Monday, 21 October 2013

A walk through the ages in Hambeldon: An English village.

Hambeldon is a small village near Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, situated in a wooded valley between Marlow and Henley-on-Thames. The name Hambledon derives from the old English words hamel, dun and means 'crooked or irregularly-shaped hill':

With the aid of the ‘No Through Road: The AA Book of Country Walks’ (1976) we began our walk at the Stag and Huntsman Inn (known as the Dog and Badger until 1820), taking a 4.5 mile route through the village and surrounding woods and farmlands. Using an out of date map added an edge to the walk when instructions based on landmarks have changed over the intervening 37 years.

Our instruction sheet offered thirteen notes on directions and seven points of interest (A-G): this is how we got on.

1.            Turn left through village. Pass church, keeping pump on left, and follow lane right. For Manor House and new cemetery, turn right before church, then retrace steps.

The village pump.
Point of interest A: The Old Rectory, built in 1724, probably on the site of an older manor house occupied by the Earls of Mercia, Queen Matilda, King John (as Earl of Gloucester) and Gilbert, Earl of Clare, who was one of the signatories of Magna Carta. Thomas Cantilupe was born here in 1218 and became Bishop of Hereford, Chancellor of England and was the last pre-Reformation saint.

Point of interest B: The centre of the village includes a cluster of brick and flint cottages, about 200 years old, and topped with dormer windows and red tiles. In 1315 a Royal charter was granted to hold a market in the village, and a fair on St Bartholomew's Day (August 24) every year. [The village is little changed over time and was used as a setting for the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and for TV’s Midsummer Murders]. 

Brick and flint cottage.

Point of interest C: The flint and stone built Manor House was built in 1603 by Edmund Scrope, Earl of Sunderland. Charles I stayed there overnight in 1646 while fleeing from Oxford. Nevertheless, two Hambleden men, Adrian Scrope and Robert Deane were signatories on his death warrant three years later. The house passed into the hands of W.H. Smith, of bookshop fame, and his widow was created Viscountess Hambleden in 1891.
The Manor House was reportedly sold for £38 million in 2007. A word of warning: our walk took place on 17th October, in the midst of a pheasant shoot based at the Manor House. The valley rang with gun-shot as pheasants took to the air and birds of prey circled round searching for the kill.

View of church and manor house.

Point of interest D: New Cemetery is the final resting place of W.H. Smith, who died in 1891. This lych-gate is a memorial to him.

Point of interest E: St Mary’s Church made of brick and flint dates from the 14th century. In the north transept is this conspicuous memorial to Cope D'Oyley (who died in 1633) his wife, and their ten children.

The south transept has a 15th century oak carved altar screen, known as the Wolsey Alter, because it is said to have been carved from the foot and head boards from Cardinal Wolsey’s bed. Other items of note include a crucifix from Oberammergau in Bavaria; a rare triple sedilla in the chancel (a seat used by priests); the ceiling is quite intricately decorated in parts; and  the tower contains eight bells.

On the northwall of the nave is a tablet to Francis Gregory, a former rector, who died in 1682.
2.            Ignore footpath sign before bridge, but cross stile at sign after bridge. Bear left to top of field and over stile on to the road.

3.            Turn right along road for 200 yds.

4.            By house on bend, turn left up track.

5.            Straight ahead up-hill through trees, keeping parallel with field on right.

6.            Cross stile and bear right.

7.            Over stile and turn left into field, through gate and across next field into wood.

8.            Bear right at fork 40 yds inside wood.
Point of interest F: Great Wood, a mixed wood of beech, oak, yew, larch and conifers.

9.            At conifer plantation, turn left. Keep left at fork after ¼ mile.

10.          Turn left in valley, for 1 ½ miles.

 This is where we got lost, probably because we underestimated the distance, and followed our tracks back the way we came. Had we carried on, this is what we would have seen.

 11.          About 40 yds after house turn left.

Point of interest G: Viewpoint. Greenlands. The current house was built on the site of a house owned by the D’Oyley family in the 17th century.In the early 19th century the house was rebuilt by Thomas Darby-Coventry and sold  in 1868 to William Henry Smith, the son of  W H Smith. He extended the building and Jerome K. Jerome described it in Three Men in a Boat (1889) as ‘the rather uninteresting-looking river residence of my newsagent.’ The house is currently the home of Henley Business School.

