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Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Happy Birthday Anaesthetic

On this day in 1846 ether was used as an anaesthetic for the very first time. (see picture below) The event took place in America, and the brave patient was Mr Eben Frost, who had a tooth painlessly (!?) extracted by William Thomas Green Morton – a dentist (thankfully)
The use of ether spread to England in just a few months, and no doubt those afflicted by toothache or requiring otherwise painful operations rejoiced.

However, the life of ether was short lived in Britain, thanks in no small part to its vomit-inducing side effects, and its flammable nature (when the chief lighting method is candle or gas, this can prove problematic) James Young Simpson’s work on another drug with anaesthetic properties – chloroform – took place in 1847, and when John Snow administered it to Queen Victoria as she gave birth to little Prince Leopold in 1853, chloroform effectively received a “Royal Seal of approval” and its use was completely legitimized for public use, and use it they did. Princess Beatrice was also born with the aid of chloroform a few years later.

Anyone who has a passing interest in Victoriana will probably be familiar with chloroform, which could also be an effective poison if too high a dose was taken. (which it frequently was) The same could be said for most medicines in the 19th century, a high number of which contained opium derivatives.

Scanning through anything by Mrs Beeton or Cassell will inevitably uncover advice for the home-curing of ailments, along with some startling advice for parents with young children that, if adhered to in today’s world, would reward you not with a healthy child, but a criminal record.
The poor children who suffered with teething problems deserve a mention, as Mrs Beeton advised that:

If a tooth is pressing on the gum, it should be lanced, and this measure often relieves wonderfully.”

I should imagine the poor toddler didn’t think of the treatment as highly. It goes on:

“The Treatment in all cases of painful teething is remarkably simple, and consists in keeping the body cool by mild aperient medicines, allaying the irritation in the gums by friction with a rough ivory ring or a stale crust of bread, and when the head, lungs, or any organ is overloaded or unduly excited, to use the hot bath, and by throwing the body into a perspiration, equalize the circulation, and relieve the system from the danger of a fatal termination”

The treatment of croup also sounds a delight:

“Treatment.--Place the child immediately in a hot bath up to the throat; and, on removal from the water, give an emetic of the antimonial or ipecacuanha wine, and, when the vomiting has subsided, lay a long blister down the front of the throat, and administer one of the following powders every twenty minutes to a child from three to six years of age. Take of calomel, 12 grains; tartar emetic, 2 grains; lump sugar, 30 grains. Mix accurately, and divide into 12 powders. For a child from six to twelve years, divide into 6 powders, and give one every half-hour.
Should the symptoms remain unabated after a few hours, apply one or two leeches to the throat, and put mustard poultices to the foot and thighs, retaining them about eight minutes; and, in extreme cases, a mustard poultice to the spine between the shoulders, and at the same time rub mercurial ointment into the armpits and the angles of the jaws.
Such is a vigorous and reliable system of treatment in severe cases of croup; but, in the milder and more general form, the following abridgment will, in all probability, be all that will be required:--First, the hot bath; second, the emetic; third, a mustard plaster round the throat for five minutes; fourth, the powders; fifth, another emetic in six hours, if needed, and the powders continued without intermission while the urgency of the symptoms continues. When relief has been obtained, these are to be discontinued, and a dose of senna tea given to act on the bowels.”

The sick children of Victoria’s reign were administered all sorts of dangerous drugs, medicines and concoctions such as laudanum, Sulphuric Acid, Leeches, “mercurial ointment” (which I think contained mercury, Venice turpentine [which is a diuretic or purgative], balsam of sulphur and lard) They also swallowed down castor oil, brandy, gin and wine, not to mention the popular Godfrey’s Cordial (which contained opium, treacle, water, and tasty spices)

That said, amazingly some of them went on to do well for themselves, such as Mr Brunel, Mr Dickens, Mr Robert Scott, Miss Nightingale, Mr Elgar and of course, Mr Churchill to name but few.

