Apr 302017

Richard dentist


“Thursday 16th

Had a very indifferent night the past, with my Tooth – today was enabled to go through the operation of having it drawn out, which gave me great relief.  Part fine, part dull, not very cold.”










In his diaries my ancestor Richard Hall makes mention of several trips to the dentist – and it gives me the shudders just to think of what that would have entailed in an era before anaesthetics. But at least Richard was already in pain – and the procedure was aimed at reducing that discomfort. Imagine what it must have been like for someone with perfectly good teeth, volunteering  to have an

Extracting a tooth, by William Henry Bunbury

Extracting a tooth, by William Henry Bunbury

extraction. Why would they do that? Money. It is a fact of life that in some countries today people feel compelled to sell their organs to raise cash to pay off their debts – the trade in kidneys in India being a case in point. But in Georgian England the craze was for the rich (a description synonymous with excessive eating, rich foods – and gum disease) – to replace their blackened, stinking, stumps with nice fine white teeth. Where were  they going to get such pearly white replacements? Why, from the poor who, on account of their sugar-free diets, generally did not suffer from bad teeth.


This fashion started to become popular in the last 20 years of the 18th Century – before the trend to use ‘Waterloo Teeth’ ie the teeth removed from the corpses found on the battlefield of Waterloo, and harvested for dentists to use back in Britain. In her ‘Memoirs’ the writer Laetitia Matilda Hawkins tells the story of an impecunious Emma Hart, way before she became the mistress of Horatio Nelson, deciding to sell her front gnashers in order to pay off her debts. On the way to the dentist to face the horrors of the tooth-puller she met a fellow servant and was talked into selling something altogether different – her virtue. Somehow I think she made a wise choice – I doubt if she would ever have snared the Hero of the Nile if she had greeted him with a broad gummy grin where her front teeth had originally been.

John Hunter had been at the forefront of popularising the idea of using transplants: his book “Natural History of the Human Tooth” suggested that the dentist should always have  at least two potential donors in attendance. If the first one didn’t have teeth which fitted the recipient, try the stand-by! Once the dentist had found an approximate fit, he would then hold it firmly in position by wiring it in to the adjoining teeth. Other dentists used replacement teeth made out of pottery, ivory, bone or even gold. Contrary to some reports they were not made out of wood, which would have gone soggy and broken apart due to the acidity of the mouth.

The transplanted teeth did not of course grow – but there are instances where they remained in place for months, and sometimes even years. What had started as a craze in London spread to Paris. There, the dentist Pierre Le Mayeur perfected the technique before heading to America to make his fortune.

George Washington's dentures, courtesy of Mount Vernon

George Washington’s dentures, courtesy of Mount Vernon

He even treated George Washington and we know that Washington wore dentures – but there is no record that he received any transplanted teeth. However, his aide, Colonel Richard Varick, certainly did receive transplanted teeth – prompting Washington to write this fulsome endorsement: “I have been staggered in my belief at the efficacy of transplantation of living teeth”.

The New York newspapers of 1784 carried  advertisements from Le Mayeur, offering payment of £2.2.0 (two guineas) for a set of front teeth “on applying to Number 28 Maiden Lane New York.” Apparently there were not enough takers, and by the time Le Mayeur reached Richmond he was offering five guineas a tooth – “slaves teeth excepted.”

The latter comment reminds me that when I did my university thesis on organ transplantation nearly half a century ago I was in correspondence with a certain Christian Barnard, who of course used a non-white donor for the first heart transplant – into a white person. But 200-odd years ago, slave teeth were not considered suitable. Le Mayeur went on to advertise that he had transplanted upwards of a hundred and twenty teeth during a six month period “and that not one of his operations has failed of the wished-for success”. In practice however, few transplants stayed firmly in place for even six months, and back in England dentists were already pouring scorn on the practice. The view of Thomas Berdmore* and William Rae, both dentists to George III, was that the operations were “dangerous and immoderately expensive”. In particular they were of the opinion that the only way you could get a good fix was if the root of the tooth being transplanted was of the identical length, shape and size as the one which had just been removed. Mind you, that merely prompted the unscrupulous dentists of the period to resort to “re-planting” i.e. taking out the old tooth,  filling it, disguising the discolouration – and putting it straight back into its original socket without the recipient being any the wiser as to where his “new” tooth had come from!

