1637: Church elders complain of dung-hurling


In 1637 an order from Charles I required members of the Norwich municipal corporation to attend cathedral services, if they weren’t doing so already. The order posed problems for the mayor and aldermen, who petitioned the king for an exemption from attending services in the city’s cathedral. Their “Humble Petition” cited “inconveniences thereof [that were] many and intolerable”. According to members of the corporation, their low seats in the cathedral were subject to gusts of freezing wind. Not only that, the ordinary folk of Norwich, who were none too fond of the corporation, occupied the seats in the upper galleries. This gave them a vantage point for pelting city officials with anything they could find, from shoes to excreta:

norwich
Norwich cathedral

“There be many seats over our heads and are oftentimes exposed to much danger… In the mayoralty of Mr Christopher Barrett a great Bible was let fall from above and hitting him upon the head, broke his spectacles… Some made water in the gallery on the aldermen’s heads and it dropped down into their wives’ seats… In October last Alderman Shipdham, somebody most beastly did conspurcate and shit upon his gown from the galleries above… some from the galleries let fall a shoe which narrowly missed the mayor’s head… another time one from the gallery did spit upon Alderman Barrett’s head…”

The king denied their request for exemption. It is not known if the Norwich elders followed the order and braved the masses in the cathedral.

Source: Tanner manuscripts, Bodleian Library; v.220, f.147. 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.

1747: Speed up childbirth by drinking hubby’s urine


Robert James (1703-1776) was a London physician and author. James was born in Staffordshire and educated at both Oxford and Cambridge. By the mid 1740s James owned a busy medical practice in London. He also established friendships with the literary elite, including John Newbery and Samuel Johnson. During his career James developed and patented several medicines. His most popular concoction was ‘Fever Powder’, a dangerous mix of antimony and calcium phosphate that was still being sold into the early 20th century. James also penned numerous medical guides, including his three-volume Medical Dictionary and a 1747 guide to medicines called Pharmacopoeia Universalis. The latter contains a section on the medicinal value of human by-products. One of the most versatile of these, writes James, is dried menstrual blood. Provided it is taken from the first flow of the cycle, menstrual blood can be of great benefit:

james
James’ Fever Powders, circa 1878

“Taken inwardly it is commended for the stone[s] and epilepsy… Externally used it eases the pains of gout… It is also said to be of service for the pestilence, abscesses and carbuncle… [It also] cleans the face from pustules.”

Women enduring a difficult childbirth, writes James, can “facilitate the delivery” by sipping:

“…a draught of the husband’s urine”.

Source: Robert James, Pharmacopoeia Universalis, 1747. 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.

1720: Tobacco and urine enema brings relief


The medicinal value of tobacco was a hot topic among 18th physicians, qualified and otherwise. Many hailed tobacco as a wonder drug, capable of treating everything from epilepsy to dropsy. Others were more sceptical. In 1720 a 32-page pamphlet, published anonymously in London, condemned the social and psychological effects of tobacco – yet hailed it as a treatment for some minor illnesses and afflictions. Tobacco could be effective as a laxative, claimed the author. Those who smoke or chew it, then swallow either “a little of the smoke” or “their spittle impregnated with its juice”, would soon “obtain two or three stools”. Tobacco was also an effective treatment for abdominal pain, gripe and bowel obstructions. The 1720 pamphlet cites the case of a patient suffering “violent iliac passion” or “twisting of the guts”. He was cured of his sufferings after being given tobacco in an unusual fashion:

“[The patient was given] a decoction of it in urine, for a clyster (enema)… After having, with much difficulty, injected the clyster, the patient was constantly rolled upon the floor for some considerable time, till he felt a strong motion for a stool, at which time there was a copious discharge of hard excrements and wind, to the sudden relief of the tormented patient and the joy of his despairing friends.”

Later in the 1700s William Buchan endorsed the use of tobacco as a laxative, though he preferred to apply it as smoke, blown into the bowels with a pressure enema. Where medical help or specialist equipment was not available, Buchan advised readers that “the business may be done with a common tobacco pipe” – presumably one no longer used for smoking:

“The bowl of the pipe must be filled with tobacco, well kindled, and after the small tube has been introduced into the fundament, the smoke may be forced up by blowing through a piece of paper full of holes, wrapped around the mouth of the pipe…”


Source: Anonymous, A Dissertation on the Use and Abuse of Tobacco, in relation to Smoaking, Chewing and Taking of Snuff, &c., London, 1720; William Buchan, Domestic Medicine, or a Treatise on the Prevention and Cure of Diseases, London, 1791. 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.

