In May 1922 the infant mortality rate in St Helens stood at 88 deaths per 1,000 live births.

Can you imagine that today? Out of every thousand children born at Whiston Hospital, eighty-eight of the little mites not reaching their first birthday?

It is unthinkable but one hundred years ago measles, pneumonia, bronchitis, diphtheria, scarlet fever, diarrhoea, influenza and other conditions saw off the new-born at an alarming rate.

The underlying causes were poor sanitation, bad ventilation and general ignorance. Dr Joseph Cates, the St Helens Medical Officer of Health, once said parents didn't call in the doctor until their children were "practically dead".

That was through the cost of paying for medical help and lack of awareness of how serious the illness was. Some mothers simply did not know how to care for their youngsters and left them vulnerable to disease.

Hundreds of homes were also in a shocking state. When in December 1922 the new St Helens Medical Officer of Health, Dr Frank Hauxwell, released his annual report he declared: "Housing conditions are still very bad…. a very large number of people are living in houses which should be closed as insanitary. The evil effect on the health of these people is undoubted."

The housing problem would take time to fix – but educating townsfolk in observing basic hygiene and sanitation practices could more easily be done.

And so 100 years ago this week, St Helens Health Week took place.

The St Helens Reporter described how the campaign had the aim of teaching local people – particular mothers – how to be healthy: "The churches, the Sunday schools, the cinemas, gifted speakers, the Press – every agency of publicity, in fact, will be harnessed to the chariot of Hygiene.

“People who have never realised it will be shown what a tremendous factor in securing good health is the tax-free sunlight and pure, fresh air. Those who have forgotten the virtue of soap and water will be reawakened to a sense of appreciation of the need of cleanliness in the search for health."

The campaign centred on ten principles for healthy homes that would probably be considered patronising today. Housewives were told to keep their home and their families clean; let sunshine into their rooms; keep their teeth clean; open their windows; clothe their family to suit the weather; eat plain, well-cooked food; keep food scrupulously clean; take open-air exercise; not to neglect an early cough and to avoid excess in everything.

During Health Week a short film that had been shot at Eccleston Hall Sanatorium was shown at eight local cinemas. It featured the town’s Mayor, the Chairman of its Health Committee, their wives – and lots of babies being weighed.

Motherhood featured much during the campaign with a "Bonniest baby" competition held at clinics at the Town Hall, Albion Street, Marshalls Cross and Elizabeth Street.

A grand final was held at the end of the week with prizes available for the winners, although I expect its true purpose was to identify undernourished and sickly children and provide help to the mothers.

A "lady doctor" called Dr Cassidy did the judging and decided that Amy Disbury from Waterdale Crescent in Sutton was the best baby under 6 months; Joyce Woodward from Park Road came first in the 6 to 12 months category and John Ratcliffe from Edgeworth Street in Sutton was judged bonniest in the 12 to 18 months group.

In commenting on the success of Health Week, the Reporter wrote: "The good that has been done through the special week of effort at the clinics, at the schools, through religious bodies, and otherwise it would be impossible to estimate. The people have been reached – the woman of the house has been inspired with a new zest and understanding of the meaning of health and how to maintain it."

Stephen Wainwright's new book 'The Hidden History Of St Helens Volume 3' is available from the St Helens Book Stop and online with free delivery from eBay and Amazon. Price £12. Vols 1 and 2 are also still available.