My intent is to allow the reader to walk down the lanes of old London (before it burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1666) and feel as if you are actually there. You can smell and touch the nuances of London. You'll know what it's like to work your way through the City and its the conflicting laws where religion played in important part of everyday life. So sit back and enjoy the ride.

Oh, and then there's my French Revolution novel.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

17th century Medicine by Katherine Pym

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While researching my 1660 novels, I come across some very interesting information. The most unique is medicine. Even though the cures were most often worse than the disease, from journals of the time people gave their healers an optimum of trust.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Barbers and Surgeons were in demand, but by the end of the century, Physicians took over the bulk of medicine. They were even allowed to enter the birthing chamber.

A Surgeon at work

London Air:
A few great thinkers felt the ‘airs’ in the city were toxic, and a cause for the many illnesses that plagued the environs. To remove the vile odors that poisoned the city, one suggested a barge be filled with freshly cut onions and transported downriver to the sea. The stink would follow the onions like a cloud of bees after their queen.

Another custom was to leave peeled onions on the ground for several days, soaking up nearby illnesses. Herbs scattered in doorways and window sills were popular to keep fevers from entering the house. Pomanders filled with spices were shaken by men and women in crowded halls, streets and markets.

In 1664 Amsterdam suffered from the ravages of the bubonic plague. It was only a matter of time before it sailed the North Sea and found its way to London. Superstition and false treatments (expensive too) ruled the day.

During the London plague of 1665, an edict stated the lanes must be swept of cats and dogs (killed & immediately buried), for they could carry the deadly scythe. Tobacco kept the plague at bay, and was smoked or chewed. Children were whipped if they did not pull on their pipes. Burning brimstone helped, and discharging a musket or pistol in the house cleaned unwholesome air from the premises. Many wore lucky charms around their necks.

Piss Pot Science: a diagnosis of illness by looking at someone’s urine. The patient can be within reach or elsewhere. It was diagnosis by proxy.

A Barber at work
Barbers pulled teeth. They could also bleed a customer, i.e., leech blood to balance the fluids and cool dark bile within the body. To be bled a cup of blood would cost you five shillings. Barbers were not allowed to do surgery, but they often disregarded this rule.  

A medicine: A draught of wormwood (absinthe) with white wine and sheep’s trittles (dung) were infused together. Then the apothecary would add powdered eggshells to the mixture. My sources did not state what this would cure. 
More meds: drugs that came from the apothecary could have these ingredients in them—moss, smoked horses’ testicles, May dew, and henbane.

Other cures:
When in bed and fearful of getting ill, have someone tie your hands under the covers.  
The king’s hands held sacred cures. When he touched you, your scrofula would be cured. Touching an executed man’s hand would also cure scrofula, and other ailments.
Rub veal lard on injured parts of your body.
It was good to tie a newly dead pigeon to a patient’s foot. This released poisons from the affected person through its feathers into the dead bird’s body. 
One must sing and dance before the victim of a tarantula bite
If you have the pox (syphilis), you will not get the plague.

Things to do & avoid:
Sweet potatoes bring on wind and lust.
Wear a cloth on the belly to keep from getting cold.
Carry signs of the zodiac to ward off the plague.

A green winter (warm) will cause illness.
Do not eat fruit during a warm summer. It will give you a deadly fever.

The sale of fruits was prohibited during plagues. L. Riverius, in The Practice of physic (1672), said, “In summertime crude humors breed... by eating of fruits, and over much drinking which being mixed with choler do breed bastard Tertians.’” (a type of malarial fever)

Mercury was used for almost everything, especially syphilis.
Turpentine (altered pine sap) was formed into syrups and pills. Easily obtained, it was a solution to many problems.  
Cut a sick child’s hair, put the strands between two pieces of bread; then give it to the first dog you see. This will cause the child’s illness to transfer into that of the dog.
Tobacco also kept tuberculosis (consumption) at bay. Initially called the ‘white plague’, TB gained prevalence during the 17th century. Thomas Willis came to the conclusion all lung diseases would mutate into consumption. He blamed this on the higher intake of sugar and acidity in the blood.

