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Only when I laugh – old medicines and cures of Gloucestershire


If you think Shakespeare’s “Eye of newt and toe of frog, wool of bat and tongue of dog” sounds like a strange potion, then prepare yourself for a shock!   Gloucestershire Archives has over 4,000 items relating to medicinal and medical treatments.  These utilise all sorts of strange ingredients and arguably many are even weirder than those used by Macbeth’s witches!  This exhibition is a show case for a small fraction of the medical archives that we hold and details some of the fascinating cures, treatments and what they were used for. It also includes a look at the medical organisation that was prevalent for most of the last 500 years.

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Newspaper advert for Apothecary Shop

Apothecaries were the people who made any drugs or medicines that the physicians prescribed, although they also sold direct to the public with prescriptions.  Medicinal ingredients included herbs, minerals, animal parts (meats, fats, skins) that were ingested, made into paste for external use, or used as aromatherapy.  Many medicines used natural products such as chamomile, fennel, mint, garlic, rose petals and lavender.  Other ingredients included urine, faecal matter, earwax, human fat and saliva.  Apothecaries usually operated from premises – simply because they needed space to operate and store their equipment, ingredients, and prepared medicines for sale.  This is a typical newspaper advert for an apothecary’s shop being sold in Tewkesbury.

Reference: Tewkesbury Register


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Chemist Prescription book

From the early 1800s onwards, apothecaries (and later pharmacists) were regulated – one outcome of was that they had to record drugs and medicines they made and sold in Prescription Books.  The books have an entry for each prescription and medicine given to customers, frequently written in abbreviations and Latin.

The books are full of ingredients used in the treatment of ailments, though the names of the ailments are not often given.  Written throughout the pages of these books are the letters ‘Rx’ – this is a long-established symbol for prescriptions, which some have suggested derives from the Latin word ‘recipe’, meaning ‘to take’.  This is from the archive of Walwins (Chemists) of Gloucester who first appear in Kelly's trade directories of 1906 as general chemists and suppliers of photographic equipment at 127 Southgate Street. They were incorporated as a limited liability company in 1937 and remained in the hands of the Walwin brothers until c.1968.

The handwriting in most prescription books is usually dreadful…


Reference: D2752/4/40

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Apprenticeship indenture of James Gardiner to Thomas Hinton citizen and Barber-Surgeon of London, 3 February 1735

Barber-surgeons & apothecaries typically learnt the profession via apprenticeship, but not always locally.  This example of an apprenticeship indenture shows James Gardiner, son of James Gardiner of Cirencester Shoemaker, being apprenticed to Thomas Hinton citizen and Barber-Surgeon of London 3 Februarys 1735.  Like most apprenticeships, James was forbidden from fornicating, marrying, playing cards, dice or gambling at the tables, haunt taverns or play-houses or be absent without permission.  On the plus side he would learn the trade and receive meat, drink, wearing apparel and have lodgings.  For this, James’ father paid £10 – equivalent of about £1,200 today.

Reference: D1185/4/2/15

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A Chyrurgury Chest with these instruments in it – Inventory of John Deighton

Wills and inventories can also reveal details about barber-surgeons and the medical profession.  This is part of the inventory of barber-surgeon John Deighton of Tewkesbury, who died in 1649.  This is the first of two pages entitled ‘A Chyrurgury Chest with these Instruments in it’, which itemises the various medical instruments that Deighton owned.  There were over 60 instruments in the chest which had an upper and lower section.  The instruments included dilators, speculums, a trepan drill and its drill bits, spatulas, several bills (now known as forceps), catheters, trocars, knives, metal pots and ‘four instruments to draw out bullets’ among other things.  Another page listed his collection of medical reference books.  It is probably one of the most interesting and important medical documents that is held by Gloucestershire Archives.