Anyway, I am grateful to John Woodforde for his book ‘The Strange Story of False Teeth’ for the information which I have used: now for what I really like, a quick look at how caricaturists liked to show dentistry!

Transplanting of Teeth by Thos Rowlandson 1787

First up, a rather appropriate Thomas Rowlandson print shown courtesy of the British Museum site, and which first appeared in 1787. It is entitled ‘Transplanting of Teeth’ and the site contains this explanation:

“A fashionable dentist is extracting the teeth of the poor in order to insert ‘live teeth’ immediately into the jaws of his patients. In the centre a young chimney-sweep sits in an arm-chair, over the back of which the dentist leans, holding the boy’s head, and inserting an instrument into his mouth. Next (left) a lady sits in a similar chair watching the sweep with a pained and angry expression; she holds a smelling-bottle to her nose; she has just endured an extraction and is about to receive a transplantation. On the right a good-looking young lady leans back, her fists clenched in pain, while a spectacled dentist peers closely into her face, placing his instrument in her mouth. Behind her a lean, ugly, and elderly man wearing regimentals stands in profile to the right, holding a mirror in which he inspects his mouth with a dissatisfied expression. On the left a ragged boy and girl are leaving the room, both crying with pain: the girl inspects the coin in her hand. On the door is a placard: ‘Most Money Given for live Teeth’. A placard on the wall is headed by a coronet and two ducks, indicating quackery: ‘Baron Ron——Dentist to her High Mightiness the Empress of Russia’.


Another Rowlandson, on a more general dentistry theme, is this one from 1811, showing the proud (French) dentist displaying his handiwork ie a full set of artificial dentures:

Rowlandson's French Dentist 1811

Other artists loved depicting the cruelty and barbarism of the dentist. Here we have ‘The Dentist, or teeth drawn with a touch’ by Robert Sayer from 1790-2The Dentist or teeth drawn with a touch by Robert Sayer 1790-2

Or how about this one:The London Dentist after Robert Dighton pubd Bowles & CarverIt is entitled ‘The London Dentist’ and is described as being ‘ after Robert Dighton’ and was  published by  Bowles & Carver in or shortly after 1784. But for my money I always like the drawings made by John Collier, sometimes described as ‘the Lancashire Hogarth’. He used the pseudonym Timothy Bobbin:


I recall doing a blog post once before about John Collier and dentistry – here. So I will end with another chance to see one of the images which I used at the time – with the sadistic tooth puller brandishing a red hot coal under the nose of the ‘patient/victim’, forcing him to pull his head backwards thereby pulling out the tooth.

Shown courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

Shown courtesy of the Wellcome Institute

And for anyone planning a trip to the dentist later today – my apologies!


*PS I recall doing a separate blog on royal dentist Thomas Berdmore five years ago here.

Apr 112016
Thomas Rowlandson's The Comforts of Bath

Thomas Rowlandson’s The Comforts of Bath

This week My Dear Lady Wife goes into hospital for a hip replacement operation – hopefully it will give her back some of the mobility lost in recent years. Anyway, it got me thinking about 18th century methods of getting broken bones to “knit”. In this context it is worth mentioning that my ancestor Richard Hall broke his leg when he was 22, jumping a ditch and falling awkwardly. The newspaper carried a report of the injury, with an article in the London Evening Penny Post for Monday September 9th 1751 recording:


The resulting injury left Richard in periodic pain for the rest of his life, and caused him to limp. As an old man, he recalls “being follow’d around the village while the boys called out “Hobbledee-Hall”. He doubtless pretended to object and wave his cane at them, since he used a crutch, finding it a hardship to stand still. This is his record of paying out three shillings and sixpence for  the “crutch cane”


Richard’s own library gives an interesting insight into the way a broken limb was treated. Rather like someone today buying The Readers Digest Book of Home Medicine, Richard bought Dr Buchan’s Domestic Medicine when the Second Edition came out in 1785. It has the following advice:

“WHEN a large bone is broken, the patient’s diet ought, in all respects, to be the same as in an inflammatory fever. He should likewise be kept quiet and cool, and his body open by emollient clysters, or, if these cannot be conveniently administered, by food that is of an opening quality; as stewed prunes, apples boiled in milk, boiled spinage, and the like.