Anybody who (like me) is not keen on a trip to the dentist should celebrate today and imagine how much worse that extraction would have been if all you had to block out the pain of the dentist drill (which in those days was worked a little bit like a loom, whereby the dentist pushed a pedal up and down at floor level, which connected to a machine and eventually to a drill, so the consistent drilling depended upon the dentist’s smooth pedal action) was a bit of gin.

In the early forties, Nitrous Oxide was used in America as an anaesthetic during a dental operation, and everything was going well until the patient cried out in pain

Its worth trying to get a look at some Victorian dentistry tools, they really do look like torture devices.

So, happy one-hundred and forty-sixth birthday to the use of ether as an anaesthetic, the forebear of our modern anaesthesia.

Anyone interested in the history of medicine, or the horror of, should take a visit to the old operating theatre museum in London, the link of which can be found here and  I’ve been carrying around a good article from the Daily Mail for two years or so, which contains information on the birth of anaesthetic, and you can read that here

Monday, 27 September 2010

Kron - The Little Londoner

Antique books are a bit of a hobby of mine and of course, I tend to collect only Victorian books, that being my era of fascination. One of the most interesting genres of Victorian publication (outside of journalism) I find is the guide book.

There are plenty of books out there aimed at Victorian tourists, explaining and mapping the delights of London for visitors, and for someone trying to write about the period, these can be invaluable.

I am currently working (my hardest) on a novel (pipe dream) set in London between 1860 and 1875, and one of the most helpful books I have come across is “Murray’s Modern London 1860” which you can have a look at here
This is an extremely comprehensive tour guide, which takes the visitor through everything from a map of the Thames to a description of the markets, details about the bridges to the royal parks and much more. This book is still being reproduced now, clearly, and along with the Stanford maps, Cassel’s guides et al, can give great descriptions of places, medicines, and buildings etc.

When antique guide books come along its all the more pleasing – some weeks ago I was perusing an antiques shop not far from Hampton Court, and I stumbled across a curious little book entitled:
The Little Londoner –
 a Concise Account of the Life and Ways of the English with Special reference to London

It wasn’t too expensive so I bought it and had a look.
I have the fifth edition, published in 1901 by the German publisher J. Bielefeld, based in Karlsruhe, so its not quite Victorian. The original publishing date, I'm fairly certain, is also 1901, this is clear due to the following paragraph in the chapter on the British Empire:

“The present Sovereign is King Edward VII, born on the 9th November, 1841. he succeeded to the throne on the 22nd of January, 1901, on the death of his mother, Queen Victoria. King Edward is also Emperor of India…”

The contents are quite delightful and charming, and it is the most detailed and comprehensive guide book I think I’ve ever read, with chapters ranging from guides to food and meals, seasons and weather, the human body, London, and even toilet.

Well, I know you want to hear about the toileting habits of the Edwardians, so here goes:
(note – I have omitted the opening paragraph for fear that it may cause offence)

