Dipping place up for Historic England list

View of the historic dipping place in Nunney around 1900. Steps lead down to stones in the river.

Visit Nunney has nominated the village’s historic dipping place for a place in Historic England’s list of 100 places that have shaped both our nation and the world beyond.

View of the historic dipping place in Nunney around 1900. Steps lead down to stones in the river.

The dipping place, located on Church Street close to Nunney Bridge, is where Nunney residents traditionally took water out of the Nunney Brook for cooking, washing and drinking before public standpipes were introduced.

A major typhoid (or ‘enteric fever’ as it was then known) epidemic in Nunney in 1872 led to a breakthrough in the treatment of the disease that has saved tens of millions of lives across the globe.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert in 1861
Outbreaks of the highly contagious disease were most intense around 1860 to 1880 and epidemiological investigation played an important part in identifying patterns. The disease did not only affect the poor and uneducated. Prince Albert died of typhoid in December 1861.

Throughout the 19th century, the medical community was divided on the explanation for how diseases spread. On one side were the contagionists, believing disease was passed through physical contact, while others believed disease was present in the air in the form of miasma – or ‘bad air’ -, and could spread without physical contact.

Many Victorian physicians were convinced that the disease was spread through poor personal hygiene and a lack of adequate sanitation. However, the question was whether typhoid could develop independently or was only spread by infected patients.

Typhoid is in fact caused by Salmonella typhi, related to the bacteria that cause salmonella food poisoning. An infected person can pass the bacteria out of their body in their stools (faeces) or, less commonly, in their urine.

If someone else eats food or drinks water that’s been contaminated with a small amount of infected faeces or urine, they can become infected with the bacteria and develop typhoid fever.

Hugely influential

Dr. Edward Ballard, photograph of a painting by his daughter
On 4 January 1873 the leading medical journal The Medical Times and Gazette published a case study by Dr. Edward Ballard. The article Dr. Ballard’s report upon an outbreak of enteric fever at the village of Nunney, in the union of Frome, Somersetshire was based on his report to the Local Government Board.

In the report, described by the editor as ‘exceedingly valuable and interesting’, Ballard described how between June and October 1872 76 people had contracted typhoid in Nunney and nearby Holwell out of a total population of 832 people. Three people died.

The Nunney case study became hugely influential because Dr. Ballard concluded that decomposing sewage in the Nunney Brook did not spontaneously cause typhoid, but that it took contamination by a typhoid patient to spread the disease. A typhoid patient can return to full health, but remain an active carrier.

An Act of Parliament in 1875 granted funding for five public taps in Nunney and Holwell, which supplied fresh water from the Duke of Somerset’s estate at nearby Gare Hill.

Dr. Ballard’s study of the epidemic that started at Nunney’s dipping place became one of the key moments the cause of this dreadful disease. It still forms the basis for the World Health Organization’s official advice for typhoid prevention and treatment.

Despite that, an estimated 16 to 33 million cases of typhoid fever still occur every year. It is most common in children and young adults between 5 and 19 years old. In 2010 about 190,000 people died of the disease, up from 137,000 in 1990.

Globally 4 to 5 million deaths per year are prevented by vaccination, according to World Health Organisation estimates.

Frome Times, Wednesday 11 December 1872
Frome Times, Wednesday 11 December 1872

For the full story of the 1872 Nunney outbreak and how it led to Dr. Ballard’s groundbreaking discovery, please visit our article Typhoid in Nunney.

The dipping place today is a sad reflection of its historical significance to public health in Britain and the wider world. Largely obscured by a temporary toolshed for over a decade, the location is more commonly used as a parking spot.

Ownership of the land has been disputed for decades. Nunney Parish Council is keen to repair a drain pipe that runs under the dipping place, and would like to tidy up the area.

Around 25 years ago Nunney Parish Council put up a plaque at the dipping place, but it has long been lost. A new plaque would be a fitting way to highlight this important piece of Nunney’s heritage.

Nunney Somerset
The dipping place is located just about the word ‘tower’ in this photo, taken around 1907.


Historic England’s Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places aims to create a list of the 100 buildings and places that tell England’s remarkable story – and its impact on the world.

There are 10 categories:

  • Science & Discovery
  • Travel & Tourism
  • Homes & Gardens
  • Sport
  • Music & Literature
  • Loss & Destruction
  • Faith & Belief
  • Industry, Trade & Commerce
  • Power, Protest & Progress
  • Art, Architecture & Sculpture

Each category will focus on ten places that will be chosen from a long list of public nominations by expert judges. The panel of judges includes Mary Beard, George Clarke, Tristram Hunt, Professor Robert Winston, Bettany Hughes and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

The places that make the list will feature in a podcast series and a handbook, which will be produced as part of the campaign over the following year.

The nominated place must be locatable on a map and it should be a specific building, structure, archaeological site, battlefield, tree etc. It should not be a city, town, region, ocean etc.

The nominated place doesn’t have to be listed or well known but it should have had some impact on local, national or world history.

Science & Discovery is the first category to be announced. Nominations close on 7 July; the panel will announce its Top 10 in early September.

Other nominated places in the Science & Discovery category range from the physics laboratory at Manchester University, where the atom was first split, to the humble Jenner Hut in Gloucestershire, where Edward Jenner developed the first vaccine.

Nunney Castle 1860
Nunney Castle, c1871

Lack of knowledge

A new YouGov poll has revealed a widespread lack of knowledge about where ground-breaking moments in England’s history happened.

From the laboratory where the atom was first split to the site where the technology in every skyscraper was first used, buildings and places across England have witnessed turning points that changed the country and the world.

But a new poll by Historic England, supported by Ecclesiastical, shows that a high percentage of people do not know where these moments happened, with many assuming they occurred in other countries.

The poll showed that 88% of people did not know where the atom was first split, with 32% thinking it happened in Geneva, Switzerland and only 12% correctly identifying Manchester as the place where Ernest Rutherford is widely acknowledged to have first split the atom.

Some 93% of people were unaware that Shrewsbury is home to the first building in the world with revolutionary iron framing technology, earning it the nickname the ‘Father of Skyscrapers’ (Shrewsbury Flaxmill Maltings).

Just under half of respondents (47%) thought this technology was first developed in Manhattan, New York.

The poll also revealed that 84% of Brits were not aware that trainers were first produced in Bolton (instead 42% chose Detroit, USA) and only 10% of people knew that the world’s first bungee jump happened in Bristol, off the Clifton Suspension Bridge. Nearly half of respondents (41%) thought it happened in Queenstown, New Zealand.

Raising awareness of the way regions across England have broken new ground and changed the world is vital to national and local self-esteem, and integral to England’s ability to keep experimenting, inventing and creating in the future.

Duncan Wilson, Chief Executive of Historic England, said: “By telling a history of England in 100 places, we want to help people understand the many spots, right across our country that have shaped the world, creating advances in science, the arts, trade and industry.”

More information

Irreplaceable: A History of England in 100 Places