A Barber pulling a tooth
Charms & Good Luck pieces:
Grey cat’s skin-remedy for whooping cough
Key attached to rope wards off witches
Coins brings wealth
Iron pyrite covered acorns prevents lightning strikes.
Hares foot cures the colic. When it is made into a glister of honey and salt, it “purgeth the guts of slime & filth.”

Due to a large amount of meat in the 17th century diet, constipation was an issue. People would set aside a day to purge, take a physic and sit near the potty-chair. When things got bad, you’d resort to a clyster or enema.

One enema recipe: ale, a fair amount of sugar, and butter. Recipes such as this or warm water in a plunger would be inserted into the anus. Not so different from this day and age, but God only knew what was in the ‘warm water’, which came either from the conduits along Cheapside, or more than likely, the Thames, a stink-pot of offal and sometimes a receptacle for dead bodies.

Women’s illnesses:
In the mid-16th century, a physician described the green sickness an ailment of virgins. Young women would suffer from lethargy and dietary changes. By the late 17th century the disease was considered a hysterical woman’s ailment. A man would be the source of the cure, though and have sex with the suffering (chaste & virginal) woman.

Another male diagnosis on the subject of women’s heath was the wandering womb. The physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia said the womb was “’an animal within an animal,’ an organ that ‘moved of itself hither and thither in the flanks.’” The womb would bang into all sorts of internal organs, and sometimes, even make its way into the brain, pushing aside grey matter. To get the woman with child was the only cure for it would force the womb back to its proper place. If the woman was celibate or a virgin, so much the better.  

Treatment for Mental Maladies.  One was to strap a poor fellow to a board and place his head into an oven constructed like a large beehive. With a large hole for the head, other holes were drilled around the top of the beehive structure. The fire within would purge the bad humors from the brain and make one well again, if he survived the fire and smoke inhalation. 

Another  treatment was to drill hole(s) in the skull to release bad bile. Sad business, that.

Many thanks to my notes collected over the years,
Culpeper, Nathanial, Culpeper’s Complete Herbal, and

For more information on 17th century London, please see The Barbers & Jasper's Lament

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Hello, once again

Sorry this has taken so long, several months, but life has intruded. Deaths, loss of loved ones, waiting for the loss of loved ones. Hard.

But I've finished the first draft of Jasper's Lament, London 1664, a story of a young erudite of religious theory during a time when there is little tolerance for it. The story opens when Jasper's father dies under strange circumstances. During the course of the year, he finds his father has been involved in plots against the king. His uncle is of a perverted religion; his mother converses with his dead father, who resides in a corner of the common room. Jasper falls in love with the daughter of a Dutchman, who is in England illegally, for soon England will go to war with that dead flat country.

And during all this, Jasper takes his place as full partner in a London shop. Rumor and warmonger gossip in an understated tone. Good stuff.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Old St. Paul's

When I find historical texts published in the middle of the 17th century I feel I’ve won the lottery. Even though most authors of this time-frame write flowery 'epistles', or a long convoluted 'introduction to the reader', interspersed with Latin or other languages (Greek comes to mind) which I cannot read, once I finally get into the heart of the book, it yields great information.
St Paul's in the early years

Lately, I've run into historical texts about the physical condition of London’s old St Paul's Cathedral. The information is very interesting in that the old fellow lived a full life. The great church could have regaled us with stories from the blessed to the morbid. When the cathedral finally met his demise, he went down in a blazing coat of fury.

Surprisingly, for a good while it was a crumbling piece of rubbish, both structurally and spiritually. After reading, I really wonder if Godly services ever took place in the building.  

In 1658 William Dugdale published The History of St Paul’s Cathedral, and dedicated it to The Right Honourable Christopher Lord Hatton, Comptroller for the Household to the late King Charles (the first), and one of his majesties most honourable Privy Council. Mind you, this was during the Interregnum when Cromwell was in power. A year prior, no one would have attempted to do dedicate a book to a Royalist, but by this time, the underpinning of the Commonwealth was already weakening, as was the Puritan leader's health. Cromwell died in September of this same year, a catalyst to restore the Royal Stuarts. Times were definitely a' changing.

A short history: The cathedral build began in 1087 and took 200 years to finish. In 1255 part of the church was lengthened, which swallowed up St Faith, a nearby parish church. The parishioners were given space in Paul's crypt (called St Faith under St Paul’s) where booksellers and their families worshiped. Toward the end of Paul’s life, as a safety precaution, St Faith was used as storage space for their books/papers/printing presses.

