18th Century corns – ouch!

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We often take our feet for granted until we suddenly find that we have corns, bunions or hard skin and it was no different in Georgian times. Did you know that ‘four fifths of people are afflicted with complaints in the feet’? No, neither did we; so we thought we would take a quick look at 18th century views and treatments for the age old problem of corns, what a delightful topic, hope you’re not eating whilst reading this!

We all know what corns are and how painful they can be and clearly they are an age old problem and those clever Georgians found their own way of treating them.

What causes corns?

Today we believe that they are as a result of wearing shoes that fit poorly or certain designs that place excessive pressure on an area of the foot.

During our research we came across a fascinating little book written by a chiropodist in 1818 who agreed with this theory to a certain extent, but also added that the wearing of high heels and the use of hard leather also contributed to the problem. The writer though says that ‘even when buckles were in fashion, though they certain produced callouses on the upper part of the foot, corns were never seen to arise from their pressure’.

17th 18th Century Recipe for corn removal MS7721155 Welcome Library
17th-18th Century Recipe for corn removal. Courtesy of the Welcome Library.

He was also convinced that corns were mainly due to thin skin and that people who lived in the countryside and walked more, developed harder skin as they exercised more and as such suffered far less from corns than those living in the city, true or false we’d love to know! Maybe this is a good reason to take plenty of exercise.

Apparently he also understood that people could predict the weather by how painful or otherwise their corns were.

How to treat them

Easy, take a penknife or razor and remove them … NO that never was a good idea, even in Georgian times, and the writer of this book strongly advised against such self-treatment of the condition. He also noted the variety of ‘quack treatments’ such as plasters that could be applied either to relieve or remove the corn of which he was sceptical about their effectiveness.

An 18th century London corn- cutter's card... 'Apply to me, your feet I'll mend...' Date: 18th century
An 18th century London corn- cutter’s card… ‘Apply to me, your feet I’ll mend…’ Date: 18th century

He also talked about and advised against was to use ‘infallible cures from grandmama’s recipe book’.  After writing at length about the perils of such treatment the author strongly advises that the only solution is to seek medical help from a qualified professional person.

We did manage to find one of the ‘quack’ adverts he referred to.

Morning Post and Daily Advertiser, Wednesday, March 14, 1791

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpoel Library

Under no circumstances would we advocate this method!

Courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library

Sources

The Art of Preserving the Feet

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8 thoughts on “18th Century corns – ouch!

  1. It is said that the shoes were made to fit either foot and that it took time and wearing for the shoes to be adapted to a foot– if worn consistently on that foot.
    We don’t hear as much about corns and bunions today, though they were much discussed in my youth. However, there are still plasters and lotions at the pharmacy for treating them.
    I knew a lady who in the 21st century went to a spa that promised foot care. They used a razor on her corns. One foot became seriously infected and it took many treatments and hard work by her doctor to save her from having to have the foot amputated. She was elderly and this took a toll on her health. Certainly reinforced my conviction of never letting a knife or razor near my feet unless the implements are in the hands of a qualified surgeon.

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    1. All Things Georgian

      Thank you for the comments and you’re quite correct there are still plenty of lotions & plasters for treating them, but given how much time we spend on our feet we should treat them with respect and have problems dealt with by a professional 🙂

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      1. All Things Georgian

        I don’t think they have changed that much tbh. I also own one of those ‘cheese graters’, think I’ll stick to using it for cheese rather than my feet now though 🙂

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  2. I have a friend with a corn, and her doctor has given her a number of creams that don’t work but won’t operate for a number of spurious sounding reasons which probably boil down to ‘it isn’t a guaranteed success and it will cost the NHS money for something that may not work’. I have to say I am an absolute COWARD about letting anyone near my feet and have cut out ingrowing toenails myself rather than let a chiropodist near me; scares me worse than the dentist. Maybe the maniacal old lady felt the same – but you’d think she could have found a smaller and more precise knife than a pruning hook!

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