Smallpox, one of the most deadly diseases, had largely been eradicated in Britain by the middle of the last century.

So it was a surprise and shock when there was a full-scale epidemic in Brighton just before Christmas 1950.

A girl who fell ill was found to have the disease and was taken to Bevendean isolation hospital off Bear Road.

It was quickly discovered that smallpox had been brought in by an RAF officer who had stayed with the girl’s family after visiting India. Her father, a taxi driver, was also taken ill.

The fight against smallpox was led by Brighton medical officer of health Dr Rutherford Cramb and his deputy, Dr William Parker.

They started a programme of vaccination and tried to contain the disease as best they could. Their immense effort proved successful.

Bevendean Hospital was put into quarantine, as was Foredown Hospital in Portslade, where some patients were taken.

A laundry that had cleaned items from the taxi driver’s home was closed and 1,900 customers were traced.

The outbreak lasted for more than six weeks, killing the taxi driver, three Bevendean nurses, three other hospital workers, two laundry workers and a grocer’s assistant. Another 25 people contracted the disease but survived.

There were 77,000 people vaccinated in Brighton during the outbreak and another 50,000 in Hove.

At London stations, staff welcomed passengers for Brighton by saying, “All aboard the plague special.” A cafe in Chichester refused to serve people from the resort.

Two organisations cancelled conferences in Brighton and the cast of a play at the Theatre Royal including Beryl Reid were briefly placed in quarantine.

Hospitals historian Harry Gaston says in a new book that national papers portrayed Brighton as a city of frightened people and deserted streets. This was over-dramatic but had an element of truth.

Patients were to have been taken to Dartford Hospital in Kent but heavy snowfall made it impossible to reach.

At Bevendean no one was allowed to leave the hospital, which was cut off from the outside world for more than a month.

It was rumoured that some nurses climbed over the wall to spend time away from the hospital but this was strongly denied by the matron.

Not until February 1951 were more than 100 patients, 50 nurses and 36 other staff officially allowed out.

Brighton was later praised for its handling of the epidemic and much of the credit was due to Dr Parker, who later became the last medical officer of health for Brighton before the post was abolished.

A civic thanksgiving service was held in the parish church of St Peter on February 11.

Bevendean and Foredown are just two of seven featured by Harry Gaston in his tale of hospitals that have disappeared from Brighton and Hove. Housing has largely replaced the spacious grounds.

  • Lost Hospitals Of Brighton And Hove by Harry Gaston (Southern Editorial Services, £12). Proceeds will go to the Friends Of Brighton And Hove Hospitals