The Royal Ass, 1780.

A long-eared Aesculapius

Ok, we’ve got you interested now, we had to look up the word! The word Aesculapius being the Latin name for a god of medicine.  Whilst researching asses’ milk we came across a newspaper with that title as its heading.

The story was about a gentleman who took regular exercise on horseback and whose chief drink was asses’ milk. He was asked by an invalid friend, to whom a doctor was daily administering pills and potions, how he managed to keep in such excellent health. The gentleman’s reply was ‘my physician is a horse and my apothecary an ass’.

Whilst the poor ass was mocked by the public during the Georgian era for its stupidity and with comparison made to the Prince Regent, its milk was proving to be very beneficial.

At a time when more and more of us are becoming interested in nutrition and looking for more ‘superfoods’, it’s good to know that the Georgians were no different in their pursuit of a long and healthy life. Asses’ milk was believed to have a beneficial effect on the body, either to bathe in (Cleopatra style) or to drink. Napoleon’s sister is also reported to have used asses’ milk for her skin’s health care.

Pauline Bonaparte by François Joseph Kinson, 1808.
Pauline Bonaparte by François Joseph Kinson, 1808. Museo Napoleonico

It was highly recommended for gout, scurvy, coughs, colds and asthma, however, even then people were aware of the possibility of intolerance, with people raising the issue of ‘lactose intolerance’ even then, although the term itself wasn’t used and that it might cause stomach problems.

One of the main cures for venereal disease at that time was mercury, but who knew – asses’ milk could relieve the side effects of mercury! It was even recommended for women who were in pain after childbirth. For babies, asses’ milk was recommended if they suffered from wind or diarrhoea. It was even used to bathe in to relieve the pain of haemorrhoids too.

According to Oracle Bell’s New World of 1789, asses’ milk mixed with spa water was exceptionally beneficial.

A Glass of Milk; William Redmore Bigg
A Glass of Milk; William Redmore Bigg; Lancashire County Museum Service

Asses’ milk largely went out of fashion in the late 1790s when Sir John Hill’s Pectoral Balsam of Honey replaced it as a ‘cure for all ills’, as, whilst it looked like asses milk it was more palatable, and people were better able to tolerate it.

For those familiar with Teresa Cornleys, ‘the hostess with the mostest’, ultimately she fell out of favour with the great and the good and ended up in prison On her release, she became known as Mrs Smith seller of asses’ milk, in Knightsbridge. Even during this period of her life, she tried to restore her life to its former glory by hosting breakfasts for the people of fashion.

Certain City Macaronies, Drinking Asses Milk, 1770.
Certain City Macaronies, Drinking Asses Milk, 1770. LWL

In 1799, according to Courier and Evening Gazette:

A Parisian Journal says –

We are assured that a remedy had been discovered for disorders of the breast. His remedy is found at St. Domingo, where it is called the gum of the Bois de Cochon. It is produced from a tree, well known in the ci-devant Spanish part of the island. This gum, reduced to oil, and a coffee cup full taken in a basin of asses’ milk, morning and evening, produces a radical cure, provided the disorder is only at its second stage or even at the third. It procures considerable relief. It is for the faculty to judge of this receipt.

Portrait of Maria Luisa of Spain (1745-1792), Holy Roman Empress.
Portrait of Maria Luisa of Spain (1745-1792), Holy Roman Empress.

The St James’s Chronicle of June 1790 reported that the Queen of Hungary’s health was deteriorating since she arrived in Vienna, so much so that the doctors thought it necessary for her to drink asses’ milk.

Featured Image

The Royal Ass, 1780. Yale Centre for British Art

Sources Used

Observations on the theory and cure of venereal disease by John Andree. 1779

An essay concerning the nature of ailments and the choice of them, according to the different constitutions of human bodies by John Arbuthnot. 1731

An essay on the diseases most fatal to infants by George Armstrong. 1767

Daily Journal, Thursday, April 19, 1722

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One of the miseries of life – Gout

In the Georgian era, if you weren’t afflicted by gout you were nobody, it was very much a statement of wealth and class, something to aspire to have. Most sufferers of this complaint ate too much rich food and drank even more – port being regarded as one of the most common causes.

Gout was described in ‘A Treatise on the Nature and Cure of Gout’ by Charles Scudamore, written in 1816, as

a constitutional disease, producing an external inflammation of a specific kind; the susceptibility to it often depending on hereditary conformation and constitution, but more frequently wholly acquired; not occurring before the age of puberty, seldom under the age of five and twenty; and most frequently between the ages of twenty-five an thirty-five; affecting chiefly the male sex; and particularly persons of capacious chest and plethoric habit; in the first attack invading usually one foot only and most frequently at the first joint of the great toe; but in its return affecting both feet, the hands, knees and elbows, often accompanied by a fever.

Today, of course, medical knowledge has moved on and we now know that gout is caused by a build-up of uric acid which the body cannot break down and presents as a swelling in a joint, usually the big toe with red skin around the affected joint, as can be seen in this caricature by James Gillray. This being only one of countless caricatures of the day, mocking sufferers.

Nobody laughs at a touch of the gout.
Courtesy of Wellcome Collection

Where there was illness there were plenty of so-called doctors ready to offer you a quick fix. So much so that they proudly advertised the efficacy of their product in the newspapers, with claims that they could not just ease the condition, but totally cure it. So confident were they with their products that they provided testimonies apparently from people they had treated such as this one for ‘Mr Gardner’s Pills and Plaisters’.

Wright Esq. No. 40 Duke Street, Manchester Square, was many years afflicted with the gout, is cured by Gardener’s Pills and will with pleasure satisfy the afflicted.

Mr. Watson, Merchant and Underwriter, No. 25 Mincing Lane, seven years afflicted.

Mr. Purser, Talbot Innkeeper, Whitechapel, twenty years afflicted.

If that didn’t take you fancy, then no problem, why not try a more palatable cure?

Spilsbury’s Antiscorbutic Drops. This medicine had undergone a series of trials and held a variety of certificated of efficacy and could cure scurvy, gout, leprosy, rheumatism etc. The drops themselves were reputed to be pleasant to take, required no confinement. They were supplied in moulded bottles, with fluted corners and the words Francis Spilsbury, chemist, his Antiscorbutic Drops, by the King’s Patent, indented on each 5-shilling bottle and were supplied with directions to usage.

The Gout.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Collection

Interesting to note that almost half the advertisement seemed to focus on the appearance of the container rather than the product it contained. Whilst it seems feasible that these drops could help to prevent or cure scurvy, as they were predominantly a form of vitamin C tablets, there seems little evidence that they could have any effect on gout.

So, who amongst the great and the good of the day suffered from gout – well naturally the Prince Regent with his excessive lifestyle was a prime candidate and the newspapers reported instances of him having suffered ‘a slight attack of gout in his knee’.  Sir Joseph Banks whose gout became so debilitating that he had to resort to using a wheelchair. Both William Pitt, the elder and the younger were both troubled by the complaint. Pitt, the younger being advised to avoid port and to drink wine instead. If you read the letters of Horace Walpole, you will find countless references on the subject of gout!

Lord Bryon, noted in 1814 that King Louis XVIII of France was another sufferer of gout and nicknamed him ‘Louis the Gouty’.

We will finish with an extract from the work of Rev. Jonathan Swift

As, if the gout should seize the head,
Doctors pronounce the patient dead;
But, if they can, by all their arts,
Eject it to th’extremest parts,
They give the sick man joy, and praise
The gout that will prolong his days.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of Welcome Collection

Robert Dingley, founder of The Magdalen Hospital

Having already written about The Magdalen Hospital we thought it would make an interesting article to provide a little more information about one of its founders – Robert Dingley. Robert was later referred to by Mary Ann Radcliffe in ‘The Female Advocate‘ as ‘the first humane proposer of the charity‘.

Robert Dingley was born around 1710 , the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London and a descendant of Sir John Dingley of Wolverton Manor, Isle of Wight.

Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)
Robert Dingley by John Dixon, after William Hoare, 1762 (National Portrait Gallery)

Robert was an extremely busy man, with fingers in many pies it appears. He took a keen interest in the arts and was an active member of  The Society of Antiquaries from 1734 and ‘dabbled in architecture’ ; became a Fellow of the Royal Society in November 1748; was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, along with Sir Francis Dashwood about whom we have previously written in connection with The Dunston Pillar; held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director with the Bank of England and according to The Whitehall Evening Post of March 30th, 1749 he was appointed Governor of the Foundling Hospital.

On December 30th, 1744 Robert married into another affluent family, his first wife being Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Stamford Mercury 03 January 1745

The couple had three children Susanna (born November 22nd, 1745) and Robert Henry Dingley in 1746. A later child Elizabeth who was born 19th June 1748 did not survive infancy.

In 1759 his first wife Elizabeth died leaving Robert to raise two teenage children.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

With this in mind, Robert wasted no time and married his second wife, Esther Spencer, sister and heir of Thomas Spencer, the following year, on 21st March 1760.

For someone who led such a public life the newspaper report of his death was succinct to say the least –

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, August 9, 1781 – August 11, 1781

Died yesterday at Lamb-Abbey. Near Eltham, aged 72, Robert Dingley Esq.

However, there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church. Esther died 1784.

An interesting piece appeared some years after his death in Morning Chronicle and London Advertiser, Saturday, September 9, 1786, just after the death of Jonas Hanway.