IT will generally be necessary to bleed the patient immediately after a fracture, especially if he be young, of a full habit, or has, at the same time, received any bruise or contusion. This operation should not only be performed soon after the accident happens, but if the patient be very feverish, it may be repeated next day.

IF any of the large bones which support the body are broken, the patient must keep his bed for several weeks. It is by no means necessary, however, that he should lie all that time upon his back. This situation sinks the spirits, galls and frets the patient’s skin, and renders him very uneasy. After the second week he may be gently raised up, and may sit several hours, supported by a bed-chair, or the like, which will greatly relieve him. Great care, however, must be taken in raising him up, and laying him down, that he make no exertions himself, otherwise the action of the muscles may pull the bone out of its place.

IT is of great importance to keep the patient dry and clean while in this situation. By neglecting this, he is often so galled and excoriated, that he is forced to keep shifting places for ease. I have known a fractured thigh-bone, after it had laid straight for above a fortnight, displaced by this means, and continue bent for life, in spite of all that could be done.

IT has been customary when a bone was broken, to keep the limb for five or six weeks continually upon the stretch, But this is a bad posture. It is both uneasy to the patient, and unfavourable to the cure.

THE best situation is to keep the limb a little bent. This is the posture into which every animal puts its limbs when it goes to rest, and in which fewest muscles are upon the stretch. It is easily effected by either laying the patient upon his side, or making the bed so as to favour this position of the limb.

ALL that art can do towards the cure of a broken bone, is to lay it perfectly straight, and to keep it quite easy. All tight bandages do hurt. They had much better be wanting altogether. A great many of the bad consequences which succeed to fractured bones are owing to tight bandages. This is one of the ways in which the excess of art, or rather the abuse of it, does more mischief than would be occasioned by the want of it. Some of the most sudden cures of broken bones which were ever known, happened where no bandages were applied at all. Some method however must be taken to keep the member steady; but this may be done many ways without bracing it with a tight bandage.

THE best method of retention is by two or more splints made of leather or pasteboard. These, if moistened before they be applied, soon assume the shape of the included member, and are sufficient, by the assistance of a very slight bandage, for all the purposes of retention.”

Anatomia Pathologique du corps Humain, book 2 (1835–1842) by J. Cruveilhier a representation of a dislocated femur

Anatomia Pathologique du corps Humain, book 2 (1835–1842) by J. Cruveilhier
a representation of a dislocated femur

So, we can assume that Richard was fed his diet of prunes, bled with leeches, made to lie on his side, and wrapped in wet leather and told to lie still for six weeks. Try telling that to a 22 year old! More about Richard can of course be found in The Journal of a Georgian Gentleman.


As for my wife, I am hopeful that she will spend three days in hospital (and this being Spain, I stay in hospital with her) and she should then be able to walk and manage stairs. No wet leather bandages, no prunes, and hopefully no leeches … medicine has certainly progressed over the past 250 years!

I am aware that leeches have made a bit of a comeback in recent years – and I can remember that the old family doctor who looked after me as a child used to tell me stories about how in the 1920s he would prescribe leeches. You got them from the local pharmacy, and you paid according to when they had last been fed. The hungrier they were the more expensive it was to hire them! After use, you would then return them to the pharmacy ready for the next patient….

RH4                                    Image courtesy of Bamfords, auctioneers.

