused by smallpox. Even in the twentieth century, 300 million people were killed by smallpox, more than the death toll of all the twentieth century's wars combined. Using Jenner's techniques smallpox was completely eradicated by 1980 (figures from Edward Jenner Museum materials).



An 1802 cartoon demonstrating worries about giving a disease of cows to people. This image is copyright free

Immunisation using Jenner's new method took time to become accepted. Many patients objected on religious grounds, saying they did not want to be treated with medicine from God's lowlier creatures. Jenner's wider interests reflected the developing change in this kind of world view. He had always been interested in fossils, hunting for fossils as a boy along the banks of the river Severn near his home in Berkeley. In 1819 Jenner made his most important discovery, finding the fossilised remains of a plesiosaur at the bottom of Stinchcombe Hill. The received wisdom had it that fossils were either ordinary rocks that somehow mimicked living things, or were the remains of contemporary animals. In 1816 Jenner wrote: "Fossils are departed worlds." It was this independence of mind that allowed Jenner to create the process of vaccination, which has saved millions of lives.




Opening Times: Please use contact details below.

Address: Edwards Jenner Museum, Berkeley, Gloucestershire GL13 9BN

Directions: Berkeley is near junction 14 of the M5 in Gloucestershire. The Museum is just off Berkeley High Street, close to Berkeley Castle. Click here for an interactive map centred on the Jenner Museum.

Access: Only the ground floor is accessible to wheelchair users. There are adapted toilet facilities available.


telephone: 01453 810631

fax: 01453 811690

for group visits:

web site:





©2008InfoBritain (updated 11/12)