St Paul's after the 1561 fire
In 1561 lightning struck St Paul’s spire where it caught fire and fell through the roof of the nave. The fire melted the cathedral bells, and lead covering the spire melted off the roof like molten lava. Queen Elizabeth sent letters to the Lord Mayor, pleading for a quick repair to the roof. She donated from her own purse 1000 marks, and lumber from her woodlands. Almost 7,000l were allocated. Within a month of the fire, they began to rebuild the roof, hastily covering the wood with lead. The spire was never replaced, the reconstruction of the roof poorly done, yet this still took 5 years to complete. 

As a result, St Paul's continued in ill-health for the next 60 years. Inigo Jones was given the task to refurbish the great, moldering cathedral while under King James I, but squabbles broke out regarding the architectural style, and money became scarce. Nothing happened for another 8 years. Then King James died.

Under Charles I, reconstruction was again attempted. This time, all donated monies were to be recorded, with instructions on what to do if a donor died without a will. The committee to rebuild the Cathedral would still get their money. Contributions flowed into London. The renovations became one of national pride. Over 10,000l had been gathered. By the end of 1632, repairs began. By the end of 1639 almost 90,000l had been collected. Houses around Paul's were demolished to make room for the reconstruction. Money was handed out to those who lost their homes; donations continued to flow in, sums were divvied for the repairs, then in 1641, everything came to an abrupt halt.

Civil wars engulfed the country; King Charles was at war with his own people. Parliament men, and their followers, defaced churches, including St. Paul's. The cavalry stabled their horses in the church, pulled down Paul's cross, and other crosses around the city and country. King Charles I was executed, and Oliver Cromwell moved into Whitehall Palace.

During the Puritan era, in Dean Milman's words, '...St. Paul's became a useless pile... The portico was let for mean shops... The body of the Church became a cavalry barrack.' The roof began to leak.

Paul's Walk as Wenceslaus Hollar would have it.
Then there was Paul's Walk.
As far back as the 14th century, abuses abounded in St Paul's, which seemed no one had enough power to stop. The nave extended the length of the Cathedral. It was long and vaulted, open to the public during all hours of the day and night. It became a sheltered shortcut across the churchyard, a meeting place for all and sundry, a marketplace of sorts. Young men threw stones at birds that nested there; some hurled arrows from crossbows, breaking statues and windows. Servants out of work gathered at a pillar to make themselves known they were for hire. Fights and brawls further sent the Cathedral into decline. The authorities tried to stop these transgressions through excommunicates and whatnots. By the 17th century, the governments were in disarray, and the abuse continued. St Paul’s nave remained a place of London's underbelly, especially at night.

Charles II returned to England in a blaze of joy and celebration May 1660. In 1663, a scaffold was built around St Paul's, money collected, and more houses designated to be pulled down in order to make room for the rebuild. Architectural design was again argued. A committee of commissioners had a meeting on August 25, 1666. The repairs would be extensive from the old foundation to the pillars up to the roof. The steeple still had not been replaced from the 1561 fire, and a new one fell into the discussions.

But before anything could be done, a fierce wind blew, and in the early hours of September 2nd, 1666 a fire started in a bakery on Pudding Lane. Flames blew with the winds and spread at a rapid rate, burning almost everything within the old London walls. St Paul's, too. 

The scaffolding and other demolition around Paul's hampered any fight to save the old building. Its disrepair only fueled the fire. St Faith's under Paul's was loaded with combustive goods that exploded, sending Paul’s choir into St Faith. The lead surface of the roof began to melt in folds and rained down the sides of the church, into the streets. Within hours the great Cathedral was a cavernous loss.

St Paul's after the fire of 1666
I guess all good things must pass. St Paul’s lasted for centuries, mostly in some sort of disrepair. Sad, really.  

Many thanks to:
Dugdale, William. The History of St Pauls Cathedral in London from its Foundation until these Times: Extracted out of Originall Charters. Records. Leiger Books, and other Manuscripts. Beautified with sundry Prospects of the Church, Figures of Tombes, and Monument. London 1658.
Longman, William (F.S.A). A History of The Three Cathedrals, dedicated to St. Paul in London. London 1873
Simpson, W. Sparrow (D.D., F.S.A). Chapters in the History of Old S. Paul’s. London 1910.