Feb 232016

Richard Hall liked to jot down helpful remedies and cures – here, a recipe to prevent a miscarriage.

miscarriageGiven that Richard’s first wife  had at least half a dozen  miscarriages, and just three live births, one suspects that there may have been frequent visits to Mr Godfrey the Chymist at his premises in Southampton Street. I will leave it to others to clarify what was meant by ‘spirit of clary’ – I can trace an essential oil with the botanical name “Salvia sclarea” otherwise known as Sage Clary, which may (or may not) have  its origins with spirit of clary. The site for Spiritual Oils gives this as its history:

“History: Descriptions of the medicinal use of Clary sage date back to the writings of Theophrastus (4th century BCE), Dioscorides (1st century CE), and Pliny the Elder (1st century CE). It was particularly popular during the Middle Ages, when it  was known as “clear eye,” “Oculus Christi” (the eyes of Christ), and “muscatel sage,” due to its resemblance to muscatel wine grape vines. In modern times, it is used to enhance the flavor of commercial tobacco.”

Anyway, mix it with “Mountain” (i.e. mountain wine, which generally meant any wine which did not come from France and which probably came  either from Malaga in Spain, or from Portugal), some oak bud water, a pint of best  wine, and flavour it with saffron and sugar’d carraway, and if you knock back a quarter pint of the gloop morning and evening  all will be well.  And if it isn’t, then please take the matter up with Mrs Stringer, not me!

My only concern: how do you get hold of oak bud water at any other time of the year except the Spring? What if you are foolish enough to get pregnant in high summer? Oh well, back to the drawing board…..



Sep 142015
(c) Penrhyn Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Samuel Pennant 1709 – 1750. Attributed to Isaac Seeman, and shown courtesy of the National Trust, it shows him wearing his badge  of office as Lord Mayor.

Spare a thought for the Old Bailey court officials in the  Eighteenth Century, for theirs was not always an easy or pleasant task. Look no further than the fate which befell the Lord Mayor of London, one Sir Samuel Pennant, in 1750. Along with Sir Thomas Abney, judge of the Common-Pleas, the under-sheriff, some of the counsel, several of the jury, and another fifty or so other court officials, dignitaries and dogsbodies – all met their death. Why? Because they caught typhus, which had spread from the adjoining prison, the notorious Newgate Gaol.

Typhus, generally known as gaol fever, killed far more prisoners in the Eighteenth century than were ever sentenced to death by the honourable judges. One report at the time suggested that a quarter of the prison population died of typhus, which was a bacteria spread through the bites of the lice and fleas which flourished in the unsanitary conditions of the prisons. Oh, and by the way, although ‘typhoid’ means ‘of or pertaining to typhus’ the disease of ‘typhoid’ has no connection with typhus. Different bacteria altogether….

Court of Sessions building, Old Bailey.

The Sessions House, Old Bailey.

It is not as if people were unaware of the link between the fetid unhygienic conditions in which prisoners were kept, and the fatal illness which thrived. Indeed when the Old Bailey buildings had been rebuilt after the Great Fire of London, a large part of the proceedings took place in the yard, open to all weathers. This was so that officials were not confined to stuffy rooms, and it helped lessen the chance of disease spreading. But in the 1730’s the decision was made to re-face the building with large masonry blocks and to reduce the width of the access in order to prevent the mob storming the building. In turn it meant that the yard was closed off, along with the fresh air that it brought to the court.


(c) National Trust, Penrhyn Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Sir Samuel Pennant. (c) National Trust, Penrhyn Castle; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Poor Sir Samuel: he had only been made Lord Mayor the year before. The National Trust have two splendid portraits of him in all his finery. Clock the gold embroidery – that is some waistcoat!  But it was no protection against the spread of the typhus bacteria. With sixty officials perishing in the one outbreak it is surprising that it took another twenty five years to rebuild the Sessions House. Meanwhile, people obviously assumed that there was a link between the actual stench and the disease. To this day judges on formal parades carry nosegays, as a reminder of the long-held belief that aromatic herbs would lessen the risk of fever. So important was it to mask the foul odours that on 9 Oct 1772 the Annual Register remarked: “ Several workmen were this day employed at the Old Bailey in making a new ventilator, and other necessary precautions, to prevent the effects of any malignant distemper in the ensuing sessions, several persons having died, who attended the last session. Among other precautions, a contrivance is made, by a pipe, to carry the fumes of vinegar into the Sessions House, while the court is sitting.”

