Medicine Through Time Exhibition: 17th and 18th Centuries

Our archives hold a rich assortment of history. From a Yorkshire pharmacist’s diary of patient notes to a written formula said to prevent the spread of plague, there’s a lot to explore.

Writing down recipes was a common practice in many households from the seventeenth century. Many people dedicated considerable time to preparing home-based remedies. The household was often the first resource when dealing with illness. While many still went to practitioners, the home was the primary site for helping health and wellbeing. The usefulness of a recipe was an important aspect of this practice. It reveals why authors often note who they received the recommendation from.

In local parishes and larger cities, hospitals functioned as part of the economy of poor relief. Only the poorest in the community would go. Besides bloodletting and purging, one of the main treatments on offer was bathing. Bathing was thought to influence the body’s humours and allow the excess to escape through the pores. However, excessive bathing was believed to weaken the body by poisoning the blood. As you can see, medicine was always concerned with the body’s precarious inner balance.

The work of seventeenth and eighteenth-century surgeons continued to focus on outward injury. Infected wounds, amputating limbs and broken bones were all part of their daily practice. If you did purchase the services of a barber-surgeon or physician, these interactions were often defined by contracts. If the patient didn’t recover from their ailment within a certain amount of time they often received their money back. Dissatisfied patients often took their practitioners to court for malpractice if they weren’t happy with the results. From the seventeenth century, apothecaries became the major source of healing. This was for most of the population, but especially the lower classes.

18th century, Culinary recipes & medical prescriptions, Aqua Mirabilis (WYW1352/3/4/7/3)
Its virtues
“It takes away the swelling of the lungs keeps yr [your] Blood from Putrying [putrefying], it keeps y [a] Heart Chearfull [cheerful], it expels Rhum [rheumatism], comforts the Stomach, keeps youth florid, preserving yr [your] memory, it helps Palsey [palsy] in the Limbs or Tongus [tongue]– if it will be given on the point of Death it will revive Him, It is yr [your] best of Cordial Waters.”
To make this wonderful all-cure,
“Take Gallingall Cubeibs, Cardemon, Mellilot, Mace, Gingr (ginger) nutmeg & Clover of each 2 drams, beat ‘em all into a very fine powdr. Then take a pint of yr Juice if Sallemander [salamander], & a pint of Aqua Vita & 3 Pints of Wh: wme. Let these steep all together ovr night then distill all with a temperate Fire, when ‘tis distill’d put into it a little bag of Saffron, & let it hang in yr Glass, & sweeten it with wh [white]: Sugr Candy.”
18th Century, Culinary recipes & medical prescriptions, For the Cholick or Gravell from Mr Cholmley (WYW1352/3/4/7/3)

For the Chollick or Gravell, Mr Cholmley
Take of the best Senna three Ounces Elicompany roots, Anniseeds, Coriander Seeds, Guiacum, of each two Ounces, put to these three 3 quarts and and Pint of Brandy let them infuse four days, sit them
once or twice a day then strain them a Flannel for use, the dose is three or four Spoonfuls.

18th Century, Culinary recipes & medical prescriptions, Mrs Harves Salve for the Eyes (WYW1352/3/4/7/3)

Mrs Harves Salve for the Eyes

Take 4 Ounces of Virgins Wax 8 scruples of Camphire

2 Ounces of Powder of Tutty: one Pound of may Butter

2 Ounces of white Rose Water: Take y Vergins Wax & Camphire and put them into a pewter bason [basin]: when it is melted put in the Butter water stir it till it be all melted then put in the Rose water & stir it well together within the ?: then mix them all together still stirring them till it is stife [stiff] then put it into pots

18th Century, Culinary recipes & medical prescriptions, The Best Treakell Water (WYW1352/3/4/7/3)

The Best Treakell Water

Take Dragons angilliac balm mother Time; and Cardus Cowslips borage flowers; mary Gold flowers and clove jelle flowers of Each an Ounce; Roots of Tormenti Piany Scorsonera Gentian Elecopane Cypries and Cittron peal Each an Ounce, a bout 20 green Walnuts beaton, Chop your Hearbs and Chop or beat your rcots; boyle an Ounce of Harts horn in 3 Pints of Cardus water till a pint be Consumed; 3 Pints of Red Rose Water and 4 Quarts of Sack, and a pound of Venice Treakell; mingle all these well and when the Trekell is Dissolved put it into your Still; and past it up Lett it Infuse 24 houers; and then still it of, Tis Good for ur measles small pox fevers Gripes and to strike everything from yr Stomack.