Joel Dommett’s Great Great Grandfather: The Yeovil Dairyman who saved Cockney Children’s Lives


Jesse Crumpler, Joel Dommett’s Ancestor

Joel Dommett and Tom Allen walked into St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London, through the Gate built in 1702 and were stood outside the entrance to the main courtyard, admiring the architecture and discussing what they might be doing there.

Unknown to them I had been sitting about ten yards away with my back to them, using my phone as a mirror to watch Hannah the Production Manager, who was watching Fi and Verity in a first floor window of the Great Hall, who were keeping an eye out for Joel and Tom being walked in by Thompy the Director and Kathleen the Producer, closely tailed and recorded by Camera and Sound. Just before they arrived a young lady walked right into the area we were about to film in, and started shouting down her phone, effing and blinding about her boss and how she was going to walk out of her job, needless to say, we all froze, and hoped she would walk off and scream her invective down the phone somewhere else, fortunately she did, without us having to give the game away, about 30 seconds before Joel Tom and the Crew got to the entrance, Fi and Verity signalled to Hannah, and Hannah gave me the nod. Thunderbirds were Go!

Our programme is unscripted, and Thompy the Director had just told me to “Do your thing” in terms of introducing myself to the situation. So I did. Up I got and took a circuitous route as I approached so as not to tip them off when I made my unexpected entrance. At this stage they had no idea why they were there, or what to expect, other than something to do with one of their Family Trees.

As I approached Joel had his back to me, Tom was facing him, I drifted in towards them looking blank but serious, and for all the world like a member of the public who had strayed on set, and was about to crash the filming. I could see that Tom had clocked me, his eyes looked around for help from the crew, none came, valiantly he carried on talking to Joel but with his eyes now firmly fixed on me.

Oblivious of my presence, Joel carried on chatting, and whilst Tom developed an ever increasing look of panic in his eyes, I strolled in to stand less than a foot from Joel’s shoulder, and struck what I thought of as an heroic pose with my hands planted on my hips head thrown back studying the carvings on the gateway looming above us.

By this time Tom’s frozen expression and his stare over Joel’s shoulder had finally sunk in, and Joel whipped around to find me posing behind him like Oscar Wilde in a public urinal. I have to say I’ve seen few celebs jump so high, I did my best not to break pose and simply stared at the two of them. You could tell they honestly thought I was a random nutter interposing myself in a TV shoot. I really enjoy doing this. Doesn’t make me a bad person does it?

Anyway, the reason we were all there was to go through the story of Jesse Crumpler, Joel’s Great Great Grandfather. Jesse had worked his way up from Farm Bailiff to run a Farm of his own, in 1894 as reported in a local paper Jesse had sponsored the annual Matravers annual Village Ball, attended by 115 people, the local School Room was used for the occasion, that was decorated with flags, evergreens, and “appropriate mottoes”. Signor Massarella’s string band provided the music, and the entertainment lasted from 8 o’clock at night till 4.30 in the morning. So he was a well known character in the area. In August 1894 he married Sarah Spicer a girl from a local agricultural family.

Joel had already learned from my mate Spencer Wisdom, another Expert on the show, how Jesse had driven Flax growing during The Great War; Flax was used to build the wings and fuselages of aircraft that would change warfare forever.

After the war, as well as running a Flax business, Jesse drove production of Sugar Beet, in 1922 was part of the local Economy Committe to look at expenditure on Roads and Wages in the local Administration, as well judging Agricultural Contests and winning prizes for his own livestock. However, what would bring him his next great achievement would come, perhaps unexpectedly from Dairy Farming.

TB from Milk

It has been estimated that around 1% of all deaths in Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries were through TB. The driver behind these infections was the cross contamination from Cattle. This situation was amplified by a combination of Cattle being kept and milked in insanitary conditions, especially as Cows were moved from the countryside to urban environments, and big drives to increase the production of milk without the associated improvements in hygiene. These conditions encouraged the increase in Mycobacterium bovis the bacterium that causes TB in cattle, or bTB (Bovine TB) as the disease is often called.

USA Leads the Way

The risk of transmitting TB to other species through milk consumption, even where the cows involved showed no visual signs of the disease, had been proven as early as 1895 with small mammals in the lab, opening up the possibility of the link to humans. To combat this milk pasteurisation was implemented notably from 1912 in New York in the USA where deaths from non-pulmonary TB fell by 50% as a result, and only 12% of those deaths could be shown to have been from Mycobacterium bovis i.e. having originated in cows, every case bar one of could be traced back to the drinking of raw, unpasteurised, milk by the victim. By 1914 it was generally accepted that most tubercular infections in the stomach, neck glands, and throat had been transmitted by the consumption of infected milk. In 1917 it was estimated that this amounted to 15,000 deaths in the USA.