In practice a new court of sessions building was constructed, opening in 1774. I have no idea when they stopped pumping in vinegar fumes, but it is interesting to see these early experiments in trying to impose standards of hygiene which would combat disease.

Oct 302014

a2I have previously shown this lovely Rowlandson sketch of the good doctor undergoing a course of cupping, apparently to alleviate the symptoms of bruising. I assume the doctor in question was Dr Syntax and that he had a bruised backside from spending too long in the saddle. Numb bum time! I love the indignity of the naked old man being subjected to pain while being administered to by half a dozen onlookers, most of them female!

It reminded me to look out a blog I did a couple of years ago when I used Posterous (thank you WordPress, all is forgiven!)

a1Cupping, as shown on Gwyneth Paltrow´s back when she attended a New York film premiere in 2004, has been around for many hundreds of years. While the treatment may cause unpleasant looking blisters and skin discolouration these effects are short lived. It is thought that the cupping procedure helps reduce stress and pain. The person doing the cupping places small heated glass bowls – in this case across the back – and the heat causes a vacuum leading to the skin swelling. It apparently leads to increased blood flow and all sorts of beneficial results.The picture appeared on the BBC website using an image supplied by LFI (sorry, I cannot identify where credit is due any more than that).

While modern sceptics may dismiss it as an alternative medicine without proven results the fact remains that it has been popular for centuries, way before Richard notes it in his diary for 7th December 1768 where he records:

“Cupped at the Bagnio,  Newgate Street, 3/6d”

Richard would needed to have known which bagnios were respectable. In theory they were simply hot-water baths open to the public but in practice the term was often a euphemism for a brothel! Choose the wrong bagnio and you might catch something rather worse than blisters!

Bagnio scene, courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

“A Bagnio scene, with a white legg’d Chicken coaxking an old Dotard” courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library


18th Century medicine seems to have relished causing blisters, and then piercing them “to remove toxins”. On one occasion Richard had toothache and the doctor inserted a small dried pea behind his ear (as one does).  After a day or two the side of Richard´s head would no doubt have swollen with the irritation; the pea was removed; the fluid drained and hey presto the toothache was expected to have disappeared!

In practice I suspect that Richard felt such a huge relief at no longer having the irritant behind his ear that he completely forgot about his other aches and pains…

If you are interested in other quack remedies and treatments do have a look at the Journal of a Georgian Gentleman – there are a number of cures and recipes dotted around in the book and in particular in the appendices. Meanwhile I am busy researching bagnios as part of the background to “Sex Scandal and Satire – in bed with the Georgians” – since much of the  action seems to have been based there!

To end with, a drawing of ladies drumming up business outside the Turks Head Bagnio, shown courtesy of the Library of Congress. I love the detail in the drawing, with the fire plate for the Union Fire Office, and the cat symbolically sitting on the upstairs window ledge…



Oct 042014

“Mountebank” ( n):   A charlatan.

According to Wikipedia (and we all know that to be the fount of all knowledge don’t we, boys and girls) the word apparently comes from the Italian phrase monta in banco – literally referring to the action of a seller of dubious medicines getting up on a bench to address his audience of potential customers. I looked it up on account of the variant spelling in this seventeenth century  image of a “Mountabanck or charlatan” by the Dutch artist Marcellus Laroon:a3

Charlatans appearing to turn glass into diamonds,  or quacks promoting spurious cures (“snake oil salesmen”) or mountebacks promising great fortune were obviously a feature of street life in the Georgian era. I came across this snippet from the London Gazette 26 October 1776:


I hadn’t come across the phrase “plate lottery” before but I assume it related to a form of unregulated raffle where people purchased the chance of winning some trinket or bauble – in this case a pair of ear-rings worth no more than five or six shillings.  Apparently it was not uncommon for minor lotteries to be based upon silver plate and jewellery or even, on occasion, books.

I love the splendidly Biblical description of “these locusts, who prey upon the vitals of the unwary.” What is remarkable is how successful the guy was – the article refers to “immense sums”  which he had accumulated with his fraudulent money-raising scheme, as evidenced by the fact that he was able to pay the fine of fifty pounds – the equivalent of several thousand pounds in modern money.

