William Woodforde, the first Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for the Berkshire Combined Sanitary District, which covered Abingdon, was born William Thomas Garrett Clapp on 26 May 1826 at Hackney, London. He was one of the three sons of William Clapp, a doctor, and his wife Mary Ann Shortland. All three sons became medical men and adopted the family name of Woodforde, presumably feeling that the name of Clapp – clap is vernacular for a venereal disease – was inappropriate to their profession. The writer Jerome K Jerome was a cousin.
Woodforde was educated at University College London, graduating MB (1848) and MD (1852). In 1851 he married Rosa Ridout (1827-1860) with whom he had three sons, all of whom entered the medical profession.
After serving as MOH and Public Analyst at Poplar, London, in 1873 Woodforde was appointed MOH of the Berkshire Combined Sanitary District, and moved to Reading. Soon after taking up the post he was dealing with outbreaks of fever at Drayton and Appleton. In both cases Woodforde identified insanitary drains and privies that were polluting nearby wells. In 1874 he investigated an outbreak of fever in the Marcham Road in Abingdon and found that pollution from the fellmongers (dealers in animal skins for leather-making) had entered into the wells. He also noted that drainage from houses in Marcham Road, Spring Road and King Edward’s Road (an earlier name for Edward Street) passed into a covered ditch and that sewage was ultimately discharged into the river Ock under the bridge. Woodforde concluded that Abingdon was in urgent need of proper drainage.
Woodforde devoted much time and energy to dealing with the results of insanitary conditions in the area, and with regular outbreaks of infectious diseases such as diphtheria, measles, scarlet fever and typhoid. He regularly demanded that sanitation be improved and was always ready to condemn properties as being unfit for human habitation. On occasion he would advocate the use of placards containing instructions on how to deal with infectious diseases and was known to request the prosecution of persons recklessly spreading infectious diseases or failing to report their presence in a household.
Woodforde held a number of professional positions, including in 1882-3 president of the Reading branch of the British Medical Association. He served as churchwarden at Grazeley church near Reading for over twenty-five years and was also organist there.
Woodforde died at his home Oakbank, Spencer’s Wood, near Reading on 25 April 1908. He was buried in the family plot at the City of London Cemetery, Little Ilford.
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