Reference: D388/1

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Diocese of Gloucester licence to practice surgery, 1719

Those who practiced medicine and surgery – both male and female – had to be licensed by the Diocese of Gloucester.  This is the licence for Nathaniel Dean of Wotton-Under-Edge, 1719.  It reads:

I, Nathaniel Dean of the parish of Wotton-under-edge in the Diocese of Gloucester being admitted to practice surgery within the same diocese do subscribe willingly and heartily to the thirty-nine articles of religion agreed upon in convocation in the year of our Lord 1563 and also declare that I will conform to the liturgy of the Church of England as it is now by law established.                                                                                                         

Nath: Dean  

Reference: GDR/226a

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Medical expenses of William Fry for Cam Overseers of the Poor, 1807

Before the NHS formed in 1948, medical treatment was hugely expensive and only the wealthy could really afford it.  Most people relied on their families or the parish overseers of the poor, hoping that they would pay for treatment from the parish coffers or parish charities.  This example comes from the parish of Cam – it shows medical expenses claimed by the surgeon William Fry in 1807 for treating parish poor, including travel expenses, medicines and treatment (for attending a difficult birth and to treat a mother during her ‘lying in’).

Reference: P69/OV/2/5

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Tewkesbury Dispensary proposal form

Rural parishes often set up medical clubs, essentially community saving schemes, allowing people to pay in small sums of money to get medical treatment, while towns often established more formal schemes run by subscription.  Charity schemes – linked to the church and run by the philanthropic ‘great & the good’ – were also common in towns, where the greater population made for higher collections.  The Tewkesbury Dispensary, a church-based charity established in 1815 was typical.  To be eligible, a patient had to be ‘a proper object’ for the charity and approved by a subscriber but then they could get advice, medicines, treatment, and vaccinations.  Rules included patients promising to return empty medicine bottles and make a public show of thanks at their place of worship.

Reference: D2025/Box46/Bdle11


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Charm for a Thorn, undated, c1800

For many ailments most people relied on folk cures and charms – typically those handed down through the family.  Typical charms were aimed at toothaches and thorns.  This charm for a thorn comes from the Pollard family who were established yeoman farmers in the South Cerney area for several generations.  This charm is in the handwriting of John Pollard, who died in 1815.

Charm for a thorn

Near Bethlim our Saviour Christ was

Born and on his head was crowned with

A Crown of thorns and in this please

A thorn I do expell hoping through

Christ it may nither fester, age nor

Swell through Jeasus Christ our Lord Amen

Reference: D1651/2

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A Charm for stoping Blood

Charms typically relied on repeating a phrase which usually had religious connotations, such as this one, ‘A Charm for stoping Blood’ from Minsterworth, which was to be repeated five times.

A Charm for stoping Blood

I believe Jesus Christ to be the son of God, he was born of the virgin Mary and was Baptised of John the Baptist in the River Jordan the water was wide and red he commanded it stod so stand ye Blod in the name of the Father Son and Holy Gost Three persons on Trinity & one God Good Lord so this in Charity for thy Servant Amen.

This charm comes from the accounts of William Grasing of Minsterworth, yeoman, who died in 1798, and includes many recipes, mostly for veterinary treatment but also includes other charms including an “abracadabra" for the ague.  It also has "a night spell to catch thieves" and one to drive away evil spirits.

Reference: P218/MI/1

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To make hot snail water

Tonics were a popular way to aid health - most relied on free or cheap ingredients and had alcohol and/or sugar to help the taste!  The garden snail was one of the most used animal ingredients in eighteenth-century remedies and tonics and the most common use was in the form of a distilled water, primarily used to treat respiratory conditions like consumption.  Many households had their own recipe for snail water – this one from Hicks Beach family of Coln St Aldwyn, dates to sometime between 1681-1731 and it not only uses snails (2 gallons!) but also earthworms (½ pint) for good measure, as well as numerous other ingredients, notably hartshorn (deer antler).  The snail was claimed to be ‘one of the cleanest feeders in the world’, and the famous physician and herbalist Nicholas Culpeper noted that ‘the reason why they cure a consumption is this; Man being made of the slime of the earth, the slimy substance recovers him when he is wasted’.  Today, snails are still used in the cosmetic industry, notably in ‘hydrating serums’ many of which contain snail slime, which is used as a moisturiser and skin brightener.