So what became of Robert’s children, well his daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds
Reynolds, Joshua; Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child; The Wallace Collection

Susanna and Richard had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs. Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

His son, Robert Henry took holy orders and became the rector of Beaumont cum Mose and south Shobury, Essex until his death in March 1793.

Robert Henry followed in his father’s footsteps and became a governor of Magdalen Hospital, as did Robert’s second wife, Esther.

 

Featured Image

Courtesy of the British Museum

Portrait, three-quarter length seated wearing velvet suit and long white wig, directed to right holding a book open on right knee to show the title-page of ‘An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Charity’ faced by a picture of a woman, his left arm on arm of his chair beside a table on which are papers bound with ribbons; after Hoare.

 

Sources Used

ODNB

The Ipswich Journal 19 November 1748

The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent, Volume 2 By Edward Hasted

An Account of the Rise, Progress and Present State of the Magdalen Hospital By William Dodd

 

‘Taking the waters’ at Buxton in 1800

The majority of us will have come across Buxton Water which today is sold commercially bottled, but what was known about Buxton and its health-giving water in 1800?

buxton-water-image

The Georgians had an obsession with their health, and there were several popular spa towns frequented in the late Georgian/Regency periods, Buxton being one of them. We thought we would find out what the writer William Bott had to say about the lovely Derbyshire town of Buxton in 1800 in his book ‘A description of Buxton, and the adjacent country; or the new guide, for Ladies and Gentlemen, Resorting to that place of health and amusement’. Please note this is in no way us endorsing Buxton water although, if you had been reading this in 1800 you would have thought it was, although even today it’s possibly to drink it directly from the source.

St Ann's Well, Buxton via The Megalithic Portal
St Ann’s Well, Buxton via The Megalithic Portal

The salubrity of the air and the excellent quality of the water, are entitled to very particular and distinguished notice, on account of both their very ancient reputation and great usefulness.

A range of buildings constructed in the form of a crescent, has however, been lately erected which for beauty and magnificence exceeds any other in this part of the kingdom, the space being two hundred and fifty-seven feet wide, an elegant stone balustrade extends the whole length of the front, with the arms of the Cavendish family neatly carved in wood, fixed in the centre. This Crescent consists of four private lodging house, two hotels and the assembly room; the latter of which forms a part of the larger hotel, and is seventy-five feet six inches long, thirty-two feet two inches wide and thirty feet high.

buxton-crescent-banner
Buxton Crescent, courtesy of Buxton online.net

It is not possible to ascertain with exactness the number of company who resort to Buxton every season, but it is computed that the public buildings and private lodgings will accommodate above seven hundred persons, besides the inhabitant of the place and it is well known, that for some years past several persons have occasionally been obliged to procure lodgings in the neighbouring villages.

There are circumstance attending the use of Buxton water, of which it may not improper to take notice. When drank in considerable quantity, it is found to possess a binding and heating quality, and is productive of many feverish symptoms; with a view, however, of preventing such disagreeable effects, it is usual to recommend a gentle purgative to keep the body open. These waters in common with a great many others, are observed upon first drinking to affect the head with a sort of giddiness, attended with a sense of universal fullness and drowsiness, but after using them a few days, the sensations go off and are seldom or never perceived afterwards. The spirit is different in different waters and in most appears so extremely fugitive, that it immediately flies off when exposes to the air; all waters therefore are best whether drank at the fountain head. Pure water, as it betrays neither taste nor smell, must be admirably calculated to correct the acrimonious state of the fluids, from whatever cause it may arise, and if anything upon earth can be considered as a universal remedy, it must be water.

A uniform course of this pure element, assisted by exercise, and a proper regime of diet, will do more in some diseases than anything we know of.

Smith, John Rubens; The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire; Buxton Museum & Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-crescent-buxton-derbyshire-60625
The Crescent, Buxton, Derbyshire by John Rubens Smith, c,1837; Buxton Museum & Art Gallery

As you read on, the list of restorative properties of Buxton water reads like a ‘cure for whatever may ail you‘ everything from bilious colic to rheumatism.  The recommendation for drinking the water being somewhere in the region of 3 pints per day – ‘if your stomach can bear and the nature of the case requires it’.  The period for drinking the waters is from the beginning of April until the beginning of November.

the-baths

Bathing

The chief properties of Buxton water for bathing, which it very widely differs, from both Bath and Bristol, for in the one, the waters are too hot, and in the other too cold – Buxton being just right.

Who knew?

The poor at their bath are not only exempted from all charge, but also met with great assistance and support from the charitable contributions of the company who resort to Buxton, it being customary for every newcomer, if he stay more than one day, to give one shilling for their use, which is collected and taken care of by the ‘steward of the house’ in which he happens to lodge; and the sum raised in this way in the course of the season, has some years past been very considerable; the common weekly allowance to the poor is six shillings and should any of them be more weak and necessitous it is usual to add something more.

Travel to Buxton

post-roads

Pleasure

People not only attended Buxton for its waters, but also for leisure activities and Bott goes on to describe places worthy of a visit, including Pool’s hole (now known as Poole’s Cavern);  Castleton, Speedwell mine, Mam Torr, Matlock, Tideswell and Litton Mills, Dovedale and of course Chatsworth, home of the Duke of Devonshire.  The list of places he recommended worthy of a  visit is endless.

chats
Chatsworth House photograph taken June 2016

 

Featured Image:

Buxton Market Place, Derbyshire, unknown artist, Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

18th Century Advertising Standards – or lack of

When you read through 18th century newspapers it’s quite astonishing the number of adverts there were for health and well-being with many so-called doctors offering cures for every conceivable medical complaint. Today, Advertising Standards, not to mention the police would have a field day with some of the claims made in these! Some of these are truly shocking, so we warn you in advance.

Netscher, Caspar; A Visit from the Doctor; Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-visit-from-the-doctor-54443
Netscher, Caspar; A Visit from the Doctor; Leamington Spa Art Gallery & Museum

We begin with an advert in E. Johnson’s British Gazette and Sunday Monitor of Sunday, December 18, 1803. Ladies – do you suffer from monthly period pains? Are you pregnant? Or are you going through the menopause? – worry no more – Dr. Fothergill’s has the cure!  There is absolutely no indication as to what this medicine actually contained, but it worked – really it did – a lady of quality confirmed this!

Dr. Fothergill offers a remedy with his Female Specific Pills, at the low price of 3 shillings and 6 pence! Of the efficacy of these pills too much cannot be aid as the use of them has been the means to restoring thousands to the state of perfect health, when innumerable other medicines have failed. They are particularly beneficial to single young ladies in the prime of their life when any irregularity prevails. They are also of great service to married ladies during the course of pregnancy. They are likewise of high importance to women in the latter period of life, specially about the age of 45 and upwards; as by their use the complaints which frequently prevail at that period will be obviate.

The history of these pills is rather singular and may serve as a recommendation to its more general use: – A lady of Quality was for many years afflicted with dreadful pain in her head and stomach, with various hysterical complaints:  Her case was given for consideration to various eminent persons of the faculty, without obtaining any relief. One of these gentlemen, however, advised her to consult the late learned Dr. Fothergill, who was particularly celebrated for his skill in relieving these complaints. Dr. Fothergill gave her a prescription which was prepared by her family apothecary, who charged her five shillings for it. By the use of this medicine for a few days she experienced great relief and before she had finished the box was entirely well. During her life she distributed this medicine to many of her friends and poor neighbours.   At length when very old age prevailed (attained perhaps only by the use of this medicine) she gave the recipe to her physician.

British (English) School; An Itinerant Quack-Doctor; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/an-itinerant-quack-doctor-125776
British (English) School; An Itinerant Quack-Doctor; Wellcome Library

It was commonplace to see anecdotes for people ‘cured’ by taking certain medications such as this one in Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800. Did they work? We have no idea, but naturally people would put their trust in products that seemingly had some medical backing.

cordial-of-gilead

With this next one from Oracle and Daily Advertiser, Monday, December 8, 1800, the mind boggles – Dr. Harvey’s Anti-Venereal Pills and Grand Restorative Drops.

venereal

Thomas, Gerard; A Physician-Virtuoso in His Cabinet, Examining a Flask of Urine Brought by a Lady; Wellcome Library; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/a-physician-virtuoso-in-his-cabinet-examining-a-flask-of-urine-brought-by-a-lady-126396
Thomas, Gerard; A Physician-Virtuoso in His Cabinet, Examining a Flask of Urine Brought by a Lady; Wellcome Library

We move on to a couple of truly worrying adverts, when you read the first of these it can surely only be interpreted in one way, this was a service being offered for abortion. Women finding themselves in such dire straits as needing to use this service could do so for around one guinea (around £40 in today’s money).

Morning Post and Gazetteer, Tuesday, November 18, 1800:

PREGNANT LADIES

Whose situation requires temporary Retirement

Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, offer to accommodate Ladies in an airy and retired situation, with apartments to live in, on terms suited to their circumstances and situation in life; their infants put out to nurse, and humanely taken care of; and as humanity induces him to offer his assistance to alleviate the horrors of concealed pregnancy, he flatters himself Ladies will find, on application to him, the great attention and most profound secrecy. Letters (postpaid) to Mr. Watson, Surgeon and Man-Midwife, No. 19 Charlotte Street, Surrey side of Blackfriars Bridge, will meet the most pointed attention.

