MEMORIES 676 featured a masked mystery: why did little Jennie Jackson, aged about four, appear on a family photograph in 1904 wearing a black-out eye-mask?

Answer: she had measles.

The Northern Echo: Jennie Jackson and the eye maskJennie Jackson and the eye mask

“My wife believes that this practice was used to try and prevent squint developing when there was measles prevalent by shielding the eyes from bright light,” says Dennis Horley.

“There was a measles epidemic around 1966, and an older family member advised my wife’s brother to buy a measles mask to protect his year old son’s eyes from sunlight. The parents said no one did that any longer, and their son developed a squint.

“So when our daughter, just turned one year old, developed measles, the doctor advised us to keep her out of the sun, which we did, and she did not develop a squint.”

One of the symptoms of measles is photophobia, a fear of bright light. Measles causes an infection in the eye, like conjunctivitis, but that can, in severe cases, damage the cornea causing blindness.

At the turn of the century, measles was usually regarded as a mild disease that couldn’t be easily treated, although the symptoms, like light sensitivity, could be eased.

Trevor Bunker contracted measles when he was eight or nine in the 1950s and he remembers Dr Ingham, who was connected to surgeries in East Mount Road and Russell Street in Darlington, coming to his house and instructing his mother construct a tent for him in the front room near the fire to keep him warm. A blanket propped up by a broom handle was spread between chair backs so that it covered the settee where he lay for at least a week in darkness.

And he survived without any eye damage.

Jennie, of South Shields, also seems to have emerged unscathed from her brush with the black-out as nowhere in the family tree of Jane Laninga, of Darlington, is there anything to suggest that she had sight problems in later life.