Reference: D2455/F2/2/4

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The Parish of Upton St Leonards to George Rodway for Bleeding, 1826

Bloodletting or bleeding was used to treat almost every disease – either on its own or in combination with other treatments.  It could be done using scalpels or fleams or by leeches.  It was also looked upon as a ‘pick-me-up’ and was deemed a good way of keeping oneself hale and hearty.  This notion ran through society and so bleeding the parish poor was popular to keep them healthy and prevent illness and disease.  This is a bill from George Rodway, chirurgeon, to the parish Overseers of Upton St Leonards for bleeding various women of the parish over 13 months in 1826/7.  In the space of a year he bled Nancy Hamblet (6 times), Sarah Hamblet (twice), Mary Witcomb (3 times), Emma Heal (2 times) and Elizabeth Webb (once).  The cost of bleeding each patient varied from 1s to 6d a visit – roughly equivalent to about £3.40 and £1.70 today!

Reference: P347/OV/7/2

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For a payne in the head

Many cures existed for headaches – from chewing willow bark (which contains salicin, a natural aspirin) to complicated cures that required making, like this one.  This cure is taken from the Commonplace book of Nathaniel Clutterbuck from Frampton-On-Severn.  The book is a typical commonplace book of the period, containing theological notes, prayers and doctrinal matter, along with lists of books purchased, university expenses, farm accounts, sales of pasturage and animal and farming memoranda.  Also in the book are several medical recipes, some local, and some from Clutterbuck’s mother-in-law.  All the ingredients in this cure had been used in medicinal cures for centuries – many still are.  Anything that smelled pleasant was considered to be beneficial to health which was – a legacy of the old believe in ‘bad air’ or ‘miasma’.

For a payne in the head

Take 2 spoonful’s of the juice of camomile, and 2 spoonful's of breast milke, 2 spoonful's of vinegar and 2 spoonful's of red rose water, put it all together in a dish upon the fire & grate a nuttmegge and put into it: then take a piece of red rose cake the breadth of the forehead and then laye it to the forehead.

Reference: D149/F13

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To Cure ye Tooth-ach

This is another cure from Nathaniel Clutterbuck’s commonplace book.  At the time, toothache was blamed on the ‘toothworm’ or ‘cary worm’ which was a type of worm thought to live in teeth.  This theory was widely believed in many cultures, and it was thought that the toothworms could also cause tooth decay by gnawing away at the teeth, and the holes they caused appeared as dental caries.  This cure nicely demonstrates how much pain toothache can cause as the victim, William Neal, was actively thinking of shooting himself before the cure was proposed. 

‘Take a new nail and make the Gum bleed with it, & drive it into an Oak.  This did cure William Neal, Sir William Neal’s son a very stout Gentleman, when he was almost mad with ye Pain, & had a mind to have Pistoll’d himself’

This cure also has a magical element in that after making the gum bleed, the nail used was supposed to be driven into an oak tree for the cure to work.  However, this toothache was probably caused by a gum abscess and using the nail would have punctured or burst the abscess, allowing the pus and bacteria to drain, so relieving the pain.  Mouth saliva would have then been able to enter the site and wash it clean.

Reference: D149/F13

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A copy of the medicine for the plague sent to London by the commandment of the king’s majesty for the preservation of his subjects

While the most notorious outbreaks were the Black Death (1347-1351) and the Great Plague (1665-1666), plague was endemic until the 1700s and it was rare that there was not an outbreak going on somewhere.  Plague victims were typically isolated – either being locked in their own houses or removed to other places, such as Pest Houses (simple small buildings usually having just one room with a fire, typically located close to a cemetery or a waste pond for disposal of the dead).  Many plague cures existed, and this one comes from Standish Manor court records, circa 1545 and has three remedies.  The first uses sage, rue (herb of grace), elder, bramble, white wine and ginger but would have done absolutely nothing to stem the infection, although rue can stimulate blood flow and was used as an antidote to snake bites.  The second requires water from Skirbeck in Lincolnshire and Bitton in South Gloucestershire mixed with fine treacle, while the third is a recipe to make a poultice and contained bramble and elder leaves and mustard seed.  The latter was used for causing vomiting, relieving water retention (oedema) by increasing urine production, and increasing appetite.  It would not have worked.


