Medicine is a constantly evolving practice. From Aristotle to the NHS, we have always relied on remedies and cures. This online exhibition explores the changing nature of medicine and illness in Yorkshire between 1700 up to World War Two. From common colds to cholera, discover the history of medicine through the archives. As the world recovers from a global pandemic, investigate the rich texture of lives since buried with the West Yorkshire Archive Service.
Medieval theories about the body and medicine lasted well into the 18th century. Balance of the four humours (blood, black bile, yellow bile and phlegm) was necessary for a healthy body. According to classical philosophers, these four humours were linked to the natural elements. These were fire, earth, water and air. These were the foundation of medicine for hundreds of years. Whenever illness struck, it was believed to be caused by an excess of one type of humour. Open to the world, the body was often imagined as a sponge. It was vulnerable to outside disease. Bad air from standing marshes or pits of rubbish could seep into the body and unbalance it.
Seeking treatment for an aching tooth or broken arm was a little different than going to the dentist or hospital today. It’s often described by historians as the ‘medical marketplace’. This is because there was such a variety of people to see. Since the early eleventh century, there was a difference between surgeons and physicians. Barber-surgeons trained through experience. Focused on the outside of the body, barber-surgeons were often specialists in certain kinds of craft. This included operations like couching cataracts or healing hernias. It wasn’t until the late seventeenth century that there was a shift from amateur to professional medicine.
Physicians were a little different. Rather than specialising, they developed a broad knowledge of medicine and the inner body. They studied for years at great universities like Bologna, Paris and Padua. They studied the classical writings of Galen and Aristotle alongside subjects like law and philosophy. On top of these were apothecaries, known for their herbal remedies. Like barber-surgeons, apothecaries trained people through apprenticeships and guild memberships. There were also itinerants, people who wandered from town to town offering their services.
In theory, physicians, surgeons and apothecaries were very different groups. In practice, the separation of responsibilities often broke down. This was because of an ever-increasing competition for patients. Licensed professionals were also threatened by other healers, itinerants and quacks. Medical care could often be very expensive. Because of this, many families often tried to treat their ailments within their household. Families often made their own medicines with ingredients found in gardens and wild spaces and the apothecary shops.
18th century, Uses of Plants (WYW1352/1/4/30/20)
Anonis ononis Bovis anonis Spinosa the root Boiled in water or vinegar water .. solution for the mouth highly com[m]ended against tooth achs and the exulercate Gums of Scorbutic.Aquilegia, aquilegia Silverstrus columbiana, the water is an excellent anti Scorbutic for renderrin the Gums firm if used as a sollution. Chelodonium minus Scrophularia pile worms it is greatly comend it for the Scurvy more Especially that in the mouth, it is reckoned a strengthener of the Gums and a great preserver of the teeth, the Roots and Liver
Portulaca latifolia Sativa, purslane the Juice is astringent and very good to wash the Gums when affected with a Gangrene.
The aqua camphorate of Quincy good to keeps the Gums clean and firm to teeth if they are frequently rubbed with it.
Acetosa Vulgaris Sorrel if it is used recent it Carries of the putrefaction of the Gums and assise the Loose Teeth
Barbarea flore Jimplici winter crosses the expressed Juice of the herbe cures a deduction of the foetid and scorbutic humours in the mouth and Looseness of the teeth
Serticus the mastich tree the word is drying and binding and good to fasten loose teeth.
Palma major Indis mahaindi the palm of the Date tree
In the date there are three things principally used in medicine that is the Spatha the powder contened in the spathe and the themselves as the spatha is used both in powder & decoction removing relaxation of the Gums and finding the teeth when loose.
Vibunum Lantana vulgo the wayfaring tree, the Leaves and Berries are used for the Loosness of the teeth
Vinaigre of Squills it is very good to consolidate the too Lax humid Gums and fasten Loose teeth.
*Bole Armenian, – Bolas armena – aqua Camphorate or Quincy
Take Rowan Vitriol and Bole *armoniae
4 Ounces; Camphire 1 ounce; and powder them together of this mixture sprinkle 1 Ounce of a lime into 4 pound of Boiling Water in which stir it well about then take it off the fire let it settle and that which is clear by Inclination this is an Excellent medicine for many purposes externally; and there deserves to be more regarded that it is at present
It greatly cleanses ulcers, by washing it frequently with it warm. It is good against all inflammations and almost infallibly cures Defluxions of Rheum – upon the Eyes – if it be too sharp for that use it may be diluted with a little Spring-Water at the time of application: it keeps the Gums clean and firm to the teeth if they are frequently rubbed with it and in the itch it is both efficacious by frequently washing the eruptions and part affected with it.