Where may be had The PILL-BENEDICTA,  at £1, 1 shilling per box, a certain and effectual remedy to remove all obstructions and irregularities, and an excellent medicine after had Lyings-in.

Our last one comes to us courtesy of Courier and Evening Gazette, Wednesday, April 24, 1799. How many people would have bought into this one, we wonder, not many, we hope!

Cancerous Complaints

A medical gentleman, of regular education and established credit in London, who, on account of his rank in the profession, has found out an effectual remedy for the above-mentioned destructive disease. Such persons as wish to consult him, are requested to send a particular history of their complaint, mentioning age, sex etc. of the patient and an immediate answer will be returned stating every circumstance relative to the treatment and cure of the disease. Letters of consultation, inclosing a pound note, directed to Mr. T, No. 11 Cranbourn Street, Leicester Square, will be duly attended to.

 

Featured image

An Episode from ‘The Mock Doctor’ or ‘Dumb Lady Cured’ (from Henry Fielding’s adaptation of ‘Le médécin malgré lui’ by Molière, 1732) by Francis Hayman (1708–1776), National Trust, Sizergh Castle.

Extreme Longevity in 1700s

Today’s post has been written with our genealogy followers very much in mind and those who love nothing more than a good challenge.

So, according to the government, health experts and others we’re going to live longer than ever before. Well, if you believe these accounts of longevity below we’ve got quite a way to go to exceed some of these instances.Table of Longevity

All of these accounts appeared in the newspapers and also in a collated account of longevity written by James Easton ‘Human Longevity: Recording the Name, Age, Place of Residence, and Year’ in 1799.

Certainly Easton had done his homework by trawling through the newspapers, etc. We have tried in vain, so far, to validate any of them with a corresponding date of birth, yet if true, then they are accounts of longevity that far exceed anything you would expect for that period and many would still make headline news today even by our standards of life expectancy. Easton also noted that:

the more a man follows nature and is obedient to her laws, the longer he will live; and that the further he deviates from these, the shorter will be his existence. It is not the rich and great, nor those who depend on medicines who become old, but such as use much exercise, are exposed to the fresh air, and whose food is plain and moderate, as farmers, gardeners, fishermen, labourers, soldiers and such men, as perhaps never employed their thoughts on the means which have been used to promote longevity.

Death and the Woodman Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
Death and the Woodman. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

1734

John Burnet aged 109, of Broadwater, Sussex. He married six wives, three of them after he was one hundred years old; and died in the same house in which he was born.

1739

Margaret Patten died aged 137 (no, it’s not a typo!). She was of St Margaret’s workhouse, London, a Scotch woman. She always enjoyed good health till within a few days of her dissolution; and for many years subsisted mostly on milk. (Born near Paisley, according to the newspapers.)

recto
An Old Woman Carrying a Basket. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

1748

John Hussey aged 116. Of Sydenham, Kent and formerly a farmer at Crawford. His breakfast was balm-tea sweetened with honey; and pudding for dinner, above fifty years; by which he acquired long and regular health.

1751

Mary How aged 112. Of Mapleton, Derbyshire, widow. Her death was occasioned by pulling a codling off a tree, the limb of which breaking, fell on her arm and broke it. About two years before, she cut several new teeth and her hair changed its colour from grey to a beautiful white.

recto
An Old Market Woman Grinning and Gesturing with her Left Hand by Paul Sandby. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

1754

Rev. Mr Braithwaite – aged 110, of Carlisle. He had been one hundred years in the cathedral, having commenced singing-boy in the year 1652. N.B. There was a Rev. George Braithwaite listed in the Archaeology Data service as being:

George

Whether it was the same Reverend Braithwaite we have no idea.

1762

Of Ripon, Yorkshire Robert Oglebie (Ogleby) aged 115, a travelling tinker; born Nov 6, 1647, as appears by the register of Ripon, married seventy-three years, and had twelve sons and thirteen daughters; had all his senses perfect and could see to work a short time before his death. His wife lived to be one hundred and six years old. He also claimed his father lived to the ripe old age of 140 and there was apparently a monument erected for him at Tanfield church, although we can find no evidence of this!

recto
Old Man Begging. 1778 by Elias Martin. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

1771

William Cotterell, aged 107, of Nottingham, farmer. His wife died three days after, aged ninety-eight, having been married eighty years.

1788

Mary Wilkinson who died aged 109 in 1788. She was a native of Lundale, and changed her residence to Romald Kirk, in the north of Yorkshire. When she was young, she walked several times to London in four days, a distance of 290 miles. At the age of 99 years, she was desirous of seeing London again, and buckling a keg of gin, and a quantity of provisions on her back, she left Romald Kirk, and reached London in five days and three hours. –[S]he lived to see four Kings reign, and is interred in a stately tomb, erected at the expense of the inhabitants of Romald Kirk.

van Brekelenkam, Quiringh; Old Woman Eating; Dulwich Picture Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/old-woman-eating-200337
van Brekelenkam, Quiringh; Old Woman Eating; Dulwich Picture Gallery

1792

Anne Froste of West Rasen, Lincolnshire. She was the wife of a labourer, had been married three times and left a daughter ninety years of age. She was married to her last husband in her ninety-third year. For many years past she had lived on milk and tea diet. She died aged 111.

John Roberts died aged 103, of Digbeth near Birmingham. He married three wives, by whom he had twenty-eight children; was nearly eighty when he married his last and by whom he had six of the children.

William Troy, died aged 120 near Waterford, farmer. A short time before his death he read very small print without spectacles and daily walked about his farm without support.

Wright of Derby, Joseph; The Old Man and Death; Walker Art Gallery; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/the-old-man-and-death-98978
Wright of Derby, Joseph; The Old Man and Death; Walker Art Gallery

1799

John Sayer, aged 100 of Caistor near Norwich, butcher. He retained the perfect use of his faculties to the last hour of his life, with a memory very unusual at his age.

John Sayers 105
John Sayer’s burial gives his age as 105, buried at St Edmunds church, Caistor

And one we found in the London Evening Post, 13th October 1737.

We hear the following remarkable instance of longevity from Lewes in Sussex. Last Saturday died there Mr. Henry Morgan, aged 105 years and a half. He never made use of spectacles, but work’d at his trade as a sieve-maker the day before his death. He never had a day’s, nor scarce an hour’s illness in his whole life. The morning he died he walk’d into his garden and when he return’d sat down in his chair and died immediately, not so much as any of the family perceiving any difference in him.

An Old Man with Pointed Nose and Chin, Dozing in a Chair Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art
An Old Man with Pointed Nose and Chin, Dozing in a Chair, Thomas Rowlandson. Courtesy of Yale Center for British Art

And finally a little gem from 1771, which implies that not washing your face for over thirty years could be the key to a very long life, although we don’t recommend it!

Caledonian Mercury 13 Feb 1771
Caledonian Mercury 13 Feb 1771

Source Used:

Human Longevity: Recording the Name, Age, Place of Residence, and Year, of the Decease of 1712 Persons, who Attained a Century, & Upwards, from A.D. 66 to 1799, by James Easton

Rehab for 18th century prostitutes – The Magdalen Hospital

So you’ve sinned and need rehabilitation in eighteenth-century London; where would you go? Well, that was easy, you applied to The Magdalen hospital in London. The hospital was established by laymen rather than the clergy, in particular a Robert Dingley (*see end of article for more information) who, with a committee including Rev. William Dodd, referred to it as a hospital but who insisted that it be more akin to a home.

by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762) by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762)
by John Dixon, after William Hoare, mezzotint, (1762)

It was to be a safe place for girls and women in eighteenth-century London (similar hospitals were sent up around the world too) where they could be rehabilitated and resume a good and honest life.

Saint Mary Magdalene reading in a landscape, Correggio, Bonhams
Saint Mary Magdalene reading in a landscape, Correggio. Courtesy of Bonhams

The first general meeting to discuss setting up such a place took place on the 1st of June 1758 and it was agreed that:

There was to be a ‘superiority of ward, the lower wards to take ‘inferior person’ or those ‘degraded for misbehaviour’.  The women might be promoted to higher wards.

The matron was to inspect the inmates’ correspondence.

Inmates were to be known by their Christian names alone. If further differentiation were needed, the name of the ward, or a number, should be added.

Various kinds of employment were suggested

We then have the most poignant sentence at the end:

… always observing in this and every other circumstance the utmost care and delicacy, humanity and tenderness; so that this establishment, instead of being apprehended to be a house of correction, may be gladly embraced as a safe, desirable and happy retreat from their wretched and distressful circumstances.

It took very little time to raise the funds required and secure appropriate premises.  Staff were duly appointed.

Staff appointed

The first admission was Ann Blore, a native of Ashbourne, Derbyshire. Two other women were promised admission as soon as they were cured of disease. One was admitted as servant to the matron and Mary Truman was rejected as she wasn’t a prostitute.  Admissions day was the first Thursday of the month at 5pm and women were not permitted to be either pregnant or suffering from any disease.

Petition for AdmissionThe house was divided into parts in order to make total and distinct divisions of the objects, and the rooms were distinguished by being numbered.  The women were classed in each ward. A proper number of women were appointed to perform all the domestic business of their respective wards and the household and to keep the chapel clean. Each woman lay in a separate bed and had a box for her clothes and linen, under lock and key which was kept by herself. Strict regard was had by the matron and her assistants to ensure that the wards were kept completely ventilated and the air pure – they visited the chambers and working rooms frequently each day to ensure this. Friends or relations of the women could apply to visit and visits were held under the supervision of the matron.

