1579: Light your home with dung-dissolved glow worms

Thomas Lupton was an English moralist, eccentric and author of the 16th century. A staunch Protestant and an advocate for public welfare, Lupton wrote numerous manuscripts on several topics in the last quarter of the 1500s. One of these, the ornately titled A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts, was a disjointed collection of recipes, hints and medical receipts, gathered from various sources. Like others of his era, Lupton’s tips ranged from practical common sense advice to Paracelsian nonsense and bizarre wives’ tales. For example, to “clear and strengthen” your eyes, Lupton says to “wash them in the morning with your own water [urine]”. To stop a nosebleed, tie a thin thread tightly on your little finger. To strengthen the vital parts and “chief members” [genitals], or to avoid the plague, drink “burning gold quenched in our wine”. To kill intestinal worms, drink ox gall. If you’ve lost your voice, go to bed with a piece of raw beef tied to your forehead. For haemorrhoids, apply black wool or brown paper.

For warts, Lupton cites a common medieval treatment:

“Cut off the head of a quick eel and rub the warts all over well with the same blood, as it runs from the eel, then bury the head of the said eel deep in the ground. When the head is rotten, they will fall away.”

For chronic tooth decay and pain:

“The powder of earthworms, mice dung or a hart’s tooth, put into the holes of teeth that be worm-eaten, doth pluck them up by the roots, or make them fall out without any other instrument.”

Finally, Lupton offers a means of lighting your home, three centuries before the advent of electricity:

“Worms that shine in the night, called glow worms, being well stopped in a glass and covered with horse dung, standing there a certain time, will be dissolved into a liquor, which being mixed with a like proportion of quicksilver [mercury]… and then put up in the midst of a house will give such a bright light in the dark, as the Moon doth when she shines in a bright night.”

Source: Thomas Lupton, A Thousand Notable Things of Sundry Sorts, 1590 ed. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1598: Cheese shortens your “gear”, says adulterous wife

In 1598 a Hounsditch woman, Margaret Browne, appeared at Bridewell Court to give evidence against her neighbour. Browne and her husband lived next door to John Underhill, a local bookbinder, and his wife Clement. According to Browne’s testimony, Mr Underhill left town on business on May 13th. Around lunchtime Clement Underhill received a male caller, a man named Michael Fludd. Mrs Browne, apparently a pioneer of the Neighbourhood Watch movement, followed events through windows and gaps in the walls. She saw and overheard a salacious exchange in the Underhills’ kitchen:

“As they were eating their victuals, Underhill’s wife said unto Fludd these words: “Eat no more cheese, for that it will make your gear short, and I mean to have a good turn of you soon.”

After lunch Fludd retired upstairs to the Underhills’ bedroom, where he remained while Mrs Underhill attended their store. At six o’clock she joined him in bedchamber, where Fludd:

“…took her in his arms and brought her to the bed’s foot and took up her clothes… She put her hand into his hose and he kissed her and pulled her upon him… He plucked up her clothes to her thighs, she plucked them up higher, whereby [Mrs Browne] saw not only her hose, being seawater green colour, and also her bare thighs.”

After nature had taken its course, Fludd “wiped his yard on her smock”, then Underhill “departed from him to fetch a pot of beer”. They then shared some bread and drink, with Mrs Underhill reportedly toasting Fludd’s performance in bed. Browne’s husband, who arrived home in time to witness the fornication next door, supported his wife’s testimony. Confronted with this evidence, Fludd confessed to having “carnal knowledge of the body of the said Clement Underhill”. Despite the graphic nature of Mrs Browne’s testimony Fludd was treated leniently: he was ordered to pay 20 shillings to the Bridewell hospital. Mrs Underhill was not arraigned and escaped without penalty from the court, though she did not escape public humiliation.

Source: Bridewell Court Minute Book 1598-1604, May 1598, f.23. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2016. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.