“Every one of us, before going to bed at night, takes off his clothes, ie undresses, and puts on his night-shirt, or pyjamas, ie a flannel or silk sleeping-suit (jacket and trousers). Every morning, we dress (or put on our clothes).
  When I wake up (or awake) after a good night’s rest, I involuntarily rub my eyes, and then get up (or rise) in order to dress. I first put on my pants (or drawers), then my socks (reaching up to the calves), or stockings (reaching to the knee), my trousers (familiarly bags, or breeches; in America pants, or pantaloons), and my slippers.
  Then I go to the wash(ing)-stand and have a thorough wash in cold water, which is far more refreshing and wholesome than (luke)warm (or tepid) water. In washing I use a sponge and a cake or tablet of unscented soap. I have a rough and a soft towel to dry myself with. Many people have a bath-room close to their bed-room and have (or take) a tub, ie a bath (hot or cold) every morning.
  Then I clean (or brush) my teeth with a tooth-brush and tooth-powder (or dentifrice), and gargle (or rinse my mouth). After every meal I also clean and rinse my mouth to prevent my teeth from decaying. When I have done washing (myself), I comb and brush my hair [with a comb and a (hair-) brush]. I detest pomatum and perfumes (or scents), and never put any on my hair.
  My beard grows very fast, and so I (have a) shave (or get shaved) every other morning. being (or getting) shaved by a barber is an unpleasant affair for me, so I prefer to do it by myself. I have a complete shaving-tackle (a razor, strop, brush, and shaving soap).
  I then put on my (under-)vest and my (day-)shirt; I fasten a stick-up (or stand-up) or a turn-down, (or lay-down) collar to it by means of studs, put on a silk tie or scarf, a pair of cuffs with links, and lastly my waistcoat and my coat (or jacket).
  Before going down to breakfast , I take off my slippers and put on a pair of clean, well-blacked boots or shoes. (Englishmen mostly wear laced boots). In summer I also wear brown boots or tans, ie boots of a tan or yellowish colour. As for my patent (leather) boots, I only put them on in very fine weather or when I go to a party. When there is snow or bad weather, I wear waterproof goloshes over my boots. Before going out, I brush my felt hat or silk hat, and put on a pair of gloves (kid, buckskin, doeskin or woollen gloves. White buckskin gloves are only worn in the Army and Navy).”

I’m not quite sure who chapters like this are aimed at, and its incomprehensible that a modern day version of this would ever be published, but I certainly got a few chuckles reading it.
A slightly more useful chapter, perhaps, for the foreign tourist of 1901, is the chapter on transport, which includes a little section about the language to be expected when hiring a London cab.
You can almost picture Mr German, all washed and shaved with boots on, holding this little guidebook and attempting to converse with a London Cabbie on his Hansom.
The suggested conversation in the book goes like this:

Gentleman: Hallo! Are you engaged?
Cabman: No, I am disengaged, Where to?
Gentleman: Take me to 14, Westmoreland Road, Bayswater.
Cabman: All right, shall I take your portmanteau?
Gentleman: Yes, you may put it on the top, but mind it doesn’t come down!
Cabman: No fear of that!
Gentleman: Stop! You have gone too far, turn back, please!
Cabman: Well, didn’t you say number forty?
Gentleman: No, I told you to take me to number fourteen.
Cabman: Ah, that’s quite different.
Gentleman: Stop! Here it is. What’s your fare?
Cabman: One and sixpence fare, and twopence for the luggage, one and eight in all.
Gentleman: Here are two shillings, keep the rest for yourself, and hand me down the portmanteau, will you?
Cabman: Here you are.

Quite charming, as I said! Other chapters that may have proved useful are ones about English society, one entitled “Clubs, restaurants, public houses, cafes, newspapers, smoking” and another “Post, letters, telegraph, cable, telephone and electricity”.

But I haven’t seen any other guidebook which includes a chapter on basic arithmetic and how to tell the time. I suggest that any tourist unable to tell the time will have done well to arrive in London at all! But then, there is a chapter on Travelling by Land and Sea, of course!

A lovely little book, if the above has interested you at all why not try Ebay, or even better, get out and about in your local (or non local) antique shop and try and find a copy, you never know what else you may stumble upon.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Old Industry of Stoke-On-Trent

At the weekend, “Miss Amateur Casual” and I took a trip to her hometown of Stoke-On-Trent. It was the first time I had been there, but was cutely aware (mostly from her) of the industrial heritage of the area thanks to its pottery (which you can read about here if you wish) 
Getting off the coach and into the town I had the same feeling as when I was passing through Sheffield five years or so ago.

Bottle Kiln
The place was a wonderful blend of old and new, with dark bricks, slate roofs and carvings of old town halls, houses and shops going hand in hand with concrete blocks of the sixties, and the “flat pack” style corrugated sheet buildings the like of which we seem to be keen these days.