A copy of the medicine for the plague sent to London by the commandment of the king’s majesty for the preservation of his subjects.

Take 1 handful of sage vert & 1 handful of herb of grace. 1 handful of elder leaves, 1 handful of Red bramble leaves & steep them all together & strain them through a linen clothe with a quart of white wine.  Then take a quantity of fine ginger & mingle them together & drink every Day 1 spoonful of the medicine 9 days together.  After the spoonful you shall be safe for 24 Days after the 9th spoonful you shall be safe for the whole year.

Item: if it fortune some to be sick of the plague before he has drunken of the medicine than take the water of Skirbeck & water of Bitton & a quantity of fine treacle & put them all together & cause the sick to drink of it & he shall put out all the venom.

Item: if it fortune that the sore doth appear then take the leaves of the brambles & leaves of elder & mustard seed & steep them all together & make a plaster thereof & lay it to the sore & he shall draw out all the venom by the grace of God.

Reference: D678/1/M3/1/29

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Plague burials, North Nibley parish register, 1638

This extract from across two pages of the second parish register of North Nibley recounts an outbreak of plague in the village in 1638.  It appears to have begun in September and continued until January, killing 13 people from three families.  The first four victims were buried in the churchyard, but it seems that as soon as it was realised that the cause of death was plague, the remainder were buried in their gardens, not in the churchyard.

Mind that this year 1638 it pleased God to visitt this Parrish with the Plauge of which Henry Matthews, John his son, Mary his daughter & Abigald daughter of Nicholas Mundee, whose name are above written were all suspected to dye; And those partyes whose names are underwritten were all certainely knowne to dye of the same.

These 4 were bryed in Coopeys garden

Imp. Joane the daughter of John Coopey who dyed October the last

It.    Alice the daughter of sd John Coopey who dyed the same day

It.    Robert the son of the sd John Coopey who dyed November the third

It.   Elizabeth the wife of the sd John Coopey who dyed November the sixth

These 4 were bryed in Jennings garden

It.    Annie the daughter of Randell Jennings who was buryed Dec 16th

It.    Alice the daughter of sd Randell Jennings who was buryed Dec 29

It.    George the son of Randell Jennings who was buryed December 31st

It.   Randell Jennings cooper who deaceased January    3rd

It.  Isaach the son of of Randell Jennings who dyed January 7th

                                    Gratise Deo liberator

Reference: P230/IN/1/2

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Sweating sickness, Buckland, 1551

This mysterious disease was present from 1485 to 1551, after which it vanished.  Our knowledge of it is mainly derived from an account of England’s final epidemic that occurred in 1551.  In 1552, the physician, John Caius of Shrewsbury, published a book ’A Boke or Counseill Against the Disease Commonly Called the Sweate, or Sweatyng Sicknesse’.  He noted that that the disease began suddenly with a sense of apprehension, followed by violent cold shivers, giddiness, headache, exhaustion and severe pains in the neck, shoulders and limbs.  Soon afterwards (within 30 minutes in some patients), profuse sweating broke out, accompanied by a sense of heat, headache, delirium, rapid pulse and intense thirst.  In the final stage, sufferers experienced a “marvellous heavinesse, and a desire to sleape”.  Death could occur within hours but after 24 hours, patients were either dead or clearly recovering.  Unusually it seemed to target young or middle-aged wealthy men and had a death rate of around 30-50%. 

This comes from the Buckland parish register for July 1551 and records the death of 5 villagers from the disease: George Holeirs, William Parrie, Richard Warckman, Robert Haie and William Goddarde.