Extract from Giovanni Michele Graneri's Village Market Scene with Quack

Extract from Giovanni Michele Graneri’s Village Market Scene with Quack

Nowadays our man would be selling fake Rolex watches, or operating in a fairground booth, offering a prize of a giant teddy bear to anyone buying a winning ticket – of which none had been printed. Nothing changes – only that most modern mountebanks seem to make their money by offering on-line fake medicines, based in countries where “locusts preying upon the vitals of the unwary” appear to be immune from prosecution. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose!

Now, where did I put my snake oil…




Jul 062014

My ancestor Richard Hall clearly liked to be able to decipher his prescriptions. Mind you, he kept them for years and many of them have survived to this day. They mostly relate to his “nervous disposition” and stomach disorders. Here he sets out the Apothecaries’ Weights and Measures:

I had forgotten that a ‘scruple’ was an extremely small measure i.e. one twenty fourth part of an ounce (or twenty grains).

He also noted abbreviations used by the doctors when writing up the prescriptions which they gave him (big on prescriptions was Richard).

It would not be unfair to say that Richard “enjoyed ill health” and liked nothing more than confiding his illnesses to his diaries.

Mention of apothecaries gives me the opportunity to show one of my favourite satires involving the Duchess of Devonshire, entitled ‘The Devonshire Member to Restore a Lost Member’ (and I am not for one moment suggesting that my ancestor visited his apothecary with any such problem!) It appears courtesy of the British Museum site which goes on to explain:

“The interior of the shop of an apothecary or quack medicine vendor. Three persons have entered (left): the Duchess of Devonshire stands full-face offering the apothecary (right) a purse, while she holds out her right hand to Fox who stands beside and slightly behind her. She says, “His Tail restore, You shall have more”. The apothecary, standing in profile to the left, takes the purse saying, “My Famous Pills cure many Ills”. He is well dressed and wears a doctor’s tie-wig. Fox puts his left hand to his forehead with a distressed expression; under his foot is a paper inscribed ‘Dr Leakes Antivanerial Drops’. A lady standing behind Fox, her hands in a muff, says, “Oh poor Fox will Loose fits tail”. Behind the apothecary is the shop-window with a counter in front of it. On the counter are two small phials, each labelled Mr Fox, and a pill-box, besides glass jars. In the window are displayed glass bottles of various shapes filled with coloured liquids.  The duchess wears a ‘Fox’ favour in her hat which is trimmed with a fox’s brush and three ostrich feathers, worn as an emblem of the interest taken by the Prince of Wales in the (Westminster) election. Her companion (identified as Lady Duncannon, the Duchess’s sister ) wears a fox’s brush in her hat.”

Lovely caricature – rude, crude and lewd! Bring them on!

Feb 062014

Next time you reach for a bottle of aspirin to treat your headache, or back pain or rheumatic fever – let’s just call it “an ague” – spare a thought for good old Edward Stone, a vicar who lived at Chipping Norton. One day in around 1757 he was walking across the meadow near his home. Willow trees were thriving in the damp boggy conditions and he idly stripped off a piece of the willow bark (as one does) and chewed it. Now, willow bark is extremely bitter – and the good Reverend immediately remembered another very bitter bark – one brought back from South America and known at the time as Jesuit’s Powder or Peruvian Bark. It was known for its beneficial qualities – because it contained quinine.

jesuits barkRichard Hall used Jesuit’s  Bark   (see my blog on curing wind or flatulence,  here ) and would have appreciated the laterally-thinking Reverend Stone.


Stone surmised that the bitter willow might have similar qualities to Jesuit’s bark. He carried out an experiment by gathering a pound of common white willow bark. He dried it by hanging it in a bag over a bread oven for three months and then pulverised it with a pestle and mortar to create a dry powder. He then split it up into small doses and administered it to around fifty ague-ridden parishioners (amazing to think how many gullible people must have been living in Chipping Norton at the time – “Trust me, I’m a vicar, now swallow this bitter pill”). Every one of the victims/patients noticed an improvement, or as the vicar himself said, the pills “were a powerful astringent and very efficacious in curing agues and intermittent disorders.”