Upon admission their clothes are taken from them and returned to them when they leave. They are issued with grey shalloon gowns, all women worn the same ‘uniform’. Their diet/meals were agreed by the overseeing committee with a copy of the meals being hung on a board in each ward.

A Magdalen in 1760

All women are actively employed in tasks suiting their ability predominantly sewing, any occupation that will aid employment when they leave.

From Lady-day to Michaelmas they rise at six and go to bed at ten; and from Michaelmas to Lady-day rise at seven and in bed at nine; and after that time no fire of candle are allowed, except in the sick ward.

Breakfast was taken at 9 o’clock and they were allowed half an hour, they dined at one o’clock and were allowed one hour, and left off work at six in the winter and seven in the summer.

Magdalen by Thomas Rowlandson
Magdalen by Thomas Rowlandson

The hospital had opened on 10th August 1758 and by its 10th anniversary, some 1,036 women had been admitted.

509 had been reconciled to and received by their friends or placed in services in reputable families and to trades

38 proved lunatics, and afflicted with incurable fits

28 died

150 were uneasy under restraint and dismissed at their own desire

37 never returned from hospitals, to which they were sent to be cured

201 were discharged for faults and irregularities

73 were still present

Total 1,036

Did this method of reform work? Well seemingly so, if you believe the statistics, it did. To correct and to train rather than to punish seemed to be the order of the day. The hospital adapted to change over the years and finally closed its doors in 1966.

For anyone wishing to find out more about the Magdalene laundries in Ireland which were set up a few years after the one in London, you may find wish to follow the link here.

Image of the hospital

 

*  More about Robert Dingley

Robert Dingley was born around 1710, the eldest surviving son of Susanna and Robert Dingley, a prosperous jeweller and goldsmith of Bishopsgate Street, London. Robert took a keen interest in the arts and became a Fellow of the Royal Society. He was also founder member of the Society of Dilettanti, held a lifelong career with the Russia Company and was also Director of the Bank of England and trustee at the Foundling home.

On December 30th, 1744 Robert married Elizabeth Thomson, daughter of Henry Thomson Esq, of Kirby Hall, Yorkshire.

Elizabeth was to die in 1759 and Robert married his second wife, Esther Spencer the following year, on 21st March 1760. Esther died 1784.

Robert died 1781 and there is a memorial for both Robert and Esther in the same church.

There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth (Thompson) Dingley at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent
There is an obelisk and bust of Elizabeth at St Luke’s church, Charlton, Kent.

They had a daughter, Susanna Cecilia (1743–1795) of Lamb Abbey, near Eltham, Kent, who married Richard Hoare (d.1778) of Boreham House, Essex, a partner in Hoare’s bank, in 1762.

Richard Hoares' marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Richard Hoares’ marriage to Susanna in 1762 in the presence of her father Robert. The marriage was carried out by none other than Rev. William Dodd.
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds; The Wallace Collection
Mrs Susanna Hoare and Child by Joshua Reynolds; The Wallace Collection

The couple had five children, and the present picture probably depicts their eldest child, called Susanna Cecilia after her mother, who died young in 1768. In 1765 Mrs Hoare paid 70 guineas for the picture, which was probably painted 1763–1764.

Robert and his first wife also had a son Robert Henry Dingley.

There is no trace of Robert having left a will, but his second wife Esther left a will in which she made provision both of Robert’s children.

Sources Used:

The Magdalen Hospital: The Story of a Great Charity, 1917

An account of the rise, progress, and present state of the Magdalen Hospital, for the reception of penitent prostitutes. Together with Dr. Dodd’s sermons…, 1770

The Environs of London: Counties of Herts, Essex & Kent

Featured Image:

Courtesy of British Museum

A night with Venus could result in a lifetime with mercury

So, you’ve found yourself a suitable young lady to spend some ‘quality’ time with, courtesy of Harris’s List (the annual directory of prostitutes working in London).

You’ve forgotten to call at Mrs Philips, at the Green Canister on Half-moon Street in the Strand for some cumdums (condoms, as we know them to be today) and you didn’t use the ‘totally effective Paris wash ball’ or Powell and Co’s medicated soap before calling on the young lady.

Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795
Courier and Evening Gazette Thursday, July 9, 1795

 

Telegraph, Tuesday, October 25, 1796

Oh, well never mind you’ll take a chance, everything should be just fine.

But of course, more often than not it simply wasn’t ‘just fine’ and needless to say the result was that you become ‘frenchified’, in other words you acquired a venereal disease – the pox, Covent Garden/Drury Lane Ague, Clap or, Token (the latter originates from the phrase ‘she tipped him the token’ i.e. she was infected and passed it on to him).

So what was the treatment?

Well, you could pay a visit to the ‘Nimgimmer’, a physician or surgeon who claimed to be able to provide you with a cure for the condition, such as Dr John Leake, of Parliament Street, London, who advertised prolifically in the newspapers throughout the mid to late 1700s that he had developed a ‘cure all’ pill and also the ‘Lisbon Diet Drink’.

Dr Leaks pills

 

Daily Gazetteer, Thursday, June 21, 1744

This ‘cure’ which was more than likely some form of medication containing mercury became extremely popular, to the extent that it was carried on board ships for the sailors to take after a night out! Syphilis was incurable and the best treatment was calomel aka mercury chloride, which had its own problems when used over a long term.

L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770 Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images images@wellcome.ac.uk http://wellcomeimages.org The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients. maker: Unknown maker Place made: Faenza, Ravenna province, Emilia-Romagna, Italy made: 1731-1770 Published: - Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/
L0057163 Drug jar for mercury pills, Italy, 1731-1770
Credit: Science Museum, London. Wellcome Images
The mercury pills that were once in this jar are quite likely to have been made to a recipe developed by Augustin Belloste (1654-1730), which was famous throughout Europe. Mercury was the traditional remedy for syphilis and the demand for Belloste’s recipe made his pills very successful. The family became rich from the profits. The recipe remained a secret and was still available in the early twentieth century. The pills were also used to treat gout, and kidney and bladder stones. Unfortunately, the mercury in the pills slowly poisoned the patients.

So, those Georgians believed you simply took a pill and the condition was cured – really? Alternately you could try the Cornelian Tub, which was a sweating tub designed to remove the impurities – surely, that would do the trick or Sir Peter Lalonette’s Fumigation machine (to find out more about option click on the highlighted link).

It wasn’t until the mid-1830s that the medical profession finally agreed that syphilis and gonorrhoea were actually two different conditions, so consequently, until that time there was just one general term for the condition i.e. venereal disease. No matter which condition you had acquired there was no cure for your night for passion!

A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum
A Sale of English Beauties in the East Indies. © The Trustees of the British Museum

 

Itching and scratching: 18th Century Flea Traps

A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
A Girl in a Kitchen (La chercheuse de puce) by Nicolas Lancret
(c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Women Bathing by Nicolas Lancret (c) The Wallace Collection; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

So, you are a grandly dressed Georgian lady, with a fully powdered head of hair, fashionably coiffed but with a few little inhabitants. Scratch, scratch! How would you rid yourself of fleas?

Back in the eighteenth-century fleas were a common problem for all classes and would happily live in beds, inside wigs and on pets, and everyone was prey to them. Bathing of course helped, and there was the tried and tested method of painstakingly searching for and picking off the little critters. The Parisian artist Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743), in a couple of his genre paintings, depicted some ladies searching themselves for fleas (and offering the viewer a titillating glimpse of flesh while doing so).

One other way, popular for a short period in the eighteenth-century, was to use a flea-trap which became something of a popular fashion accessory. It consisted of a hollow perforated cylindrical tube, sometimes ornately carved and made of silver or ivory, inside which would be a small rod, tuft of fur or a piece of cloth. This would be smeared with a few drops of blood, to attract the fleas, and also fat, honey resin, designed to make the fleas stick fast to it as they crawled inside, and which was removed as necessary to get rid of them. The flea trap was worn on a ribbon as a necklace, hanging down inside a dress – it could also be placed in a bed to attempt to rid that of fleas. A German doctor named Franz Ernst Brückmann (1697-1753) designed the first flea trap in the early 1700s.

 

Flea - trap Louth museum
Flea trap held at Louth Museum

 

Louth museum in Lincolnshire holds one, although they are unsure of the date of their flea trap. It is made of ivory, with a carved pattern, and measures 7cm in length and 1½cm in width.

 

The French name for the flea was ‘la puce’, which is supposedly how we have the name for the colour today – it is taken from the colour of a squashed flea or one full of blood, or from the bloodstains left behind by a flea on the bedsheets.