Henley Business School.
Views from here are of the Thames as it flows downstream to Hambleden Lock and the weather-boarded Hambleden Mill (dating from 1338). Hambleden was the site of a mill in 1086 when the Domesday Book was being written. [The mill and lock were also mentioned by Jerome K. Jerome]. The large gabled Tudor building on the left is Yewden Manor, named after its yew trees and the Saxon word den, meaning valley. [Actually, Yewden Manor dates from the 13th century and was rebuilt during the 16th century].
Hambleden Lock and Mill

The remains of the Roman villa, Yewden Villa, was excavated in 1912, by A H Cocks, a former curator of the Buckinghamshire County Museum.  The site produced a high number of iron styli (pens for writing on wax tablets), drying kilns and a very high number of infant burials (97 infants). Examination of the skeletons by Dr Simon Mays of English Heritage has revealed that the infants almost all died around the time of birth, suggesting this may be an example of deliberate infanticide: this was legal in Roman times if the baby was born to a female slave. Speculation continue of babies as to whether this was the site of a Roman brothel, or evidence of Hambleden as an Imperial supply depot, with a high number of female workers.
12.          Follow main path along fringe of wood.

13.          At fork, just before houses, keep left on upper track. At wooden posts, bear right down to village.

We have followed a number of walks detailed in this book and one thing that has been universally reliable has been the standard of the pubs from which each walk commences and, of course, ends. The Stag and Huntsman was no disappointment and had the benefit of being a dog friendly pub, so all our needs were catered for.

 The Stag and Huntsman.
Unless marked otherwise, all images are the authors.
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Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Wondering about a ‘lost’ author: The MS. In a Red Box (1903) John Lane, The Bodley Head London & New York.


In 1980 I was holidaying in Brixham, Devon and came across a second impression of this book in a second-hand book shop. It is a historical novel which begins its tale on10 May 1627 and is set in the marshes of Lincolnshire around the ‘Isle of Axholme’. Apart from being a lovely book to both handle and read, I was intrigued by the opening dedication:

This Work Is Dedicated To Its Unknown Author
                      By The Publisher

Extracts from the ‘Publisher’s Note’:

One day in April last a parcel was sent to the Bodley Head. On being opened it was found to contain a MS. in a red box, without an accompanying letter, without title, author’s name, or address.

According to the usual course it was then sent to the publisher’s reader, who reported on it with enthusiasm; meanwhile there had been no inquiry from the author, and the publisher read it for himself, and fully endorsed the opinion of his literary adviser.After some discussion, the following advertisement was inserted in the pages of The AthenÅ“um and The Academy:-

                                   To Authors
              Notice, -               If the Writer of a
                      Historical Novel, without Title,
              Author’s Name, or Address, sent some
              weeks ago to the Bodley Head in a
              Red Box, will communicate with the
              Publisher, he will hear of something to
              his advantage.
                                                 JOHN LANE.
                      Vigo Street, London, W.
  After a month or so, when no one had claimed it as their work, it was decided to go ahead and publish the book under the title ‘The MS. in a Red Box’. It is likely that the publishers did not wait very long before printing the book because they wanted to maximise potential sales following the interest aroused by that publicity.

For the last 30 years I have been under the mistaken belief that the story ended there. This morning, when looking for something to read, I pulled the book down from the top shelf and thought it would be interesting to see what the internet could offer on the subject. I was surprised, and not a little disappointed, to discover that the author was subsequently discovered to be one John Arthur Hamilton. My disappointment was marginally assuaged when I discovered that an identical copy of the book is currently on offer on an internet site for £85. Not a bad potential return on a 20p investment.
What I would like to find out is: how and when John Arthur Hamilton was identified as the author. Any insights would be very welcome.

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Thursday, 10 October 2013

October's Writer of the Month, The National Archives: Dr Kathleen Chater, 'Researching Untold Histories: Black people in England and Wales during the period of the British slave trade, c.1660-1807'.