UK Lags Behind

Meanwhile in the UK around 6% of all TB deaths were due to Mycobacterium bovis. Despite attempts through three Royal Commissions between 1890 and 1911 to define TB as a public health and food safety problem, and a campaign launched in 1904 for “clean and honest unadulterated milk” untreated with water, and free of muck, germs and infectious diseases, plus an American style milk certification system, this was roundly opposed by farmers and the milk trade. In 1914 discussions were happening on the grading and pasteurisation of milk, but successive governments sat on their hands in fear of the possible effect on farmers, and the unpopularity leading to any Government backing it risking losing votes from landowning farmers at subsequent General Elections (ordinary Working Class people who were predominantly dying of the disease did not have the vote at that time) mandatory pasteurisation was not introduced despite its obvious efficacy in New York.

By the 1920s it was estimated that 40% of British milk herds were infected with bTB, but pasteurisation still was not generally adopted by the milk industry, other than to simply extend the shelf life of the product. Into this fray stepped Jessie Crumpler.

Jesse Crumpler Champions Milk Production

At a time when concern about Milk quality and cleanliness was a political issue, Jesse Crumpler championed both increasing Milk yields and increasing hygiene in Milk production. He was one of the founders of the North Cadbury Milk Recording Society, the first in the country, that became the Yeovil and North Dorset Milk Recording Society, formed to help drive milk yields, and UK self sufficiency in Milk production after the Great War. Competitions were held to measure milk yields, and over time the cleanliness of milk production judged and prizes awarded.

Jesse was both a well respected judge, and also a t times a competitor, and won a 50 guinea challenge cup outright for the best dairy herd in Yeovil and North Dorset Milk Recording Society, plus a Silver Cup for Clean Milk production.

Jese’s Milk Pail

In 1923 Jesse invented a simple but revolutionary Clean Milk Pail. We know this because he won a Silver Medal (actually First Prize) for it at the Clean Milk Competition of the Yeovil Show. As The Western Chronicle said on 21st September 1923

“Mr Jesse Crumpler, who secured the silver medal and first prize, with 189 points, just 11 points below the maximum, has invented a pail for the production of clean milk. It is simple, effective, adjustable, and adaptable, and entirely prevents hair, dust, or any extraneous matter whatever, from coming into contact with the milk, when taken from the cow, thus keeping it absolutely pure for consumption.”

So Jesse had gone part way to improving the quality of milk by keeping macro-contaminants out of it, and you can tell from watching me onscreen in the programme that I was desperately trying not to say Cow **** as one of the major contaminants, as that was the real worry to milk distributors with the milk they were getting from some suppliers, euphemisms came to the rescue, I managed to explain around it with disgracing myself on camera.

Children Still Dying

Bad as the macro contaminants were, the micro contaminants that couldn’t be kept out by Jesse’s pail were much more dangerous. It has been estimated that between 1912 and 1939 approximately 65,000 people in England and Wales died from bTB, large numbers of these were children, and many were residents in Hospitals. Although pasteurisation was known about and available, many people would not buy it as they claimed it tasted strange, didn’t trust the process, and wrongly believed that the nutritional value of the milk was affected, so the market was limited, other than for extending the shelf life of the milk.

Jesse decided to go further. It was largely impossible to tell if a cow was infected with bTB until the cows were far advanced with the disease and had been passing the bacteria through their milk for some time whilst apparently healthy. However, whilst trying to develop a vaccine for bTB in the 1890s a Dr Koch had developed a Tuberculin Reagent that identified the presence of the bTB infection in cows. Unfortunately, it had a slow take-up and development as due to a combination of cost, ignorance, and a fear of it revealing just how many cattle were infected with it. But by the 1920s the Tuberculin Test was commercially available, for those prepared to pay for it.

Jesse Risks His Profits

Jesse took a big step and decided to put his money where his mouth was. He did two things: Firstly, he decided to get all of his dairy cows Tuberculin Tested (TT) which was both an upfront ongoing continuous cost in itself, and meant that to be effective he would have to either slaughter or sell off at a loss all his cows that failed the test. This was no small investment and associated risk. Despite this Jesse pushed through with it and through a great investment got to the point where he could prove that his dairy cows were bTB free, and could therefore GUARANTEE that his milk was also bTB free.

Finding the Market

At this point in filming the programme, the three of us sat at a long Oak table in the 1732 Great Hall of Saint Bartholomew’s Hospital, I tapped the table with my finger and posed the question to Joel and Tom “But why are we HERE?” meaning St Bartholomew’s Hospital itself. The answer would become clear.

Having made the investment, done the work, and built the healthy bTB free herd, Jesse then had to look for a market for his milk, bearing in mind that his clean and healthy production methods were a lot more expensive than those of suppliers who put profits above the wellbeing of their customers. Jesse took to the road to sell his TT Certified Milk. What he found was interesting, he organised a meeting to help dairy farmers organise and sell their milk with an academic from Leeds University in 1928 and reported that he found markets for TT certified Milk, counterintuitively in “…the poorest markets of the big cities, including London” whereas when he tried to market his bTB free milk in the more affluent west end of London he got no orders. Jesse was smart and he went to the Hospitals and Municipal authorities, to people with a moral conscience concerning the welfare of their voters’ families and the people in their care. Jesse the intelligent West Country Farmer, looked into what was going on in the London Municipal Markets, and discovered that there were shortages of “raw” unpasteurised milk, and that raw milk that wasn’t certified to the standard of his own, was not only being shipped in from as far away as Scotland and the West of Ireland, but at higher prices than his own milk!