La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum
La Puce. Seated young woman, unveiling her breasts whilst trying to catch a flea. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Reputedly, this brownish purple was one of Marie Antoinette’s favourite colours, and it was Louis XVI who jokingly compared it to the colour of a flea and so named it. From Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, written in 1800 by Isaac D’Israeli (author and father of the British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli):

In the summer of 1775, the queen being dressed, in a brown lutestring, the king good humouredly observed, it was “couleur de puce”, the colour of fleas; and instantly every lady would be drest in a lutestring of a flea colour. The mania was caught by the men; and the dyers in vain exhausted themselves to supply the hourly demand. They distinguished between, an old and a young flea, and they subdivided even the shades of the body of this insect; the belly, the back, the thigh, and the head, were all marked by varying shades of this colour. This prevailing tint promised to be the fashion of the winter. The venders of silk, found that it would he pernicious to their trade; they therefore presented new sattins to her majesty, who having chosen one of a grey ash-colour, Monsieur, exclaimed that it was the colour of her majesty’s hair! Immediately the fleas ceased to be favourites, and all were eager to be drest in the colour of her majesty’s hair. Servants were sent off at the moment from Fontainebleau to Paris, to purchase velvets, rateens and cloths of this colour. The current price in the morning had been forty livres per ell, and it rose towards the evening to the price of eighty to ninety livres.

Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library
Gallerie des Modes et Costumes Français, 1778 via the British Library

We’ll end with a couple of satirical prints. We think the people in these could do with a flea trap!

© Lewis Walpole Library
© Lewis Walpole Library
An old maid in search of a flea, 1794. © The Trustees of the British Museum

Sources:

Irritating Intimates: The Archaeoentomology of Lice, Fleas, and Bedbugs by Allison Bain

Louth museum and blog

Domestic anecdotes of the French nation, during the last thirty years, indicative of the French revolution, by Isaac D’Israeli

18th Century corns – ouch!

Wellcome Images

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

An advertisement for a husband! Lewis Walpole Library

18th Century Hearing Aids

Friends by the ears, 1786. A broker feigning deafness to avoid paying the doctor who cured him. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
Friends by the ears, 1786. A broker feigning deafness to avoid paying the doctor who cured him. Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Hearing aids have made some quite dramatic progress since the Georgian era . Towards the end of the 18th century the use of an ear trumpet was commonplace, with collapsible ones being made on a one off basis for customers. Well known models of the period included the Townsend Trumpet (made by the John Townshend) and the Reynolds Trumpet (specially made for painter Joshua Reynolds) which funneled sound into the inner ear.

One of the quirkiest objects we have come across to assist with hearing is this image. It is a flower vase receptacle made by F. C Rein about 1810. The object would sit in the middle of a dining  table once filled with flowers. Each of the six openings, or “receptors,” would act as sound collectors.*

This one below, manufactured in ivory was made for and used by Admiral John Borlase Warren (1753-1822).

Phisick – Medical Antiques

Here we have an example of a small hearing aid consisting of a pair of metal ear tubes acquired by the surgeon Luke James (1799 – 1881)

single hearing aid
Courtesy of the Hunterian Museum, Royal College of Surgeons

In Blackwood’s Edinburgh  Magazine, Volume 14, we across this ‘letter to the editor‘ from a gentleman suffering from hearing difficulties along with a drawing of a device to help improve his hearing.

Mr Editor,

Having taken in your very superior Miscellany, from its earliest day to the present, I know you as the friend of man. Upon this ground, I am confident that you will grant the request I make, of inserting the short notice I now send in your very first Number, that those labouring under deafness may reap, from the improvement which I have made upon the Ear Trumpet, the advantages which I so unexpectedly enjoy.

Many years ago, in’consequence of a cough of most uncommon severity, an injury was done to some part of the internal structure of my left ear,which completely robbed me of hearing through that organ. Immediately after this accident, I was seized with a tinnitus aurium, which held out the dismal prospect of entire deafness. For this malady, I had recourse to snuff, and its effects upon the tinnitus were soon perceptible. Still, however, the hearing upon the right ear remained obtuse, and extremely contracted my social enjoyments. I applied in every quarter, including his Majesty’s Aurist, for the most improved ear trumpet. From none of these instruments was the most trivial benefit derived.

My thoughts being much employed upon the subject, it occurred to me that every ear-trumpet which had been sent to me conveyed the collected sound through a very small tube, the orifice of which was inserted in the ear ; and now a prospect opened which afforded hope. I immediately ordered an instrument to be constructed, of the fittest block-tin, one end of which included the whole external ear, and the other, (circular also) of larger diameter, collected the sound, which was conveyed by a straight tube, of some capacity, into the ear.

The result was most gratifying, indeed, beyond my most sanguine expectation, enabling me to carry on a conversation with a friend, with the utmost ease to myself, and without exertion to the person addressing me.

It is the establishment of the principle of this improvement upon the  Ear-Trumpet to which I am solicitous to give publicity, leaving to younger men to make experiments upon the length and diameter of the tube, and of other parts of the instrument.

The only attempt towards improvement which 1 made, was the making a transverse section of the smaller circle, so as to approach nearly to the shape of the ear; and, by a little management, it answers my expectation.

With this I transmit a sketch of the instrument I use.

I remain, Mr Editor, with much esteem, your very obedient servant,

Thos. Morison, M.D. Disblair Cottage, Aberdeen, 16th July, 1823.

 

ear trumpet

 

 

* http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/did/19thcent/spv.htm

 

A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson

Opium Eating: The Lincolnshire Fens in the early nineteenth-century

Today’s blog is going to be a sad little tale of a family destroyed by opium in late Georgian England. It perhaps struck us so much because the family lived not in an inner city slum but instead in the flat and open agricultural landscape of the Lincolnshire Fens, a marshland close to the Wash, an estuary on the eastern coastline of England.

We’ll turn first to a newspaper report on the inquest of a child belonging to this family, poor little Rebecca Eason who was actually younger than mentioned; she had not yet reached her fifth birthday.

An inquest was held at Whaplode on the 21st inst., by Samuel Edwards, Gent. coroner, on view of the body of Rebecca Eason, a child aged 5 years, who had been diseased from its birth and was unable to walk or to articulate, and from its size did not appear to be more than a few weeks old:- The mother had been for many years in the habit of taking opium in very large quantities, (nearly a quarter of an ounce in the day), and it is supposed from that circumstance had entailed a disease on her child which caused its death:- it was reduced to a mere skeleton, and had been in that emaciated state nearly from its birth. – Verdict, “Died by the visitation of God, but that from the great quantity of opium taken by the mother during her pregnancy of the said child and of her suckling it, she had greatly injured its health.” – It appeared in evidence that the mother of the deceased had had five children – that she began to take opium after the birth and weaning of her first child, which was and is remarkably healthy – and that her four younger children have all lingered and died in the same emaciated state as the child which was the subject of this investigation. – The mother is under 30 years of age: she was severely censured by the coroner for indulging in so pernicious a practice.

Stamford Mercury, 30th September 1825

For reasons that will perhaps become clear, we’re not going to judge poor addicted Mary Eason. She was quite clearly continuing to take opium despite knowing the effect it was having on her children but we cannot, at this remove, know what induced her first to use the drug, and once addicted very little help would be available to her.

Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier (c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Fenland Scene by J. Lamnier
(c) Rossendale Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

We were surprised to find that the consumption of opium in the Fenland was extremely high in comparison to other areas. Even now large areas of the Fenland appear quite isolated and in the early nineteenth-century there was limited medical assistance for the inhabitants who suffered badly from the ague (malarial fever, often leading to rheumatism), brought on by living in a marshy and largely unhealthy district. In 1867 Dr Hawkins of King’s Lynn informed the readers of the British Medical Journal that Lincolnshire and Norfolk consumed more than half of the opium which was imported into the country.[i]

The fact that these conditions had led to a noticeably high consumption of opium was commented on at the time. `There was not a labourer’s house… without its penny stick or pill of opium, and not a child that did not have it in some form.’ According to an analysis made in 1862, more opium was sold in Cambridgeshire, Lincolnshire and Manchester than in other parts of the country.’ As elsewhere, poppy-head tea had been used as a remedy long before other narcotics were commercially available. Charles Lucas, a Fenland physician, recalled the widespread use of the remedy. `A patch of white poppies was usually found in most of the Fen gardens. Poppy-head tea was in frequent use, and was taken as a remedy for ague… To the children during the teething period the poppy-head tea was often given. Poppies had been grown in the area for the London drug market, where they were used to produce syrup of white poppies; and there had even been attempts made in Norfolk to produce opium on a commercial scale.[ii]

Mary married young, very young given that she was stated (erroneously) to be under the age of thirty years in the September of 1825. Mary was, in fact, probably just on the other side of thirty as she married on the 9th September 1810 at the church of St Mary’s in Whaplode. Her maiden name was Egan and her husband, a labourer (given the location he’d be an agricultural labour), was named Thomas Eason. Mary made her mark on the register of her marriage and the two men who witnessed the ceremony were possibly two of the Church Wardens as they witnessed many marriages in the parish. Their names were Robert Collins and Robert Cook Collins.

So Mary was likely to have been little more than sixteen years of age and the marriage was a hasty one, possibly conducted with encouragement from the parish officials for Mary was heavily pregnant at the time of her wedding. Her child, a daughter named Ann, was born less than two months after she had walked up the aisle and was baptised in the same church on the 4th November 1810.

On the face of it, purely from the records available, things do not look too bad for the couple despite the unpromising start. They lived on Cobgate in Whaplode and, from the account given at the inquest, little Ann was a healthy baby and Mary initially a good mother. But the records belie the true facts. It was after Ann had been weaned that Mary Eason began to take opium.