Stone conducted a series of clinical trials to ascertain the most efficacious dose. As he was later to write:

“Being an entire stranger to its nature I gave it in very small quantities, I think it was about twenty grains of the powder at a dose, and repeated it every four hours ….Not perceiving the least ill consequences I grew bolder with it and in a few days increased the dose to two scruples, and the ague was soon removed.”

 My ancestor Richard Hall’s explanation of apothecaries’ measures – a scruple being the equivalent of twenty grains ( originally a twenty-fourth part of one ounce).

Stone administered the powder “with any common vehicle such as tea, water or small beer” and noted the time taken for the patient to improve. In fact he had discovered salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. On 25th April 1763 he wrote a letter to Lord Macclesfield, the President of the Royal Society, outlining his researches of the previous six years, and giving details of the findings.

Stone's letter, published courtesy of the Royal Society

Stone’s letter, published courtesy of the Royal Society. In it he was mistakenly referred to as ‘Edmund’ but his name was ‘Edward’.

It was to be another ninety years before a more digestible compound of acetyl chloride and sodium salicylate was developed – later marketed by Beyer under the name of Aspirin. (The name “Aspirin” was finally trade-marked at the end of January 1899). But it was Stone who did the initial scientific research and who ironically “re-discovered” the properties of the willow. These had been known to the Ancient Greeks – Pliny and Hippocrates had both extolled its virtues as a pain-killer some 2000 years earlier, but it had then disappeared from view. Stone’s scientific approach kick-started more research – not bad going for a vicar with no medical or scientific training.

Stone died aged 66 in 1768 and the blue plaque recording his achievement was put up near where he lived in Chipping Norton some ten years ago. Now, where can I find a headstone for an Ed Stone…


(And just in case you decide to try your hand at making your own willow-aspirin I came across this website  – just don’t blame me if the results poison you, along with fifty other people of the parish you live in!).


Jul 022013

Richard Hall, my ancestor, died on 2nd July 1801  after a short illness. He had been fine when he started off from Bourton on the Water on 17th June, heading for London by coach, but was taken ill at Witney and was forced to return home. Doctors were called; his children by his first marriage to whom he had hardly spoken for over twenty years (because of a feud over their inheritance) were sent for and duly arrived. He lingered for a fortnight before croaking his last at six in the morning. He was 72, and apparently his last words were uttered when he sat up in bed and asked “Am I in Heaven yet?” On being informed that his request was somewhat premature he sank back and breathed his last. I suspect his final thought must have been one of great disappointment!

He had always been something of a hypochondriac, and I still have many of his prescriptions for indigestion, bad nerves, and so on. To mark his passing I thought I would share this fine print drawn, I believe, by Richard Newton but engraved by Rowlandson and published in 1813,  just a dozen years after Richard passed on:

Entitled ‘ A Going! A Going!!!’  it shows a rather well-fed doctor greeting his patient, who clearly is on the point of death. The patient is surrounded by medicine bottles of every hue and description, and the medic booms out ” My Dear Sir, you look this morning the Picture of Health. I have no doubt at my next visit I shall find you entirely cured of all your earthly infirmitys”

And so it was for poor Richard. All that remained was for his widow to parcel up his papers, his diaries, his jottings and his recipes, and place them in the bottom of the trunk where they have remained ever since…

And finally, another couple of caricatures by my old favourite Richard Newton: “Giving up the ghost, or one too many”. I like the way that the corpse is shown with its toes all curled, while the undertaker arrives with his coffin strapped across his forehead, and the Doctor, exhausted from his labours, takes a kip in the armchair…

Giving up the ghost, or one too many

And another Newton one from 1794 called “Undertakers in at the Death” showing the three undertakers rushing in to the room just as Death is about to launch its fatal arrow. It appears courtesy of the British Museum.


O.K. I said ‘finally’, but then I decided to have another final one: I have always been a sucker for the simple pen and ink drawings of Thomas Rowlandson. This one is entitled “A Death-Bed Scene” and is shown courtesy of the Yale Centre for British Art.

