At the time the Survey was carried out, one doctor often served a number of communities over a large rural area. (See our Spotlight on the Yorkshire Dales for more information on the life of a Dales doctor). With the arrival of the NHS, things were changing in some areas.
Mary Moffat in Earsdon, Tyne and Wear, talked to the fieldworkers about doctors and their new local health centre, and recalled home visits in the past.
Meanwhile, Olive Metcalf was recorded in the Kirkstall area of Leeds talking about tuberculosis and new public health measures.
However, Olive also shared a number of home remedies, including goose grease, camphorated oil, mutton suet and hot milk for colds and bad chests.
A number of home remedies were shared by informants living across England and the Welsh Border. These provide a fascinating insight into common ailments at the time, as well as the cures themselves. Warts, chapped skin and chilblains, and whooping cough were the most frequently discussed, but many other conditions and their remedies were shared. Read on for the informants’ guide to home remedies (as you’ll learn, it may be handy to keep a supply of stale urine in the house as a necessary cure all).
The following remedies were shared as ways of getting rid of warts.
- Rub the wart with a snail (some areas specified it needed to be a black snail), then stick the snail on a thorn within a hedge. As the snail withers and dies, the wart will disappear. (Northamptonshire, Oxfordshire, Nottinghamshire, Gloucestershire)
- Stick a pin into the bark of an ash tree and tell nobody (Huntingdonshire)
- Bury meat (Leicestershire) or drop meat stolen from a butcher down a well (Essex)
- Put 6 pence in a crack in a gate, tell nobody. When the coin turns over the wart will have gone (Northamptonshire)
- Wash your hands in the water from potato peelings (Durham)
- Get a reading from the Bible by the local milkman for ½ a penny
- Charm them with pods of broad beans, then bury the beans in a secret place (Gloucestershire). Elderberries were suggested as an alternative in Oxfordshire.
- Drop a box of wheat grain at a crossroads (Monmouthshire)
- Put stones in a bag equal to the number of warts and throw the bag over your shoulder at the end of any 4 lanes without looking round (Lancashire)
- Dip your hands in Blacksmith’s slack (cooling water) (Yorkshire)
- Or you could try more fragrant alternatives of celandine (Worcestershire) or Marigolds (Yorkshire).
Mrs. Roberts, recorded in Haselor; talks about wart cures (broad bean pods, raw beef) and wart charmers; plant cures.
Mark Luttman, recorded in Bidford-on-Avon; talks about wart cures (straw knots).
Chapped hands and chilblains
Stale urine was widely recommended for the treatment of chapped hands and chilblains in Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, Cheshire and Derbyshire. The informant in Derbyshire suggested using the contents of a chamber pot. Shoemaker’s wax (Norfolk and Lincolnshire) and sheep fat (Somerset) were also recommended for chapped hands (Norfolk), or ointments made from dock root and mutton fat, or wax, pig’s lard and a teaspoon of sugar (Northumberland). Stinging chilblains with a holly bough was also suggested in Monmouthshire, while the chilly alternative of treating the skin with snow was recommended in Yorkshire.
Look away now if you’re a fan of fieldmice! Informants in Suffolk, Essex, Buckinghamshire and Leicestershire recommended a dose of cooked or fried fieldmouse as a cure for whooping cough. Meal of hedgehog was also recommended in Northamptonshire. In Staffordshire, a local doctor was quoted as saying, ‘You won’t get out on it ‘til cuckoo sings’ (you won’t get rid of whooping cough until the cuckoo sings, that is, spring)
Suggested remedies for styes included rubbing (Warwickshire), breaking (Norfolk) or charming them away (Somerset) with a gold ring. An informant in Cornwall recommended wiping the eye with the tail of an old tom cat.
A whole host of other ailments and recommended remedies were contributed by informants, including:
- Blisters – rub with bacon fat (Essex)
- Nits – treat with salt (Essex)
- Frostbite – wrap feet in warm cow-muck (Lincolnshire)
- Deafness – oil from a roasted hedgehog (Northamptonshire)
- Backache – rainwater collected on Good Friday (Norfolk)
- Strains and sprains – relieve with the liquid from the centre of a cow pat (Oxfordshire)
- Rheumatism – oil made from stale urine (Yorkshire)
- Diarrhoea – bread baked on Good Friday (Norfolk) or Bumble kites (blackberries – Yorkshire)
- Scurvy – stale urine (Northumberland)
- To staunch bleeding – neat turpentine (Monmouthshire)
- Hiccups – swallow nine times (Yorkshire)
- Jaundice – charmed away at night by a local woman using a drink made from the sufferer’s own urine mixed with herbs (Lancashire)
- Measles – use warm buttermilk to bring out symptoms (Cheshire)
In addition to the above remedies for specific ailments, broth was recommended as an appropriate dish for sick people (Northamptonshire) or to cure a cold (Monmouthshire). Similarly, onion gruel was recommended in Suffolk as a tried and tested cure for colds. To avoid catching a cold in the first place, an informant in Lancashire recommended having a hair cut during a full moon. While in Cheshire, an informant suggested putting straw in your boots to keep your feet warm (but warned against using hay as it could damage your eyesight).