We can’t know if her hastily made marriage was a happy one (for as the old saying goes, marry in haste and repent at leisure) nor if she was suffering from what would now be diagnosed as postnatal depression after the birth of her child. But begin to take opium she did which was absolutely nothing out of the ordinary in the area in which she lived and where the drug was widely available. It was not unknown for working-class women to dose their infant with poppy-head tea to keep them quiet or to soothe them. Sometimes their own addiction began because they ‘tasted’ the opiates which they gave to their children. Perhaps this is how Mary’s sad story of addiction began? However it came about, now the tragic procession of the baptisms and burials of her children begins to stalk the pages of the parish register.

"Poor child's nurse", child with opium, Punch, 1849 Credit: Wellcome Library, London.
“Poor child’s nurse”, child with opium, Punch, 1849
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

First was William, baptized on the 15th April 1813 and buried just a few months later on the 30th September. He was followed by another girl, Susanna, baptized on the 2nd January 1815 and who lived to see only her first birthday. She was buried on the 13th May 1816. Then comes Sarah, baptized on the 1st November 1816 and possibly, contrary to the inquest, a further child who did survive Mary’s addiction for we have as yet found no corresponding burial for her.

Sarah’s birth was followed by another sister, Elisabeth who was baptized on the 6th December 1818 and buried just over a month later on the 10th January 1819. Then a son named Thomas, baptized on the 4th December 1819 and buried five days later. And next came poor Rebecca, baptized on the 29th December 1820, who somehow miraculously clung to life but failed to grow or develop. Finally the last child we have managed to trace, another son named John who was baptized on the 6th July 1823 and buried on Christmas Eve later that same year.

We’ll be honest here, when we first went hunting through the records for Mary Eason and her children we half expected to see a trail of illegitimate children. But no, Thomas Eason is named on all the baptisms and burials as the father, the address is always Cobgate and his profession does not change. For anyone reading through the Whaplode registers the household looks to be a completely stable one, albeit tinged with tragedy. As we have not judged Mary, neither will we judge Thomas Eason. Again, we have no way of knowing whether he was a kind or a cruel husband or even if he was an opium eater himself, but the mere fact that he had stuck by Mary and that their eldest child was reported, in 1825, to still be healthy, points to him trying his best to hold his troubled home together. Possibly he just got by and did what he could, not knowing what else to do or where to turn to for help?

The Church of St Mary, Whaplode. The east end of the church. © Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.
The Church of St Mary, Whaplode.
The east end of the church.
© Copyright Dave Hitchborne (Geograph) and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons Licence.

At least five infant children belonging to Thomas and Mary Eason now lay in the churchyard at St Mary’s and it seems that they had passed as mere statistics of high infant mortality without the cause of death raising any suspicions, or at least no suspicions which reached the authorities. In the Fenland the rates of infant mortality were even higher than elsewhere, with the use of opium being one of the main causes. But Rebecca’s death in 1825 was different, because of her deformities, leading to the inquest.

After Rebecca’s burial on the 22nd September 1825 when she joined her five siblings in the churchyard Thomas and Mary Eason vanish from the pages of the parish register. We’ve looked for them in later records, hoping to put a happy ending to their lives, but we can find no trace of them or their daughter Ann (and Sarah if she did live). A sad ending for a sad tale of a Fenland family in the early nineteenth century.

Endnotes:

[i] Beccles and Bungay Weekly News, 1st October 1867

[ii] Opium in the Fens

Header image: A View in the Fens; John Leslie Thomson; Perth & Kinross Council

Sir Peter Lalonette and His Fumigation Machine

We would like welcome our latest guest writer  the lovely Geri Walton author of the blog 18th and 19th Centuries  who has very kindly written a fascinating article for us about an eighteenth century cure for venereal disease.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0158

Ancient people believed in the idea that cures could be achieved by providing nourishment through the skin and often used perfume in the form of vapors, known as fumigation. When the bubonic plague ravished Europe, fumigation seemed to be effective in curing it. The idea of fumigation interested Georgian physicians who believed fumigation could be an effective medicinal remedy.

Among those who believed fumigation was a viable medicinal cure was Sir Peter Lalonette (sometimes referred to as Lalouette). Lalonette was, by the late 1700’s, a distinguished doctor and regent of the faculty of Physics at the University of Paris. He also believed the best way to cure venereal disease was by using mercury vapors along with fumigation.

To prove his theories and accomplish his cures, he created a fumigation machine, as shown above. He described the machine as “an oblong square box, in which the patient is shut up.” The patient also sat on a seat that could be raised or lowered to accommodate his or her height. At the bottom of the box a square hole admitted the furnace and a sliding door allowed the mercury powder to be thrown onto the fire to create the vapors. At the top of the box another sliding door accommodated the patient’s head and neck, and, to ensure the vapors were retained in the box, the sliding door was closed around the patient’s neck and a piece of fabric tucked securely around any open spots.

The mercury vapors used were created from one of three unique powders that Lalonette prepared using the purest quality mercury. Lalonette also used a variety of techniques and certain corrosive sublimates to create three powders he called a simple mercurial powder, a martial mercurial powder, and an argillaceous mercurial powder. These three powders supposedly offered different degrees of activity when used in his fumigation machine.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0164

The amount of mercury powder used was proportional “to the violence of the systems, the strength and temperament of the patient, &c.” As a general rule, somewhere between four and six ounces of mercury were considered adequate. Depending on the results, it sometimes required as many as thirty or forty treatments, and treatments needed to be continued until all the disease symptoms disappeared. However, Lalonette also said it was prudent to continue treatments for a short time afterwards “for the sake of greater security.”

Geri blog

Fumigation was normally applied every other day, although it could also be applied up to four days in a row. Fumigation with mercury vapors were given in twelve to fifteen minute doses to nude patients who had fasted. The object of the fumigation was to have the mercury vapors surround the whole body. In addition, patients were also to adhere to a simple regimen that consisted of “mild food, little wine, [and] no spirituous liquors,” along with exercise.

Lalonette’s patients ranged in age from 19 to 42, and suffered a wide variety of venereal disease symptoms. Common symptoms included such things as urethral discharges, buboes (swollen, inflamed lymph nodes), blotchy skin, pustules, or chancres (cankerous sores or ulcerations). Sometimes sufferers experienced violent aches and pains in the stomach, such as twenty-five year old Luke B., who also experienced nausea and violent vomiting. In fact, Luke B. had so many problems, Lalonette refused to allow him to continue with his fumigation cure.

newmethodofcurin00lalo_0170

Some of Lalonette’s other cases were more successful. Louis D. age 23 years, began fumigation on September 4, 1772, having been ill five months. He showed a bubo in the groin area, but was cured by October 21, 1772. A second Louis, Louis B., age twenty-one, suffered from gonorrhea for nine months before he began having a discharge. He then developed blotches on different parts of his body and began Lalonette’s treatments in August 11, 1772. While Louis B was undergoing treatment, a third Louis, Louis M., began treatment in October of the same year. He had suffered for five months with “phymosis, and indurations within the prepuce.” His groin was also swollen and he had an infinite number of blotches on his face and body. In December of 1772, however, Lalonette pronounced both Louis B. and Louis M. cured.

Two other cases also involved gonorrhea. The first case involved a forty-year-old man named Joseph. Four years earlier Joseph had suffered from gonorrhea but thought himself cured. Then he began experiencing pain in his leg, limbs, and finally swelling in his ear and gums. When Lalonette saw him he showed signs of “chancres and a bubo.” After about three months of treatment, Lalonette pronounced him cured. John G, age 26, admitted in August 11, 1772, had two obvious “buboes,” which degenerated into ulcers. He also had a discharge from his urethra and pain in his limbs that increased during the night and prevented him from sleeping. However, by October 21, 1772, he also cured due to fumigation.

Hogarth-Harlot-5

There was, however, one case that Lalonette cautiously reported on involving a twenty-year-old man. His name was Peter D. He had developed gonorrhea two years earlier and not only suffered a urethral discharge but also various “chancres” that appeared all over his body, along with severe pain in his limbs, and “nocturnal pains of the head.” His disposition was noted by Lalonette to be somewhat relieved, but he also added “there are some doubts of his being perfectly cured.”

For the most part, however, Lalonette claimed that after applying his fumigation technique some 400 times, he had achieve miraculous results and wrote a book detailing his successes. It was titled, A New Method of Curing the Venereal Disease by Fumigation. In it he claimed, “I have as yet seen no disagreeable accident from this mode of treatment, and I have constantly observed, that so far from being rendered weaker by it they [the sufferers]…apparently gathered strength during the use of the remedy, and the symptoms have insensibly diminished, till at length they have entirely disappeared.

 

References:

Clarke, Sir Arthur, An Essay on Warm, Cold, and Vapour Bathing, 1820, on Google Books

Lalouette, Sir Peter, A New Method of Curing the Venereal Disease by Fumigation, 1777, on Internet Archive

The Monthly Review; Or, Literary Journal, Vol. LVIII, 1778, on Google Books

18th Century Dentistry

tooth extractor
Pietro Longhi (1702–1785), Il cavadenti (The Tooth Extractor)

Whilst brushing my teeth the other day I found myself wondering what dental care would have been like in the 18th century, so with that in mind I thought it might form an interesting blog.  It’s quite surprising how far we have actually progressed and in other ways how little we have learnt.

Sugar is bad for you!’ A fact that did not escape the attention of one Thomas Berdmore, dentist to King George III, who was regarded as the leading dentist in England and as early as 1768, in what appears to have been the first English dental textbook ‘A treatise on the disorders and deformities of the teeth and gums: explaining the most rational methods of treating their diseases: illustrated with cases and experiments’, he had proclaimed the use of sugar as being bad for teeth!   He was also ahead of his time with his observation: ‘I am inclined to think that smoking is hurtful to the teeth.

