An Intriguing Bill... 18th Century Remedies in Lacock's Box 47

on Tuesday, 16 September 2014. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

Lacock Unlocked

Cataloguing box 47 is a slow process, it is packed with lots of ‘bundles’, mostly folded and rolled receipts and invoices for the second half of the eighteenth century, intricately put together in years. They are like abstract pieces of origami which when unfolded cannot be put back together in quite the same way. But this is not the real reason for taking so long to work through the documents; I am easily diverted. On the face of it bills are rather boring, but here are people going about their business on the estate, making trips to purchase goods and undertaking repairs to buildings, the Malthouse and Red Lion seem to appear quite regularly. Local history, family history, economic history, even costume history can be discovered here. Trips to Bath conjure up images of Jane Austen, while wages being paid three years late leave you pondering how people managed to feed themselves and their families. The distractions are plentiful.

But back to the title, some of the most intriguing bills found were those for medicines. For a week in September 1740 Thomas Honey was paid for a variety of herbal medicines, along with the ‘vomit’ was ‘cordial mixture’ and ‘a decoction of ye bark a quart’. I have not found any other references to Thomas so far, but he seems well named. Doctor, apothecary, quack, how to describe someone who supplied these remedies; he charged for ‘bleeding’ so a barber perhaps, or even a grocer? Apothecaries were originally part of the grocers’ trade. In January 1745 it was a Mr Ringston and William Busby who were supplying John Talbot with similar items, a ‘cooling emulsion a quart’ and ‘the opening electuary’ and then nothing until August when ‘rhubarb tinctures’ and ‘mercurial pills’ were supplied.

However the most interesting bill covers February 1759 – October 1760 and was presented by John Savage. Here the patients are also listed. The groom seems to have regularly required vomiting powders and a ‘febrifuge’, according to Culpeper’s Herbal this is a medicine for reducing fever. The housemaid, cook and dairy maid also seem to have taken similar medicines over the period covered by the bill. In November the gardener required chamomile, its use seems to cover a multitude of problems, to drive away ague, to take away the stitch or pain in the side, an oil made from the flowers was used for swellings, aches and pains and cramps in the joints. Appropriate for a gardener perhaps, in April he was prescribed a cure for gardener’s thumb, some form of repetitive strain injury? What the cure was is not mentioned, but it wasn’t prescribed again so it seems to have worked.

Most of the medicines listed seem to relate to purging, vomiting or cooling agues. Was there a spate of sickness amongst the staff or were regular purging’s and vomiting thought to be good for you?

As for the maid, the butler, the groom and other staff, I have not yet been able to give them a name. But as for the gardener this would appear to be a member of the Hudd family. In 1761 garden accounts were submitted by Charles and Thomas Hudd, in the same year George Hudd was paid for working in the garden. From other accounts we can see what they were planting, carrots, parsnip, beans and peas, mustard, as well as flowers and trees. The only doctor discovered so far is Dr Edward’s who paid rent for Short Lands, in 1747, although so far there are no bills for his services as a doctor.

There may be more such bills in the box, which will add to the picture of the illnesses and cures endured by the people on the estate. For the moment I have more questions, not only about the medicines and general health of people but how considerate an employer John Talbot was. He was paying for the medicines for his staff, so was he caring and compassionate or was it docked from their wages? Did he have the services of a physician while his staff made do with the local apothecary? There were a number of books they could have relied on, ‘The British Herbal and Family Physician for the use of Private Families’ by Nicholas Culpeper also his ‘Complete Herbal’ or ‘The Family Herbal’ by John Hill. One thing is certain, I am grateful for the NHS, looking at Culpeper some of these medicines could just as easily kill as cure. My next diversion, looking to see what books were held in the Talbot’s library, is there an herbal in there somewhere?

Linda Pidgeon
Lacock Unlocked Project Volunteer

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