1822: Man has ingrown curtain ring removed from penis


Robert Liston (1794-1847) was a Scottish surgeon, known for his anatomical knowledge, skill and fast hands. Liston was famous – and to some extent notorious – for the speed of his amputations. It was said he could remove a leg in well under a minute, an astonishing feat at a time when amputations involved a lot of laborious hacking and sawing. Liston’s speed often came at a cost, however. According to legend, Liston once accidentally slashed the fingers of an assistant – and both the patient and the assistant later died of gangrene. Liston was also said to have accidentally sliced off a man’s testicles while amputating his leg at the thigh.

Robert Liston, about to hack off a leg
Robert Liston, about to hack off a leg

Between 1818 and 1840, when he relocated to London, Liston worked in private practice in his native Edinburgh. Other physicians loathed him for his short temper and sharp tongue. Liston’s willingness to treat the poor made him more popular with ordinary Scots, though he had a reputation for impatience and carelessness. In 1822 Liston, then a young man in his late 20s, provided a local medical journal with an account of a recent case. He was approached by a man in his late 50s who complained of difficulty urinating – however the patient refused to let the doctor make “any examination of the parts” and promptly left. Several months later the man returned, his complaint now considerably worse. This time he told Liston the whole story:

“About the age of nine or ten [the patient] had incontinence of urine and was frequently chastised by his parents on account of this occurrence during the night [bedwetting]. In order to save himself from a flogging, before going to bed he passed a brass curtain ring over the penis, as far as he could. This expedient had the desired effect, but in the morning swelling had come on [and prevented] his removing it. Notwithstanding all his suffering from pain and difficulty in passing his urine, he made no complaint.”

The curtain ring remained lodged at the base of his penis for 47 years. Eventually it sank into the skin which, according to Liston, “adhered over the foreign body, and there it remained”. Strangely, the foreign body gave the patient no significant trouble, a fact evidenced by him becoming “the father of a fine family”. Seeking to resolve the man’s continence issues, Liston examined him and found a “broad hard substance” around the base of his member. Not one to mess around, the doctor set to work incising and separating skin from the lower penis. After much work Liston managed to extract the brass ring, which after almost five decades had become encrusted with calculus (hard growth formed by salt and urea deposits). The operation brought some improvement to the man’s urinary issues but he died of lung disease shortly after.


Source: Robert Liston, “Account of a calculus in the urethra, formed upon a brass ring” in Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal, vol. 19, 1823. 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.

1722: Swedish woman solves phantom pregnancy mystery


In 1724 the Royal Society tabled a report written by Swedish physician, Doctor John Lindelstolpe. Titled “Intestinum Parturiens”, it involved the macabre story of a 41-year-old Swedish woman who suffered two stillborn pregnancies in 18 months – however the first of these pregnancies produced no baby, living or dead:

“[The patient] became pregnant in July 1720 and continued enlarging for seven months… but after the seventh month the enlargement disappeared, a weight only remaining in the right side. She became pregnant again and in December 1721 was delivered of a dead child.”

The mystery of the first pregnancy was not solved until May 1722, when the patient:

“…Went to stool [and] felt so great a pain in the anus that she thought the intestinum rectum had entirely fallen out. On applying her fingers to relieve herself, she brought away part of a cranium, and afterward found in the close stool two ribs. In the course of the fortnight there came away, by the same exit, the remainder of the bones.”

Dr Lindelstolpe’s theory was that the first pregnancy was ectopic: it had taken root and grown in the Fallopian tube before bursting the tube and descending, “by the formation of an abscess, into the rectum”. Pleasingly, the woman recovered from her horrible experiences in mid 1722. She had since regained her health and carried a pregnancy to term, delivering a surviving child.


Source: John Lindelstolpe M.D., “Intestinum Parturiens, or a very uncommon case wherein the bones of a fetes came away per annum”, Stockholm, 1723. 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.