Dr Chater's use of the term ‘black people’ included people of both African and Asian origin, since no distinctions are made in the records.

A brief history of slavery and the UK:
·         1562-1567 Captain John Hawkins made three slave trading journeys to Africa. [He captured over 1200 Africans and sold them as goods in the Spanish colonies in the Americas].
·         1600–1858 East India Company chartered by Queen Elizabeth I for trade with Asia.
·         1606-1775 Poor, native, Scots could be bound in service during their lives, fixed to their places of employment, and sold with the works to which they belonged, while a large number were sent to the colonies, often against their will.
·         1618-1672 a number of companies were formed to trade with Africa.
·         1672-1698 Royal African Company was formed to undertake the English slave trade. It was formed under a royal charter and gave a monopoly to the port of London.
·         1765 Granville Sharp’s interest in slavery began after he befriended Jonathan Strong, a slave who had been badly beaten by his master. Sharp took a successful case to the lord mayor and Strong was freed.
·         1772 ruling by Lord Chief Justice William Mansfield concluded that slave owners could not legally force slaves to return to the colonies once they were in England, since slavery was not permitted under English law.

Jekyll. J. Letters of the late Ignatius Sancho. - An African to which are prefixed Memoirs of his life, Dawsons of Pall Mall: London (1968).

Famous black men included Gustavus Vassa (1745-1797) a prominent African involved in the British movement for the abolition of the slave trade; Ignatius Sancho (c. 1729 – 1780) a composer, actor, and writer; and Francis Barber(1735-1801) a slave who became a businessmen and teacher. Early references to ‘ordinary’ black people in England appear in works of art and literature, such as Hogarth’s illustrations and the diary of Samuel Pepys. Dr Chater’s interest is in the more mundane lives of ordinary people.
Dr Chater comes to this subject with a background as a researcher for the BBC and genealogist, and those influences came through quite strongly. She posed the question, ‘What was life like for the ‘average’ black person in England?’ To which she gave the answer that most were quietly getting on with their lives, working, getting married, raising families and taking part in similar every day activities. She challenged a 1970’s style, Marxist, view which, she stated, commonly made negative assumptions about the lives of black people in England during the period of the British slave trade. She argued that while academics take a view and find individuals who illustrate it, as a researcher, she prefers to find the individuals first and see what view that illustrates.
I took the point she was trying to make, that some black people led ordinary lives in England and were integrated in their communities. However, the examples she gave to support her argument seemed naive. She asserted that finding evidence of black people in the records is difficult because colour was not important. For example, settlement records refer to the colour of a person’s skin, not because colour was relevant, but as evidence that a person was an incomer to a community and not entitled to benefit from the poor laws in that parish. She then argued that when a person gained settlement through employment, etc., colour was no longer relevant to the community and is no longer mentioned. In another example, she asserted that a black man working as a greengrocer in Clapham, home of many abolitionists, was ‘happy’ in that community. Another black man who left a significant sum of money in his will, in excess of that left by her upholster ancestor, must have been ‘happy with his lot’. Dr Chater appeared to suggest that the fact that black men and women married, had children (not necessarily with partners of the same colour), dispersed to all parts of the country, and produced a long line of descendants, was evidence of their being integrated and accepted in society. Likewise, she offered the evidence of a black man who died in suspicious circumstances as the subject of a coroner’s inquest, and the presence of black men and women as defendants, prosecutors and witnesses in the law courts, as evidence that they were ‘treated’ the same as white people in the community.  She gave the example of Captain John Sutherland, commander of a British armed transport ship, who killed his cabin-boy in 1801 and was convicted on the evidence of a black witness. 
Dr Chater’s thesis question was, ‘What was life like for the average black person in England and Wales during the period of the British Slave Trade?’ Anyone who has worked with the media will be aware of pressure on researchers to give an opinion about ‘what people felt’. I would argue that it is not possible to ‘know’ what any black person felt about the position they found themselves in, or how those they lived with felt about them. Feelings and emotions cannot be assumed, whatever the class or colour of the person appearing in the record books, unless they left a diary or letters behind which expresses their views.
I have to confess that I haven’t read Dr Chater’s published works on this subject and it is possible that she articulates her arguments more clearly there.
Her PhD thesis is published as: Untold Histories: Black People in England and Wales during the period of the British slave trade c. 1660-1812 (Manchester University Press, 2009).
She recommended: Peter Fryer, Staying Power. The History of Black People in Britain (Pluto Press, 1984).