Walking around I saw many buildings that caught my eye as the ghosts of industry past watched over the town, reminding everyone about what put the place on the map. The most fascinating sight were the last remaining bottle kilns dotted about, such as the one pictured on the left.
Greenfield Pottery

Miss Amateur Casual tells me this is where the newly made pottery was fired up, and in its heyday, the Stoke skyline was dominated by over three thousand of these. A quick foray onto Google images and her knowledge is conformed with this wonderful picture of the Greenfield Pottery that was in Tunstall, built in 1834, date of photo unknown:

There are many places in England where the fingernails of old industry still cling onto the cliff-face of modern life, the other one that springs to mind is Manchester.
Can anyone recommend any other places of interest (other than London) where these ghosts of our past can still be seen and would be worth a visit?

Anybody interested in pottery who wishes to visit Stoke-On-Trent should probably start with the Gladstone Pottery Museum here and I can recommend a most excellent guest house which is opposite the wonderful Hanley Park. Click on this sentence for the site.

Diary of a Victorian Clerk

I’m currently subscribed to a feed from Westminster City Council, which is the daily diary of Nathaniel Bryceson. 
Nathaniel was nineteen years old when he wrote the diary in 1846, and at the time was employed as a Wharf Clerk, seemingly at a coal wharf as he mentions coal quite a bit. It’s quite fascinating to read about his hobbies (history, exploring churches and taking engravings of old gravestones) his family, and his mistress, Ann Fox.
Some of the entries are quite amusing, such as today: 

Wednesday 23 September 1846
A sorry job – broke old tobacco pipe throwing it down to show the hardness of it.

And this from last month:

Friday 7th August 1846
Cut date in piece of quartering in brickwork inside hayloft over stable of Eccleston Wharf ‘AD 1844’ (when built); broke own knife over the job.

And equally as funny are his attempts to have his wicked way with Ann:

Sunday 13 September 1846
Bathed at Mechanics Bath, Queen Street. Morning went to the church of St Martin Outwich by the New Road and Shoreditch. A church has just been completed in Old Street Road. Went round to see if I should meet Mrs Skirriker, great grand-daughter of John Bunyan, but was unsuccessful. A new stone has been lately fixed against 103 Bishopsgate Street Without, corner of Spital Square, showing the City bounds A D 1846. Afternoon took walk to St Paul’s Cathedral and took down in scrapbook the Latin inscription … of Doctor Samuel Johnson as also that of Sir Christopher Wren …Had Ann up in my room, Got her drawers off at last, but to no purpose. Took walk with M Ward in evening.

Sunday 06 September 1846
Started quarter before 8 o’clock for Hendon by Primrose Hill and Hampstead. Had lift in carriage box above a mile beyond Hampstead Heath by offer of the coachman. Got to Hendon Church half past 10 o’clock. Picked and ate a quantity of blackberries in the lanes there, and took down some inscriptions from the tablets and tombs within and without the church. Interfered with a policeman for not keeping the footpath and annoying the congregation by walking about the grounds. Dined at the ‘Greyhound’ Public House close to burial ground. Commenced cutting my initials and date on burial ground gate, but only completed ‘N B 1’ when I was interrupted by the sight of two policemen approaching, upon which I made off, leaving my job unfinished. Left Hendon Church about half past three and dawdled away an hour eating blackberries, when I made for home at a smartish pace, arriving thither soon after six, walking four miles per hour. I tried to paw up Ann but she evaded me somehow, but I saw her comfortably seated in Tottenham Court Chapel where I let her remain unmolested, for which I am not sorry. Very warm, distant thunder throughout the afternoon accompanied with a few large drops of rain. Had tea in coffee shop in Dean Street , opposite Little Dean Street

She must have gone off him, because he was making a bit of progress last month!