File:Thomas Rowlandson - A Death-Bed Scene - Google Art Project.jpg

Jun 132013

Temple Church in Bristol is a strange place: hit by an incendiary bomb in the last war it is an empty shell, but the tower remains. It leans – as it has done for hundreds of years, so that the top is some five foot away from the vertical.

Temple Church, Bristol. © English Heritage

But the oddest thing about the church probably occurred on Friday 13th, 1778 when the vicar, the Reverend Easterbrook, accompanied by a collection of half a dozen Wesleyan Ministers, assembled in the vestry. If they thought this would be “away from prying eyes” they were wrong – the astonishing noises emanating from the vestry quickly produced a crowd of nosey-Parkers, and within days, news of the goings-on in the vestry was carried around the whole country.

The seven clergymen had gathered because of one man, a George Lukins from the nearby village of Yatton. He claimed to be possessed by the Devil (well, not just one devil but seven devils, and he insisted that it would therefore take seven clergymen to exorcise him).

Lukins was 44, had originally trained as a tailor, but for some years had apparently been subjected to fits of an alarming nature. He uttered strange animal sounds, barked like a dog, argued with himself in different voices, and behaved in a violent manner. Some claimed he was a victim of witchcraft. He himself claimed that he had been fine until one day when he was performing an old mummers play at Christmas time when he had felt a “Divine slap” which felled him to the ground and left him possessed by demons.

The Rev Easterbrook had got involved because one of his parishioners by the name of Sarah Barber had approached him for help a fortnight earlier. She knew of George Lukins because her husband had emanated from Yatton. She knew that members of the medical profession had examined Lukins, had declared him to be incurable and merely dosed him with laudanum, and she urged Easterbrook to help. He agreed to do so “little expecting that an attention to such a pitiable case would have produced such a torrent of opposition, illiberal abuse upon the parties concerned in his relief”

The Devil, by William Blake

So on this auspicious day the seven ministers gathered: Lukins went through his full repertoire of barking, then speaking in a high pitched female voice, then answering gruffly and reciting a Te Deum to the Devil. The clergy responded with prayers and hymn singing and in due course commanded the demons to return to hell at which point George Lukins exclaimed “Blessed Jesus!” praised God, recited the Lord’s Prayer and then thanked the Methodist and Anglican clergymen. Thereafter he was calm.

An account appeared in the Bristol Gazette but then other people stepped forward to say that the story was false: Lukins was well known for his ability as a mimic and ventriloquist, being able to alter his voice. Other clerics and members of the medical profession waded in, and before long the whole country was talking about exorcism and demoniacal possession. An article in the Gentlemen’s Magazine and Historical Chronicle claimed he was suffering from St Vitus Dance or epilepsy, others said he was an imposter, others that he had “ a grievous hypochondriack disorder” or was a drunkard, or that he had been bitten by a mad dog.

Whatever: Lukins had had his moment in the spotlight. Thereafter he resumed a quiet life, attending Wesleyan services and gaining occasional employment as a bill sticker. The Poor Laws meant that Yatton (as his place of permanent residence) was responsible for his welfare and the parish records there show 10s 6d ‘temporary relief’ was paid to him in 1788. He was promised 9s in future “provided he goes to Mr Say and attends him in any kind of work he can do” but George Lukins declined because he wanted to live in Bristol. Eventually it looks as though Bristolians were fed up with being asked to look after George – as far as they were concerned he was Yatton’s problem, not theirs.

The death of George Lukins was reported in the Bristol Mirror of February 1805 . The report states that for some time prior to his death Lukins had been an out-patient at the Bristol Infirmary for a bad leg and hydrocondriacal affections. Latterly he had been reduced to beggary and had managed to scrape a scanty existence by the sale of little books. A sad, lonely, ending for a man whose story had at one stage gripped the nation.

This image appears courtesy of the Lewis Walpole Library site. Entitled ‘The Impostures Last Shift’ it shows the exorcism being carried out by the seven clergymen. The banner at the bottom reads ‘Hocus Pocus  –  An Exhibition of Fools and Rogues’