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Wednesday, 9 October 2013

Medicine and Mortality, 1300-1900: ‘Written in our bones?’, Weald and Downland Museum (21-22 September 2013).

Natasha Powers, Head of Osteology and Research Co-ordinator at Museum of London Archaeology, presented a paper, ‘Written in our bones?’ Her talk focussed on three sites in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, excavated between 2004 and 2010, where groups of Baptists, Roman Catholics and Nonconformists were buried between 1820 and 1854. It is possible to extract evidence of health and disease in the nineteenth century from human remains that we can't get from documentary sources. Acute diseased, such as the plague, are not discernible from the processes used: DNA testing would provide such evidence but is currently too expensive for large sample testing. However, a mass burial does provide evidence of an epidemic.
The burial site at the Catholic Mission of St Mary and St Michael was only used for eleven years. Many of the graves were for Irish immigrants who arrived during the period of the Irish famine (1845-1852). Many bodies found appear to have been dressed in their ‘Sunday best’ and buried in stacks over a wide time-frame (from coffin plates), in graves up to 4 metres deep. It appears that 62 per cent of the bodies are of sub-adults, with the peak of deaths in the one year age group.
From nicotine on men’s teeth it is possible to tell that one-quarter of men smoked a clay pipe. The same men had a lower average age at death that non-smokers, while lesions on the rib cage indicate that the smokers had a higher than average rate of chest infections. This information provides evidence of health but not the cause of death. The introduction of refined sugars was another factor in reducing dental health of the population. Dental plates for the rich were available from the mid-eighteenth century and were made from ivory and human teeth and springs were attached to the plates to keep them in place, although they would have been very uncomfortable.


George Washington’s dentures. Image @Samuel D. Harris National Museum of Dentistry, Baltimore

Child health is also reflected in dental records. One-third of children suffered from ‘Bottle Caries’, i.e., severe tooth decay in infants or young children caused by bacteria found on a bottle or comforter held in the mouth. Children of all classes were put with wet nurses, some of whom would have been given milk substitutes. In addition, because babies were ‘swaddled’ and kept out of the light to avoid them looking like peasants, many children suffered from rickets through vitamin D deficiency (lack of exposure to sunlight/ultraviolet light). Rickets caused bones to soften and mineralise, so that the body weight caused the bones in the legs to bow. There was no sign of rickets in the adult remains, which raises questions as to whether any children survived to adulthood in. this community who suffered from the disease. [The discovery of vitamin D and the identification of the properties of cod-liver oil in the prevention and treatment of rickets by the 1930s made it possible to treat children]. However, the cemetery in Bow showed a high death rate at birth, in which case the process of birth was the greatest risk for infants.
Unclaimed bodies were found in graves at the London Hospital, Whitechapel, where bodies were used for dissection and anatomy. However, when Sir William Blizzard opened the medical school he gave instructions for the burial of remains in coffins with proper east/west burial traditions. Although patients with syphilis were banned from general hospitals, the London Lock Hospital [opened 31 January 1747] was the first venereal disease clinic and the first of the Lock Hospitals developed for the treatment of syphilis. The disease might not be detected until between 2 and 10 years after infection. It went through 3 stages in which the tertiary stage caused skeletal changes which are evident in the corpses found.

For more information see

This is the last of six blogs in which I hope to have given a flavour of the topics covered at the conference on Medicine and Mortality.

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Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Medicine and Mortality, 1300-1900: ‘Healing traditions, 1700-1900’, Weald and Downland Museum (21-22 September 2013).

Owen Davies presented a paper ‘Healing traditions, 1700-1900’: He is a professor of Social History at the University of Hertfordshire, currently exploring the curative powers of the criminal corpse in European magic and medicine.

