by Dewi Lewis September 03, 2020

Looking Back #002

An occasional series about our backlist titles. 



In recent weeks John Darwell has been posting his Chernobyl photos on Facebook, many of them from the book Legacy that we did together in 2001. It’s a powerful body of work which, as we approach the 35th anniversary of the tragedy, remains as disturbing as ever. But it’s not this book that I want to focus on today.

In that very same year, in February 2001, Foot and Mouth Disease appeared in the UK. The first case was in an abbatoir in Esssex but within days further cases were being reported. By early March the disease was widespread. Over the next few months 2,000 cases emerged in farms across the UK, many in areas of tourism which became largely ‘no-go’ areas with footpaths and some roads closed to the public. Major events, including the Cheltenham Festival were cancelled and it even led to the 2001 General Election being delayed by a month.
At its peak Cumbria was the worst affected county in Britain with a staggering 41% of all cases. As a local resident, John Darwell found himself surrounded by the effects of the disease. Over the next twelve months he committed himself to recording what was taking place – to show the devastating environmental and social consequences with which his local community were having to deal.
The disease affected both cows and sheep and over the next six months more than 6 million animals were slaughtered, with some 80,000 - 90,000 being killed each week – many on massive pyres that were erected at the farms. To cope with the workload the army were brought in to work alongside staff from The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (MAFF). In the affected areas the acrid smoke of burning carcasses could be seen billowing across the landscape.
The ultimate cleanup of the infected farms led to extraordinary lengths being taken to eradicate the virus. The situation began to ease over the summer months and by October it was back under control, though the last reported cull of animals stretched into the following January. The crisis was estimated to have cost the United Kingdom £8bn, though the human cost on local residents was undoubtedly considerably more..
In Dark Days, John created one of the most complete records of that time - a powerful and emotive insight into one of the most dramatic and destructive periods in British farming history. As we continue to face the impact of Covid, it is perhaps easier for us to recognise in these pictures the human toll that even a non-human disease can inflict on a population. As well as financial hardship there was much physical and emotional hardship for many in those communities affected.


Dewi Lewis
Dewi Lewis


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