The cause of this disease is unknown, but it may have been climate related.  Outbreaks were always in summer or early autumn and preceded by heavy rainfall and flooding.  Most possible contenders, i.e., influenza, typhus, plague, arboviruses (tick- or mosquito-borne), botulism, ergotism, etc., have been ruled out but researchers have noted overlap of symptoms with two other potential vectors; anthrax (with victims possibly infected with anthrax spores from raw wool or infected animal carcasses) or a hantavirus pulmonary syndrome with an unknown hantavirus as the cause.  The latter are zoonotic diseases carried by bats, rodents, and some insectivores and the epidemiology of hantaviruses share similar – but not all – of the trends.

Reference: P65/IN/1/1

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To make the Purge or drying Diet drink

Dropsy or Oedema is a condition where excess fluid collects in the cavities or tissues of the body resulting primarily from underlying disease of the heart, liver, kidneys or by malnutrition.  It can vary in severity, but at best is uncomfortable and at worst can be extremely painful.  It is likely that some of those whose cause of death is recorded as dropsy were killed by the condition that caused the swelling, rather than the swelling itself.  The church preached that a person with dropsy was generally considered to have been stricken by God for having been sensually immoral, preoccupied with the gratification of the senses or physical appetites.  One reason for this view was that dropsy patients were often extremely thirsty and would keep drinking to alleviate it.  Because of this purging was a common treatment.  This ‘Purge or ‘drying Diet Drinke’ is from the Hicks-Beach collection and is a typical mix of varying ingredients, including wort (this is the liquid extracted from the mashing process during the brewing of beer), bitany (betony), Scabius (often used to treat scabies), Agrimony, Hartstongue, Tameris (either tamarx flowering shrub or fruit of the tamarind tree), guiacum (wood from the shrub Guaiacum), sasperilla (sarsaparilla is the dried root of a perennial vine from Mexico, which was primarily used to make non-alcoholic root beer popular with the temperance movement), liquorish, hops, sena (senna), jollop (a liquid medicine usually a purgative), ginger, scurvy grass and brooklime (the latter two plants are high in vitamin C).  In some instances, surgical intervention was used with patients being ‘drained’ – involving either a trocar (a sharp-pointed surgical instrument fitted with a cannula and used to insert the cannula into a body cavity as a drainage outlet) or a large needle with string; the latter being threaded into and out of the abdomen, leaving the string in-situ to allow excess fluid to drain.

Reference: D2455/F2/2/4

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A remedy for a flux

Flux – historically known as the ‘Bloody flux – is a type of gastroenteritis that results in diarrhoea containing blood or mucus, often with fever and abdominal pain and a feeling of incomplete defecation.  The underlying mechanism involves inflammation of the intestine, especially of the colon and complications include dehydration.  It is usually caused by bacteria from the genus Shigella or the amoeba Entamoeba histolytica, although other bacteria, protozoa, or parasitic worms and it may spread between people.  Risk factors include contamination of food and water with faeces due to poor sanitation and poor hygiene.  It was very common is past times and although most patients eventually recovered, it was often fatal.  Many cures existed, such as this ‘Remedy for a flux’:

A remedy for a flux

Of milke a pinte & take a very filthy cheese

& scrape of the filth, & boile the milk with the filth

you scrape off the cheese, thicken the milk when

you boile it as you would thicken it with flour of

wheate or oatmeal.


This is a fascinating cure as today, dysentery is managed by maintaining fluids but often treating the patient with drugs to kill any parasites, and an antibiotic to treat any associated bacterial infection.  In this cure, the term ‘filthy cheese’ refers to cheese with mould on or in.   What makes blue cheese blue is the mould from the Penicillium genus and the same family of moulds produce the antibiotic penicillin.  Although penicillin antibiotic is made from Penicillium chrysogenum and the cheeses tend to have P.roqueforti, P.camemberti, and P.glaucum – it is possible that some cheese mould might have contained Penicillium chrysogenum…making this cure effective. 