Pliny the Elder’s ‘The Natural History’ is an early encyclopedia, [c.AD 77–79] which became a model for later scholarly works as a result of the breadth of its subject matter. His work follows Galenic theories and shows that the use of corpses in early medicine was widespread, as was the use of ground bones in medical preparations, and he reported on the drinking of blood of Gladiators who died in combat (apparently a cure for epilepsy).

Paracelsus [Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, 1493-1541] was a German-Swiss intellectual who tried to break out of Galenic theories and used experiments to test his theories. His significant contribution was his focus on chemicals as curatives, albeit within the ‘humoral’ theory. [He is credited with coining the terms ‘gas’, ‘chemistry’, and ‘alcohol’ and as  founder of the discipline of toxicology]. He was also interested the occult, astral forces, neoplatonism and interconnected forces.
During the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, mummies were thought to have curative powers as mummified bodies were brought back from Egypt and Arabia. Paracelsus was amongst those who experimented with embalming bodies to use in medicines. However, one of the problems for physicians was how to obtain a corpse for research purposes. The bodies of executed prisoners were available to English physicians and their use less likely to cause a moral dilemma in society. From medieval to early-modern times, the sweat of a recently executed body was thought to be particularly potent, with curative powers. Similar beliefs existed (particularly in Scandinavia and Germany) in respect of the blood of a criminal corpse, though the practice of hanging in England made this less relevant here. Similarly, European beliefs included the hidden properties of the skull, as did skull moss and the teeth of an executed prisoner.
One tradition that survived the longest concerned the power of the human hand. The ‘Hand of Glory’ is a severed hand from an executed criminal that was dried and then pickled in salt and other chemicals to preserve it. The hand was then enclosed around a candle or the fingers turned into macabre wicks. It was believed that when it was lit, it could open doors and locks and put people into a deep sleep or paralyse them. In the south-east of England it was believed that the hand of a recently executed person was a cure for a goitre: a person suffering from that complaint could be led to the scaffold and the hand of the recently deceased placed upon the goitre. Ordinary people continued to believe in such cures, even though by the eighteenth century it had been ridiculed by the medical profession.


The gallows and the hangman were imbued with all sorts of magical and healing powers, so that people desired the hang man’s rope or splinters of wood from the gallows. The hangman was also imbued with magical powers so that the execution continued to be a public spectacle Davies referred to Thomas Hardy’s ghost story, ‘The Withered Arm’, [the central character Gertrude has mysterious marks on her arm which cause it to wither. She is told that that the only cure is to touch the neck of a newly hanged man which will ‘turn’ the blood and cure her withered arm. Gertrude visits the local hangman who agrees to help her and the story ends with Gertrude touching the neck of a recently hanged man]. 

William Harvey's research, through the dissection of animals, enabled him to understand the circulation of blood. [He revealed his findings at the College of Physicians in 1616, and in 1628 published Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus 'An Anatomical Study of the Motion of the Heart and of the Blood in Animals']. Incremental changes in scientific and medical theory occurred during the eighteenth century, so that it moved on from the humoral theories.

I can’t remember if it was Ian Mortimer or Owen Davies whose contribution included a remedy for TB which involved the boiling of blind puppies, having first removed several internal organs (probably for some equally dire curative), and having the patient soak in the liquor produced. To ward off any chills from bathing the patient should first wrap the skin of a kid (as in goat) around the patient’s chest. Makes perfect sense!

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Monday, 7 October 2013

Medicine and Mortality, 1300-1900: ‘The Time Traveller's Guide to Fatal Illnesses, 1348-1798’

Where: Weald and Downland Museum (21-22 September 2013).

The subject of medicine was covered in three interesting papers, covering: The Time Traveller's Guide to Fatal Illnesses, 1348-1798’ (Ian Mortimer, amongst many other things, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and recipient of the Alexander Prize (2004) for his work on the social history of medicine); ‘Healing traditions, 1700-1900’ (Professor Owen Davies, University of Hertfordshire); and ‘Written in our bones?’, what we can learn from archaeology and skeletal remains (Natasha Powers, Head of Osteology and Research Co-ordinator at Museum of London Archaeology).