Moving in on the market, he sold his milk into the poor working class area of Bermondsey by The River (that’s the Thames to any non-Cockneys, “The River” always means “The Thames” in working class London). Having his churns turn up in numbers at Vauxhall and Clapham Stations caught the eye of other potential buyers, but his crowning glory was to win a concession at St Bartholomew’s Hospital near Smithfield Market in the heart of the City of London.

S’n Barts

This was the setting for (I can’t lie) my not so humble appearance in the DNA Journey episode with Joel and Tom. St Bartholomew’s Hospital is the oldest continually functioning patient care facility on the same site in the whole of England. Founded in 1153 as The Priory of St Bartholomew, the modern Hospital is an interesting mixture of ancient and modern, with architecture spanning the centuries.

The Hospital (officially called St Bartholomews or “Barts” by the staff, but always referred to as “S’n Barts” by the local cockneys) had the dilemma that when they admitted local children, they would improve their diet whilst they were in the Hospital, a large part of which was feeding them raw milk, so they faced the gamble of trying to give the children a better diet that they lacked at home with the risk of giving them TB. Few working class cockney children in the 1920s would have had access to daily milk outside of perhaps the odd drop in tea if their parents could afford it, that ironically kept them free of bTB (albeit undernourished) as the hot tea acted to kill much of the bacteria, so the hospital by trying to nourish them was risking killing them with kindness. The Hospital needed a supply of bTB free raw milk, on a large scale, that was not mixed with un-certified milk from other sources.

Jesse stepped into the breach and ramped up production, and used his logistical knowledge gained during the War to supply an astonishing 200 gallons of certified raw milk a day to the Hospital. Jesse could transport his guaranteed clean and bTB free milk on wagons and in lorries to Yeovil Station in the morning, railway porters would load it onto the Milk Trains, and in a few hours, it would arrive at Clapham and Vauxhall Stations in South London, where cockney lorry drivers (many ex-RASC drivers from WW1) would deliver it to S’n Barts. The empty churns would be loaded by the lorry drivers taken back to the stations to be checked for their “home stations” stamped near their lids, stacked upside down to identify them as empty, and then loaded onto empty Milk Trains, to be returned the same way to Yeovil, where Jesse’s men would drive them back to Jesse’s farm. Jesse had developed a booming business and Jesse’s sons would also become part of it.

Jesse; Trailblazer – Lifesaver

There is no doubt that Jesse’s ambitions to make life better for people, to back this with his own financial risk, and his wonderful business brain in finding a market, saved thousands of lives of patients over years in Saint Bartholomew’s, many of them the children of the population of London, who relied on S’n Barts for their health.

Jesse was years ahead of his time; in 1935 TB Free Attested Herds became Government Policy, that reduced TB in British herds from 40% to just 1%, by 1939 only 50% of Milk was being pasteurised, and in 1950 compulsory slaughter was brought in for TB infected cattle. Despite this it was estimated that raw milk from non-attested herds was still being supplied as late as 1960. But his work paid off in the longer term, between 1921 and 1953 the number of deaths from non-pulmonary TB fell from 1,107 to 12, and by 1955 it was believed that all of those deaths were from bTB from infected milk.

Mike Searle / St Michael’s Church & Coker Court – East Coker / CC BY-SA 2.0

On 12th October 1939 Jesse died. His funeral took place at East Coker, with a service at the Parish Church, his casket was conveyed to the Church for internment by one of his employees on the back of a Milk Wagon, and his pall bearers were his employees, a great testament to the affection that his employees held for him. Jesse was conveyed to Heaven on a Milk Cart, which was quite fitting for his achievements in saving lives through Clean Milk Production.

It was great meeting Joel and Tom, Joel was absolutely absorbed in what I was telling him, was absolutely fascinated by these stories that he had never heard about his family. Tom was great fun, at the end of the filming as we headed down the wide ornate stairway from the Great Hall, surrounded by Hogarth’s paintings, Tom asked me if I was going along for the next bit of filming? I told him I couldn’t as I had promised to take The Mrs to Dinner and see Gregory Porter at the BIC in Bournemouth, so had to get to Waterloo, back to Southampton, drive to Hamble, get ready, then drive to Bournemouth, in time for Dinner and show. Tom seemed impressed and proffered a marriage proposal of his own to me, at which point I could hear Thompy and Kathleen (Director and Producer), who were walking down behind us, catch their breath for a split second, not sure what I was going to come back with, I took a second, looked Tom in the eye and said “Well, play yer cards right…” . Despite this he never writes, he never phones…

DNA Journey is a wonderful enjoyable series to be part of for all concerned.

You can see this episode here if you have a UK login address:

https://www.itv.com/hub/dna-journey/2a5252a0013

If you’d like to read a more detailed account of the situation with Milk and TB in an academic paper you can find it in the following link, and this paper was the source of much of the scientific data in this blog entry:

https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2018.00059/full

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