Sunday 9th August 1846
Rose at 6 o’clock, went to Westminster Baths, After tea had Ann Fox up. After looking through prints got to our old tricks in which I got a little further than ever by just catching a glimpse of the hairs covering her c**t. She wore a new straw bonnet for the first time. Hope to get on better hereafter in matters of secrecy. Saw two persons of whom I have not seen a long time, Benjamin Smart and Henry Kitchingman – the former in Fore Street, Cripplegate, the latter in Dean Street, Soho – neither of whom spoke to me, not liking my appearance, being too ancient. At home the rest of evening.”Charles Street, Oakley Street, Westminster Bridge Road, for first time this season. Home to breakfast half past eight and after ditto went to St Margaret’s Westminster. Very well amused with monuments etc therein; sat on free seats north side. After dinner took walk up Holborn to see the late smash of two houses falling down, 22 and 23 Middle Row, directly opposite
Grays Inn Lane. Such a sight I never before saw. The ruins have not been disturbed since they fell (one day last week – Sunday last, 2nd instant), and they falling straight have carried all the furniture with them, completely burying greatest part, but some few articles may be seen sticking out, of which I noticed a chest of drawers and a chair, and against the wall I saw a print or two hanging, with two looking glasses, presenting a novel sight. One flight of stairs was still hanging. This event had likely to have caused a great loss of life, but they providentially escaped, having just quitted the crumbling fabric. Walked on through the City and returned by Clerkenwell, noticing the damage done by the late storm and the fast increase of buildings in the new street in continuation with Farringdon Street.

Sunday 16th August 1846:
Rose quarter past six. Went and bathed in Serpentine. Breakfasted and to St Margaret’s Church. Stopped but a short time, took down Mr Emery Hill’s inscription, and then went to Christ Church, Westminster, and took down a few inscriptions in burial ground, the most remarkable of which is ‘Margaret Patten 136 years of age’, and also inscriptions on almshouses in York Street. Home to dinner and afterwards to St Margaret’s Church again, and took down some more inscriptions in scrapbook before and after service, which I stopped, making third visit to this church successively. After tea had Ann up but to very little purpose. I saw more of her cabinet than I ever did. At home reading remainder of the day.

I’m not sure what a ladies “cabinet” is, but I can perhaps guess…

And they even had frustrations with banks back then too:

Friday 11th September 1846
Something extraordinary – sent to the London and Westminster Bank, Sent message that Mr Mitchell, the proprietor, must see Mr Lea before he can take any more money in. Looks somewhat disgraceful [?]. Took walk over Westminster Bridge with Ann Fox - it looketh quite a wreck with the loss of its balustrades and semi-octangular arches; being boarded in the carriage road is the present footway.
Stratford Place to pay in money. To my surprise they refused taking it in.

Westminster Bridge was renovated in 1846, here he sees it in a state of disrepair:

Friday 4th September 1846
Pipes laid down at Eccleston Wharf for gas to communicate with bench, Wharf Clerk’s office, and stable. Weather cock removed from bench. After tea took walk with Ann Fox over old Westminster Bridge, which at the present time is being pulled down. No thoroughfare for carriages, and the foot way is along the centre of the bridge, boarded on each side. Most of the buttresses and the semi-octangular towers removed, with their round lamps, and fixed to the boards temporarily on each side. The road is strewed with the old stone work which is carefully piled, most of the arches are stopped, navigation being only through the centre ones. We shall now soon quite lose sight of this old structure, for which I am sorry, it being the oldest fashioned built stone bridge on the Thames.

Some are not so interesting:

Saturday 8th August 1846
Black cat at Wharf caught mouse this morning.

All in all however, I have followed the diary for most of the year and found it rather illuminating to examine a Victorian up-close, so many texts and books concentrate on the Victorian people as a whole, or the luminaries.

It’s nice to read something so personal, even if the most interesting thing that happened to him on that day was a black cat catching a mouse.

The full Diary from January to September can be read