The distrust of doctors and government that feeds the anti-vaccination movement might be seen as a modern phenomenon, but the roots of today’s activism were put down well over a century ago.

In the late 19th Century, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in opposition to compulsory smallpox vaccinations. There were arrests, fines and people were even sent to jail.

Banners were brandished demanding “Repeal the Vaccination Acts, the curse of our nation” and vowing “Better a felon’s cell than a poisoned babe”. Copies of hated laws were burned in the streets and the effigy was lynched of the humble country doctor who was seen as to blame for the smallpox prevention programme.

At the height of this fight, the people of Leicester, a city in the English Midlands, claimed to have found an alternative to vaccination – and it’s an approach that is still quoted by campaigners today.

The shockwaves from this storm of anti-establishment anger went far beyond the streets of Leicester and the group behind it, formed 150 years ago.

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