‘The Time Traveller's Guide to Fatal Illnesses, 1348-1798’: Ian Mortimer, amongst many other things, is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, and recipient of the Alexander Prize (2004) for his work on the social history of medicine. His is a particularly entertaining speaker and well worth hearing when the next opportunity arises.

 ‘If you were ever offered the chance to visit the past, you should decline on medical grounds’. (Mortimer)

Mortimer discussed the range of truly terrible diseases to be caught from such a journey, beginning with the plague years of 1348-1665; sixteenth-century epidemics that struck England, such as the sweating sickness, influenza, smallpox; and the introduction of syphilis (French pox) to the country. Mortimer described the symptoms of such diseases; considered how society reacted when epidemic took hold; and who was available to offer help. He discussed medical issues that have persisted throughout history, such as complications in childbirth, and how responses changed from a time of almost complete incapability to one of strategic and positive action. Mortimer examined ways in which the landscape of human illness has altered over time, showing how both medicine and the diseases themselves were subject to change.
In 1179 the third Lateran Council forbad clerics from drawing blood, even though they were the most educated men in society, which would have an adverse effect on advances in medical knowledge during this period. Had members of the church ben able to ‘cut’ it is more likely that ideas on the cleanliness of wounds would have been better understood through the dissemination of knowledge amongst the literate few. Arabic medicine was ahead of us and their knowledge travelled into southern Spain during the ninth and tenth centuries. Only in the twelfth century did it permeate to Western Europe, when translated into Latin.
Before the plague reached England in 1348 the most feared disease was leprosy (Hansen's disease). Its cause was misunderstood, since there was a 3-5 year incubation period, and it was believed to be a venereal disease. There was no known cure and lepers were banished to isolation houses and towns. No physician would help a person with leprosy during the fourteenth century and, even if they had been willing, there were only about 12-24 trained physicians in the country. Most people relied on the assistance of barber surgeons or older/experienced women in the community. Mortimer estimates that between 10 and 20 per cent of medical remedies depended on ground-up animal parts, while blood-letting was used as both a cure and a preventative course of treatment. 

Another ‘killer’ was tuberculosis (TB). It was mistakenly believed that those who suffered from TB were immune from leprosy. TB was transmitted by spittle and could remain active in dust particles for weeks. Also known as ‘scrofula’ or ‘consumption’, TB was believed to be curable by the laying-on of the King’s hand.
Galenic theories of the four humours and corresponding temperaments were still relevant, with no understanding of germ theory. [Galen, AD 129– c. 200/ c. 216].

Image source:

It is almost impossible to imagine the impact of the plague in 1348. It is estimated that 35% of the population died over a seven month period, although that figure is being revised upwards through more recent research. It is possible that, in some areas, between 50 and 62 per cent of the population died, i.e., a mortality-rate 150 times greater than during the Second World War. As a result, people had to think differently about ‘divine punishment’. The King of France ordered a commission to discover the cause of the plague, although it was not unto 1814 that the cause was identified. There are two type of plague, Pneumonic and Bubonic. It was the former that struck in 1348, it had an incubation period of between 1-6 days and death followed between 1-2 days after the onset of the symptoms. As Mortimer observed, that society did not break down at this time is a tribute to the resilience and co-operation of the people that remained.
With no understanding of the importance of good sanitation, dysentery or flux, was a common killer. It is estimated that of the 15,000 men present at Agincourt, 2,500 died of dysentery – and they were only there a month! Even in normal circumstances, life expectancy during the medieval period was 21 years. Of those who reached their 21st birthday there was a 50 per cent chance of reaching 40 years of age and a 20 per cent of getting to age 60.
Medical practice had fundamentally changed by the Tudor/Stuart period. Before 1512, the licensing of physicians and surgeons was under the control of the bishops. Although the pursuit of religious and medical knowledge was interlinked, during this period more scientific attitudes developed. In 1518 the College of Physicians was created in the City of London and in 1523 across the whole country. By 1600 the majority of physicians qualified from colleges in Oxford, Cambridge and Leiden. At the same time, advances in printing allowed the circulation and application of new ideas. From the 1530’s Italian publications appeared on subjects such as syphilis, disease, contagion and ideas on infection of the plague through the air, fomites and by direct means, although not necessarily applied to other diseases.
Nevertheless, in 1563 17,000 people in London (one-quarter of its population) died of the plague, while, this age of exploration introduced new diseased; the last indigenous case of leprosy in the British Isles was recorded in 1798; and TB killed on average 1 in 5 people in towns. 
Sweating sickness was a strange illness which came to this country with Henry VII, with recorded outbreaks in 1485, 1502, 1517, 1552 and never heard of again. When it struck there was a 30 to 50 per cent mortality rate. By the 1500’s, syphilis had also reached Britain. People understood how it was transferred but one strain of the disease at this period could kill within a few weeks of infection. Overtime its virulence slowed down. As with a number of diseases, treatment for syphilis involved mercury. It was thought to be an effective, if dangerous, treatment and mercury might be applied through bathing in it, ingesting it, or inserting it through one or other of the human orifices.
Influenza first appeared on these shore by 1550, with a severe outbreak between 1557 and 1559 which killed between 1 in 12 of the population.
Typhus (gaol fever) had probably existed in earlier times but metamorphosed over time, so that by 1577 an outbreak of typhus at the Oxford Assizes killed over 300 people, including Sir Robert Bell, Lord Chief Baron of the Exchequer.  [I should also mention that typhus caused the death of the Lord Chief Baron, High Sheriff, sergeant, and hundreds of others at the Lent Assizes for Taunton in 1730]. The suggested treatment for typhus in 1617 advocated by physician, John Hall (son-in-law of William Shakespeare), was an emetic infusion using laudanum to induce a series of 12 vomits.
It is estimated that by 1680, 55 per cent of the population paid for medical help. This shift in the medicalization society by the end of the seventeenth century was due to advancements in medicines prescribed by physicians and dispensed by apothecaries. Mortimer went on to discuss problems in childbirth and advancements in safe delivery with the introduction of forceps by the Chamberlen family, discussed in one of my earlier blogs:

Malaria became the biggest killer in world history. During the seventeenth century there were outbreaks in Kent, Lincolnshire, Essex and Norfolk. In the 1630’s it was discovered that Jesuit or Peruvian bark produced an effective treatment by the extraction of quinine, which was first marketed in the UK in 1658 and used successfully to treat Charles II. In this country the eradication of malaria was achieved through land drainage schemes. [There is an interesting link to the search for the discovery of a cheaper/synthetic form of quinine and the discovery of an effective purple/mauve dye in the last programme in the recent series, Science Britannica:]

Small pox is another example of a disease which changed over time. In 1561 a small pox epidemic (variola minor) killed about 30 per cent of those affected and left its survivors scarred. By 1630 it had changed to the more dangerous strain of variola major and after 1655 it took the place of the plague as the most feared epidemic. In 1717 Lady Wortley Montagu (wife of the British ambassador in Turkey) noted the local practice in Constantinople of deliberately stimulating a mild form of the disease through inoculation, which conferred immunity. Lady Montagu persuaded Princess Caroline to test the treatment. [ I additionally mention in this connection that seven condemned prisoners awaiting execution were offered the chance to test the inoculation procedure: they all survived and were released. Six orphan children were also inoculated and they all survived]. In 1722 King George I allowed Princess Caroline to have her two children inoculated. In 1798 Edward Jenner was able to convince the Royal Society of the effectiveness of a serum he created from cattle (cow pox) and which could be used successfully on humans.
Whooping cough and measles were killer diseases in childhood: third- and fourth- century records from Rome describe a series of serious outbreaks of measles. [Unfortunately, measles is making an unwelcome return to the UK following ungrounded concerns on vaccine safety].
For everyday pains, people with money relied on opium (imported since the mid-fourteenth century) as a form of pain relief: the poor relied on wine. I’m off for a glass of wine having transcribed my notes: somehow Ian Mortimer covered all this in a 45 minute talk: I only hope I have reported his paper accurately.

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