You can find my novels here:

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Rules & Regs London 17th Century

A reader asked a question to a post I placed July 4th regarding what and whatnots in a coffee house. His question was:

"I find all these social mores fascinating because I am curious....given this Independence Day....just how much personal freedom we really have compared to past eras."

I guess my answer was a bit flippant, for he did not Like or respond. The question got me thinking, though, and so I decided to write about some of the rules and regulations during past eras, and the 17th century. 

The church, i.e., Roman Catholic or Protestant, then the guilds, or livery companies, were the forces to be reckoned with for centuries. They ruled the roost. 

Sources say livery companies or fraternities called guilds (The word ‘guild’ derives from the Saxon ‘gildan’.) started prior to the Battle of Hastings in 1066, and originated in Europe. To be a member of a guild, you had to be a freeman. In order to do that, you must complete your apprenticeship. Once done, you paid a fee to belong. You followed their rules, kept their secrets, and eventually participated in good works. You lived near their centers, and you sold wares that were approved by your livery company. 

Your livery company had the right to arrest you, fine or imprison you. When at war, the guild could call you up for arms, fit you with armor, and give you weapons, men and boys ages 7 and up; then off you’d go into military action. The Corporation of London had control over the livery companies, and the company you belonged to had control over the people in their organization. 

They owned land, set up hospitals, schools, and loaned kings money. If one of their own were in trouble, the company would bail him out, gave money to the family during difficult times; buried their dead, and gave pensions to the widows. 

New livery companies were established all the time. The Mercers obtained their royal charter in 1394, and the Worshipful Company of Needlemakers in February of 1664. Back in the day, there were considered 12 companies, but in January of 1551, the Lord Mayor & Court of Aldermen set down the order of precedence for 48 livery companies. Now, there are 110. 

The companies had their rules and regs, and the merchants passed down more rules unto their customer. For instance, the Barber-Surgeons Company. On a scale of 1-110 in order of precedence with the Mercers as number 1, the Barbers (which includes surgeons and dentists) is number 17 (per Wikipedia). 

Gate to Skinner's Hall

The Barber-Surgeons, as the title infers included the two fraternities. Their ordinances had the choice of apprentices, number of servants to be kept by freeman and liverymen, servants’ wages, rule against or for masters who lured servants away, where a shop opened, how the shop owner conducted his business. It was against the rules for a barber to cut hair on Sundays with a hefty fine, up to 5 shillings which was a great deal, but still, that rule was rarely obeyed. 

There were certain things you could and could not do in a barbershop. “Forfeits used to be enforced for breaches of conduct as laid down in laws…” The person who made a gaff would have to pay for his offense. 

You could not:
Handle razors
Talk of cutting a throat
Call hair powder ‘flour’
Meddle with the barber’s tools
Take another's turn, swear or curse, you pay 7 half-pennies. 

During the 17th century, a few things happened during this century that impressed the inhabitants of the time. Religion took a big stake out of everyone's lives. Separate beliefs, and a deep irritation toward King Charles I brought on the Civil Wars, resulting in the execution of the said king, the scattering of his family into exile, a strict Commonwealth, then the Restoration. 

When King Charles II returned from exile, he took a Portuguese bride. Her dowry gave England new lands to explore, and England reaped the benefits of trade. Goods brought back from these far flung places gave merchants a new perspective of what was truly available across the seas, and in the wide blue yonder.

Entrance to Fishmonger's Hall

 As a result, rules & regs from the past blurred with the new. Shops sold other than what their guilds dictated. Some livery companies failed, and those that remained primarily did good works. Those whose halls were located within the old City walls perished, along with all the records, in the great fire of 1666.

For more on this, especially of the Barber-Surgeons Guild, please see my novel,  
The Barbers: A Tale Most Curious & Rare 

Many thanks to:

The Annals of the Barber-Surgeons of London, Compiled from their Records and other Sources, by Sidney Young, one of the Court of Assistants of the Worshipful Company of Barbers of London, with Illustrations by Austin T. Young. London, 1890

At the Sign of the Barber’s Pole, Studies in Hirsute History, by William Andrews, Cottingham, Yorkshire, 1904.