As early as 1849 ‘disease had reared its ugly head in Ivybridge’ along with the increased prosperity. The origin was attributed to the rag sorting at the Messrs Allen’s paper factory. In a letter written by William Cotton of Highlands House, Ivybridge, to his friend William Barradaille on 17th August 1849, he writes, “I am sorry to say that cholera has made its appearance in Ivybridge. There have been 4 fatal cases. Two healthy women were at work at the paper mill the day before yesterday, were taken ill the same evening and died before the next morning.”
Outbreaks of small-pox continued until an inquiry was held by one of the Medical Inspectors of the Local Government. This resulted in improved ventilation of the rag loft and improved sanitary precautions. As a result, no cases of small-pox were reported after 1885.