Reference: D149/F13

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My Brother Grinleys receipt to cure an ague

This illness was marked by attacks of chills, fever and sweating which recurred at regular intervals.  It was probably malaria and was common in the Vale of Gloucester - where mosquitos abounded in low-lying water-logged meadows & marshes bordering the county’s rivers.  This cure comes from the Hicks Beach family of Coln St Aldwyn and is a fairly simple local remedy from ‘my brother Grinley’!  The bark was probably from a willow tree.

My Brother Grinleys receipt to cure an ague

Take halfe a pinte of spring water and a quarter of a pinte of brandy and a quarter of an ounce of Bark mix it all well together & take one halfe at night & the other

One folk cure involved putting a live eel in a cloth bag and tying it around the patient's neck…..

Reference: D2455/F2/2/4

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A List of People that had the small Pox, Tetbury, 1746

This image shows a list of those infected with smallpox at Tetbury in 1746.  Smallpox is an acute contagious disease caused by the variola virus, and was one of the most devastating diseases known to humanity which caused millions of deaths before it was eradicated.  It is believed to have existed for at least 3000 years and had a death rate of 30%.  It was painful and disfiguring, typically leaving survivors with scars and very often blind.  From 1740 some protection was offered by ‘Variolation’ – a type of inoculation where scabs or pustule fluid from an infected person were inserted under the skin of the person being inoculated – hoping that they would catch a mild form of the disease and become immune.  However, it was a risky procedure, and most people went on to develop the full blown illness.  In 1796, Edward Jenner of Berkeley developed a smallpox vaccine – the first successful vaccine to be developed.  He had observed that milkmaids who previously had caught cowpox did not catch smallpox and showed that a similar inoculation could be used to prevent smallpox in other people.  Despite resistance from ‘anti-vaccinators’ (who argued that vaccination was dangerous and against free will) in 1840, the British government banned variolation and made vaccination free of charge, making it compulsory in 1853.  The World Health Organization launched an intensified plan to eradicate smallpox in 1967.  Widespread immunization and surveillance were conducted around the world for several years. The last known natural case was in Somalia in 1977.  In 1980 WHO declared smallpox eradicated – the only infectious disease to achieve this distinction. This remains among the most notable and profound public health successes in history.

Reference: D8178/1

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An Infallible cure for the Bite of a Mad Dog, brought from Tonquin by Sir George Cobb, Baronet

Rabies is a viral disease that causes encephalitis in humans and other mammals.  It is usually caught from the bite or scratch of an infected animal, most often a dog.  Rabies is found throughout the world, particularly in Asia, Africa, and Central and South America.  The UK has been free of rabies since the early 20th century - the last infection occurred in 1922, and the last death from indigenous rabies was in 1902.  However, the rabies virus can be found in a small number of Daubenton's bats which are fairly widespread here.  Prior to the 1900s rabies was more common and it terrified people, but the number who died from it was very low - in 1760, a year in which ‘madness raged among dogs in London’ just 2 people died after being ‘bit by mad dogs’.  Although today there is a vaccine, once symptoms appear, this must be administered within 10 days otherwise the result is virtually always death, regardless of treatment.  Cures for bites of mad dogs were commonplace and widely circulated.  This example comes from Vietnam and relies on ingredients such as mercury sulphides (native Cinnabar and fictitious Cinnabar), musk and spirits (arrack, rum or brandy) and would have been totally ineffective.  Many of the cures could also be given to animals, but typically if dogs were suspected of having been infected with rabies, they were usually hanged.