L0021862 'Les epoux assortis', after L.L. Boilly, 1825
False teeth, False eye and False hair

Thomas died 7th November 1785, aged a mere 45 years, in Nottingham and in his will he instructed that his epitaph show his fortune had been acquired “by tooth drawing“, but the family had found that too indelicate so here is the substitute at St Mary’s church, Nottingham.

220px-Berdmore

Today we take sugar very much for granted, but we are now very much aware of its harmful effects on the body, less was known of its effects back then and so as it’s usage in the diet increased and with it the risk of tooth decay. Sugar was however, an expensive commodity, there was of course far more chance of decay if you weren’t working class as sugar was mainly an indulgence of the middle/upper classes. The quantity of sugar consumed in Britain increased fourfold[1] from 1700 to 1800, little wonder people needed dentists!

london dentist
A dentist wearing a bag wig stands before an elderly woman in a chair as he works on her teeth. Behind him a younger woman looks on with concern and a young black serving boy grins at the viewer. Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

With today’s technology teeth can be repaired or removed even dentures are not essential with implants now being available to replace those dreaded dentures, all procedures being carried out hygienically and with the aid of anesthetic – ‘you won’t feel a thing’.

French dentist showing a specimen of his artifical teeth and false palates
Image courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Go back in time to the 1700s and the main solution for a painful tooth was extraction … minus the anaesthetic … ouch!  Having your teeth removed really would have been painful as this somewhat earlier painting entitled The Tooth Extractor by Theodor Rombouts demonstrates.

The-Tooth-Extractor-1635-xx-Theodor-Rombouts

If you were wealthy you could opt for the eighteenth-century equivalent of today’s implants and use a ‘donor’ tooth to replace your removed one in which case the choice was a ‘live’ or a ‘dead’ tooth.  The old tooth was removed and the ‘donor’ tooth substituted.  Hmm, now the question you would have to ask yourself was ‘do I really want someone else’s tooth in my mouth?’ Let’s be honest you really don’t know what medical conditions that person could have had, so you really could end up getting far more than you had bargained for!  But, if that didn’t put you off then you could have your ‘new’ tooth inserted into the empty socket and held in place by silver wire and be returned to your usual glamorous looks quite quickly. Advertisements were placed in newspapers for donors with money being good money being paid for your teeth, so if you were short of money it was always an option!

If that option wasn’t up your street or you couldn’t afford it, then the only solutions were to endure the pain, pull the tooth out yourself or have it removed by a dentist/barber.  The favoured method of extraction was to use a ‘key’, we’ll save you the excruciating description of how this worked, but, if it failed to work properly the tooth would break and have to be removed piece by piece. Very much as today dentist had a vast array of implements from pliers to cleaning aids.

Dental-Tooth-Keys
Image courtesy of Phisick
Pelican for tooth pulling
Dental  Pelican for tooth pulling. Courtesy of the Science Museum.

If on the other hand, your teeth were in good condition you might simply wish to maintain them, again the dentist could help with this. They could provide ‘mouth water’ which ‘cured all manner of toothache and pain in the gums proceeding from rotten, hollow or stumps of teeth or scurvy and likewise take away all ill smells of the breath. Price 2d and 6d a bottle’; according to the Evening Post, 30th November 1710.

toothbrush - science museum 1790
1790 toothbrush courtesy of Science Museum

Following on from Thomas Berdmore we had  Jacob Hemet (baptized 26th January 1729 at St Paul’s, Covent Garden) was also responsible for the teeth of Queen Charlotte, the Prince of Wales and Princess Amelia having been appointed to this post in  1766. As well as being a dentist Hemet was also a salesman and patented his dentifrices and travelled around Europe and America to sell his products – quite the entrepreneur.

His uncle, Peter Hemet junior, had also been a dentist with royal connections; he was the dentist to the Prince of Wales and to King George II,  until his death in 1754, so very much a case of keeping it in the family. See our blog about Mrs Lessingham to learn more about the Hemet family.

Dentist
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library
hemet
Pharmaceutical port belonging to Peter Hemet. Courtesy of Fitzwilliam Museum.

Whitehall Evening Post or London Intelligencer, January 10, 1769

Jacob Hemet, dentist to Her Majesty and Princess Amelia begs leave to recommend to the public his newly discovered Essence of Pearl and Pearl Dentifrice which he has found to be greatly superior, not only in elegance, but also in efficacy to anything hither to made use of for the complaints of teeth and gums; particularly they will preserve the teeth in a perfect sound state even in old age. They render them white and beautiful without in the least impairing. Fasten such as are loose; keep such as are decayed from becoming worse; perfectly cure the scurvy in the gums and make them grow firm and close to the teeth; they will likewise render the breath delicately sweet and remedy almost all those disorders that are the consequence of scorbutic gums.

We could not ignore children’s teeth and the London Evening Post of October 28th, 1760 carried an advertisement for an ‘anodyne necklace’ it was a remedy to ‘let out children’s teeth without pain’ i.e. a teething necklace. The reality being that it was a necklace containing henbane roots.

We will leave you with one final snippet of information about dentistry courtesy of Pierre Fauchard, who was regarded as the ‘father of dentistry’ – did you know that Fauchard recommended that human urine be used at the first sign of tooth decay … did it work … we have absolutely no idea, nor do we intend to put it to the test!

Of course, as always a blog would not be complete with our usual Lewis Walpole caricatures, so we’ll finish with one. Wonder how many readers will, having read this go and brush their teeth! The tooth ache or Torment and torture

[1] Ponting, Clive (2000). World History: A New Perspective. London: Chatto & Windus. ISBN 0-7011-6834-X

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.

What a Spectacle! (Part 2)

Following our previous post  What a Spectacle! which looked at the development of spectacles during the Georgian Era, we had a question/observation from a reader regarding portraits of women wearing spectacles – or rather the lack of them.  With that in mind, we have tried, almost in vain to put together a short post to show just women wearing spectacles. To be honest it has proved to be something of a challenge and of course, we thrive on challenges!

There are only a few possible explanations for the lack of images, the first being that of vanity; you wanted to look at your best when having your portrait painted and ‘masking’ the eyes with spectacles or even showing publicly that your eyesight wasn’t quite what it should have been may have been one.  The second explanation is probably that young to middle-aged women simply preferred to use an eyeglass of some sort if they felt their eyesight was lacking or finally that quite simply eye tests as we understand them today simply did not exist in the same way so people didn’t realize how good or bad their eyesight was. Around the 1800s the use of any type of spectacles was a sign of old age and infirmity, so it seems that vanity would most likely have prevented many women from admitting to this!

For ‘ladies of fashion’ the lorgnette was immensely popular.  The picture below shows one invented by George Adams Jr. (1750 – 1795) in the form of a penknife and intended to be carried loose in the pocket. Lorgnettes were developed towards the end of the 1700’s and often took the form of a pair of eyeglasses on a long handle.

Lorgnette
Courtesy of the Museum of Vision

If you preferred something slightly more discrete and more akin to a piece of jewellery then the other option was quizzling glasses which became popular from the early 1800’s.

Quizzers

Moving on to the portraits that we have found and to be honest they seem to confirm our suggestions and only feature the more mature woman.

Our first offering is an oil painting entitled ‘The Sense of Hearing, The Sense of Sound’ by the French artist Philippe Mercier.

The Sense of Hearing, Philippe Mercier.
Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The next is a self-portrait by the Polish artist  Anna Dorothea Therbusch,  painted circa 1777 when she was around 65 years of age.

Anna Dorothea Therbusch, self portrait c.1777.

Our third offering is Ferdinande Henriette, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern, in her later life.

Friederike Charlotte, Countess of Stolberg-Gedern

The next, a caricature entitled ‘ The Mutual Embrace’ courtesy of the British Museum.

The Mutual Embrace

Lastly, there is ‘High Life Below Stairs’ by John Collet, London, England, 1763.

High Life Below Stairs by John Collet, 1763

Unfortunately, despite our best attempts we failed to find any paintings of young women wearing spectacles, so as many of you know our blog posts couldn’t possibly be complete without any caricatures so we offer this one from the Lewis Walpole Library entitled  ‘Heyday! Is this my daughter Anne!‘, yet again depicting an elderly woman accompanied by her daughter who is sporting one of our favourite enormous hairstyles.Heyday Is this my daughter Anne

Cures for Georgian Ailments – well perhaps!

desperate case
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Well, we thought we had heard it all, but seemingly not! We have come across a book from 1745 ‘The Accomplish’d Housewife; or the Gentlewoman’s Companion’  containing the most astounding cures for all illnesses.  Please, please, please do not try these at home; we really will not accept any responsibility for the consequences!

For a Sore Throat

Make a plaister  four inches broad, and so long as to reach from ear to ear, apply it warm to the throat, then bruise houseleek and press out the juice; add an equal quantity of honey, and a little burnt Allum; mix all together, and let the party soften take some on a liquorice stick.

For the Piles

Take Pompilion, flour of Brimstone and Oil of Elder, of each a sufficient quantity, and Mutton suet something more than any of the former, melt them together and anoint the part. If they are inward, cut a piece and put it up.

