A spoonful of spermaceti helps the medicine go down

It’s that time of year when coughs, colds and flu are doing the rounds.  But how did our ancestors cope with ill-health, before the days of ready-prepared pills and potions from the local shop? Manuscripts and Special Collections holds a number of works with useful recipes to be made at home – some possibly more efficacious …

Dead Man Found in Coffin

What are Horseshoehead, Purples, Tissick, and Rising of the Lights?  If you guessed along the lines of an equestrian accident, a colour, a small village in the Home Counties, and perhaps an indie band on the verge of greatness, then you’d be very wrong. These are just a few of the bizarre-sounding medical conditions that …

Monday Mysteries

Those of you who follow us on Twitter might get a sense of deja vu with the images in today’s post! For the last few weeks we have been posting some of the many ‘mystery’ photographs from our collections, in the hopes that someone may be able to shed light on who the people are. Often we …

The First Cut is the Deepest

The worst experience in Charles Cullen’s young life was very nearly overlooked. The volume in which it is recorded, Uhg O 1/1, is a Treatment Book, and is unremarkable to look at. The brown binding is battered and the pages are covered in the scrawling handwriting of an 18th century doctor, complete with ink blobs and …

One Born Every Minute

As William and Kate welcome their baby daughter into the world at the state-of-the-art private maternity ward The Lindo Wing of St Mary’s Hospital, we had a look back through our collections to see what childbirth was like in the 17th and 18th centuries. Traditionally, pregnancy and birth were social and domestic occurrences, which predominantly …

Thirty minutes of your time; a lifetime to someone else

Today is World Blood Donor Day, organized by the World Health Organization to raise awareness of the need for safe blood and blood products and to thank voluntary unpaid blood donors. Appeals for public donations have been made for over sixty years, and the NHS Blood and Transplant service estimates that currently 4% of the …

Feeling under the weather? Try frog’s liver, peacock dung and just a dash of dead man’s skull

The above items all form part of a medical recipe contained in a 17th century volume belonging to the Duke of Newcastle. Many family and estate collections contain medical receipt books, in which recipes and instructions for the treatment of various maladies are carefully preserved for future generations. In an age before the widespread provision …

Pills and potions in the archives

How did our ancestors cope with ill-health, before the days of ready-prepared packets from the local shop? In working with the archives and early publications in the University’s collections, I’ve been taken by the number and variety of herbal remedies that sit alongside culinary recipes in early household books.  The ingredients are sometimes exotic and …