Reference: D1799/E316

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For a Cough

Cough treatments were another area where numerous cures existed – this one from the Blathwayt archive is typical.  They essentially required something soothing, something sweet and something alcoholic.  An ever-present concern was that any cough could be tuberculosis (TB), an infectious disease usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis (MTB) bacteria.  Although TB generally affected the lungs, but it could also affect other parts of the body – it frequently appeared as swollen glands in the neck where it was known as ‘Scrofula’.  Typical symptoms of TB were a chronic cough with blood-containing mucus, fever, night sweats, and weight loss.  It was historically referred to as ‘consumption’ due to the weight loss associated with the disease.  Tuberculosis caused widespread public concern in the 19th and early 20th centuries as the disease became very common among the urban poor but even so it was not until the 1880s that TB was determined to be contagious.  By 1815, 25% of all deaths in England were due to ‘consumption’.  Campaigns were started to stop people from spitting in public places, and the infected were encouraged to enter sanatoriums aimed at isolating them to provide medical treatment.   During the late 1800s and early 1900s numerous sanatoria were established throughout Britain and in other countries.  The underlying rationale for this approach was that it was thought that fresh air or a ‘change of air’ – for example, from towns to countryside or, from maritime Britain to the dry, warm Mediterranean littoral or alpine resorts (only affordable by the wealthy), had beneficial results.  Even under the best conditions, 50% of those who entered these establishments died within five years.

For a Cough

Beat the yolk of an Egg, & mix it with one tablespoonful of Honey, half of sweet oil, & one of Rum, then pour a quarter of a pint of boiling water on it, stirring it all the time – take a small glass full of it occasionally.

Reference: D179/E316

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For the Goute

Gout is an inflammatory arthritis characterized by recurrent attacks of a swollen painful joint.  It is named from the Latin ‘gutta’, meaning "a drop" and is derived from humourism and the idea that the blood 'dropped' material in and around the joints.  It had a strong association with older wealthy males with a history of excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, sugar-sweetened beverages, meat (especially rich offal dishes) and seafood.  The cause of gout (high levels of uric acid in the blood) was not discovered until 1848 so it was the subject of many hundreds of different cures and remedies.  This gout cure is another cure from the Blathwayt family of Dyrham Park.  It is a typical medicine of the time – a purgative using exotic ingredients; Turkish hermodactill (Snake’s head Iris), Jalap (Ipomoea purga vine), Sena beans, Tartar Vitriole (Potassium sulfate), Diagridium (a potent preparation of scammony root), cloves and Mercurius dulcis (Mercury chloride).   Its first ingredient, however, is its most unusual ‘raspings from a human skull unburied’ which hints at magic, as the use of human body parts in medicines was relatively rare.   It was also to be taken ‘about the full of the moon’ – possibly linking it to earlier astrological rules employed in humour theory.

For the Goute

Take the raspings of human skull unburied the roots of Turkish Hermodactil & jallop, Sena beans, Tartar Vitriolale, Diagridium Cloves of each half an ounce; mix them & rub them in a morter to fine pouder.

Take a dramme of this powder in a little posset drink once a month about the full of the moon.  In Aprill take it twice adding twenty grains of Mercurious dulcis which take goeing to bed in  little sirrup & take the pouder in the morning following keeping very warm.

Doe the same in September.

Reference: D1799/E316

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The Overseers of the Parish of Cam to A warner, surgeon, June 1829

Historically, most women gave birth at home without any medical care other than help by the mother’s female relatives or local wise women, although if a labour was thought to be going wrong, a surgeon was usually called in.  Typically one in five women died during the birthing process, but more died afterwards due to post-partum bacterial infections. The rise of maternity wards in early hospitals increased the death rates because many women gave birth within shouting distance of each other and doctors (ignorant of germ theory), went from patient to patient, unknowingly carrying the bacteria on their instruments and their unwashed hands.  In this respect, home birthing was somewhat safer.  This bill to Cam overseers shows that over the course of 6 months a surgeon (A.  Warner) attended four such birthing incidents: ‘Daniel Cordy’s wife with twins’, ’Edward Hidley’s wife in difficult labour’, ‘Mary Cole in the use of a catheter previous to labour, medicines & attendance during labour’ and ‘attendance to difficult labour (Thayers’ wife)’. 

Reference: P60/OV/2/5

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Bill for treating and then burying a patient, Wickwar c1745

Joseph Mason produced this bill for Hawkesbury overseers.  It relates to a patient he treated…. who then died.  Mason wrote that the death was nothing to do with his treatment but was due to ‘other distempers’.  He paid for a coffin, a shroud and got the grave dug.  Finally he bought ‘bread, chise and butter’ plus drink for the wake!

Reference: P170/OV7/1

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