An Excellent Vomit

Take a quarter of a pound of clear Allum, beat it and sift it a fine as flour; divide it into three parts. Put a quarter of a pint of water into a saucepan and put the biggest paper of Allum in, and let it simmer over the fire, but not boil. Take it off and let it stand till it is blood-warm, drink it off, but take nothing after it, till it has worked once. You may walk about after it has work’d once. Take it three mornings together, or more if occasion requires, till the stomach is clear. This is a very good vomit in all cases.

To know if a child has worms

Take a piece of white lather, and prick it full of holes with a knife, rub it with wormwood and spread honest on it, shrew the Powder of Aloes on it, lay it on the child’s navel when he goes to bed; if he has worms, the plaister will stick, if he has not, it will fall.

To Cure the Cholick

Take the Powder of Yarrow, in a glass of warm wine, and it will give you ease immediately.

medical
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

An Opening Drink

Take Red-Sage, Liverwort, Horehound, Penny Royal, Hyssop, Maiden- hair, two handfuls of each, one pound of figs, one pound of raisins stoned, half a pound of blue currants, coriander seeds, aniseeds, liquorice, of each two ounces. Put all these in two gallons of Spring water, let it boil away two or three quarts, then strain it and when ‘tis cold put it in bottles. Drink half a pint in a morning and as much in the afternoon, keep warm and eat little.

To Stop Looseness

Take the conserve of marigold flowers about the bigness of a nutmeg for three nights; if it does not stop take it in the morning. Take a pound of marigold flowers to a pound and an half of sugar to make the conserve.

For a Looseness

Boil a handful of bramble-leaves in milk, sweeten it with Loaf sugar and drink it night and morning.

doctor
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

For the thrush in children’s mouths

Take a hot sea coal, and quench it in as much spring water as will cover the coal; wash it with this five or six times a day.

For fits of the mother

Take green walnuts and of rue one pound, one pound and a half of figs; bruise the rue and the walnuts, slice the figs into thin slices and lay them between the rue and the walnuts. Distill it off, bottle and keep it for your use. Take a spoonful or two when there is any appearance of a fit.

For the stone in the kidneys

Take oil of olives, two spoonfuls; Daffy’s Elixir four spoonfuls; liquid Laudanum three drops; oil of turpentine twenty drops. Mix them with sugar and take this dose at the beginning of the fit. 

To break a boil

Take some honey and wheat flour, and the yolk of a new laid egg; mix it well together and spread it on a rag and lay it on cold.

Chilblains

Roast a turnip very soft; beat it to mash and apply it as hot as you can bear it to the part affected. Let it lie on two or three days and repeat it two or three times.

doctor turned patient
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

To procure an easy labour

Take half a pound of raisins of the  sun ston’d, half a pound of figs, four ounces of liquorice scrap’d and sliced; aniseeds bruised one spoonful; boil all these in two quarts of spring water till one pint is consum’d  then strain it out and drink a quarter of a pint of it morning and evening, six weeks before the time.

To procure a speedy delivery

Take of borax powder’d half a dram; mix it in a glass of white wine, some sugar and a little cinnamon water; if it does no good the first time, try it again two hours after, so likewise a third time.

To increase milk in nurses

Make a gruel with lentils, let the person drink freely of it, or boil them in posset drink, which they like best.

If our final offering cure works then we’re definitely going to practice our fainting skills!!

Faintings

May proceed from different causes as excess of joy or sorrow; sudden surprises, worms, stubborn heartburn etc and are always dangerous if they come often, without some apparent cause.  Sometimes they are occasioned by a fullness of blood. Those who are subject to them, and women especially  must carefully avoid all sorts of drams; for they afford but temporary relief and cause the distemper to return. Chocolate is much better for them as it will stay within them recruit their spirits and not burn their stomachs.

1775 Influenza Epidemic

With the ‘flu season’ rapidly approaching we thought it might be interesting to look back at how it was dealt with in Georgian England before the advent of vaccines. Most of us have at some stage suffered from influenza although statistics show that in most years relatively few people died as a result of the virus alone however in certain years for some reason there were epidemics causing far more deaths than was the norm – the winter of 1775-1776 being one such occasion.

Weather reports in the newspapers confirm that the winter of 1775-76 was especially severe. The Thames was frozen for some considerable time, this was followed by severe frosts during January and an intensely stormy February. This cold weather could potentially have made it easier for the pandemic to spread* combined with poor housing, sanitation and lack of appropriate of medicines.  During this particular winter it was reported that somewhere in the region of 40,000 people died from the epidemic.

This report in the London Chronicle dated 19th December 1775, on the other hand, is quite amusing – could it have been a typo?? Whilst we shouldn’t mock, this would be quite an interesting to have witnessed the following day!

…a correspondent says, some Gentlemen in a coffee house a few days ago speaking of the present fashionable influenza and how generally people throughout the Kingdom were complaining of being affected by it  – a gentleman lately arriving from Tipperary assured them that it raged more violently in Ireland and was attended with much more fatal consequences, for to his knowledge, for many people who went to bed well at night, got up dead in the morning.

How to treat influenza – well, The Public Advertiser in November was recommending the use of Edinburgh Powder as being the most effective cure for influenza but whether or not it was effective in this we couldn’t possibly confirm or deny.  The Middlesex Journal and Evening Advertiser of the 25th November 1775 reported that two-thirds of the city of  Dublin had influenza or ‘epidemical cold’ so presumably it wasn’t working for the people of Dublin.

Edinburgh Powder - Morning Chronicle 4th February 1777

We also came across another remedy in the newspapers –  ‘Daffy’s Elixir’  that was highly recommended as a cure for influenza and was especially beneficial for the nobility and gentry.

This product was regarded as being a ‘cure for all ills‘, the reality was, that it given its ingredients of aniseed, brandy, fennel seed, jalap, parsley seed, raisin and senna amongst other things – it was more likely to cure constipation rather than influenza!

Quacks Confession on death bed
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

Weeks later a newspaper that the epidemic was raging across the country, but most curiously that the Isle of Thanet, one of the healthiest places to live in the country was severely suffering, so much so that ‘the parson was sick, the clerk was sick and a large part of the parishioners were also sick, that it was judged expedient to shut up the church for the day and to leave the good people at home to pray for each other.’   Reports also mentioned physician John Fothergill was reported to have seen around 60 patients per day during the epidemic. By the end of February 1776 reports in the newspapers ceased, so presumably, the epidemic was over and Spring on its way.

Dr John Fothergill (1712-1780) by Gilbert Stuart
Dr John Fothergill (1712-1780) by Gilbert Stuart

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080330203401.htm

 

What a spectacle!

glasses
Lewis Walpole Library

If you are fortunate enough to have good vision then spectacles are not something you may give a second thought to. Looking at some many Georgian images and reading so many old newspapers it suddenly occurred to us that we hadn’t written about spectacles, so time to correct that.

John Cuff, Master of the Spectacle Makers's Company, by Johann Zoffany, 1772 (Royal Collection)
John Cuff, Master of the Spectacle Makers’s Company, by Johann Zoffany, 1772 (Royal Collection)

Spectacles had been around for some considerable time before the Georgian era, but they were predominantly the pince-nez type such as these

pince nez
Lewis Walpole Library

It is thought that around 1730 Edward Scarlett, optician to their Royal Highnesses,  of Dean Street, Soho changed the design of spectacles forever with his unique idea of producing spectacles of differing strengths and with ‘arms’.  Although many reports indicate that it this happened around 1730 The Daily Journal of the 20th May 1724 reported that he already started to use this technique of  ‘fitting spectacles to weak eyes by the focal length of the glass’ much earlier.

Edward had an illustrious career being appointed as the optician to King George in 1727, he died at his home on Macclesfield Street, St Ann’s aged 84 in December 1778 and was buried on Christmas Eve.

GBPRS-WSMTN-5109303-00570

titlepage

Spectacles could be purchased over the counter in the way you can buy reading glasses in the local pharmacy etc., or he could grind them to your specification, similar to the way you would buy them today from an optician. Until this time spectacles were simply designed for either the young or the old – not very scientific! The frames were made mainly of whalebone , tortoiseshell and horn as these materials were immensely strong and flexible.

optical
Lewis Walpole Library

It took about another 30 years before the advent of what we would today know as bi-focals, these were mainly designed for artists so that they could see their subject in the distance and their canvas close-up with relative ease.   The Venetians were always at the forefront in design and it was they who produced the first sunglasses using coloured glass. These proved to be very popular with celebrities of the day and so naturally everyone with an interest in the latest fashion followed suit.

NPG 412; Hannah More by Henry William Pickersgill
Hannah More (holding her spectacles in a case) by Henry William Pickersgill. National Portrait Gallery

Had you noticed that there are relatively few portraits from the Georgian era depicting people wearing glasses, could this be the reason?

According to the Lady’s Magazine of 1802:

In the last century, to wear spectacles was regarded as an unequivocal mark of wisdom. The nose which bore them was always that of an informed person. the eyes to which they transmitted the softened rays of light were supposed to have been dimmed by much reading and the head which they decorated and to which they imparted a certain venerable air must of course have been occupied by profound meditation and study.

With that last thought in mind,  it seems highly unlikely that this is what spectacles in any shape or form, were ever intended to be used for!

Bare breasts
Lewis Walpole Library

As this blog proved to be popular we have written a follow up to it  What a Spectacle (Part 2).