The Pharmacopoeia Londinensis was originally published in Latin by the Royal College of Physicians in 1618 and translated into English by Nicholas Culpepper in the middle of the seventeenth century. To celebrate its 400th anniversary an illustrated version of the book is to be published later this year.
I am delighted to be one of a number of contemporary botanical artists asked to contribute to this exciting project. I have selected to paint the beautiful and intriguing ‘Rosa damascena’ or the damask rose. A strongly scented rose it is famous for its use in perfume with the fresh petals either distilled as rose water or as one of the worlds most expensive essential oils, 100ml costs more than £1500.00, the petals are also used dried and the hips used fresh or dried. Rosa damascena essential oil is composed of hundreds of components, including citronellol, citral, carvone, citronellyl acetate, eugenol, ethanol, farnesol, stearpoten, methyl eugenol, nerol, nonanol, nonanal, phenylacetaldehyde, phenylmethyl acetate, and phenyl geraniol. There is evidence of its use medicinally going back to the seventh century with a particular link to Iran and the Middle East. Recent studies of the pharmacological effects of the damask rose show it has not only antibacterial and anti oxidant effects, but also anti-viral, anti-depressant, anti-diabetic, analgesic and hypnotic properties.
I was particularly interested in taking part in this medicinal plant project as I have a multidisciplinary art practice with a strong research base informed by my career as a horticulturalist working in therapeutic community gardens. I use plants as a way of telling stories about our relationships with the natural world.
Water from natural springs has been used therapeutically since antiquity. In the Christian pre-Reformation era the healing properties were often ascribed to the power of the saint to who they were dedicated and so the waters became the object of pilgrimage.
In the mid-sixteenth century Paracelsus (1493-1541) proposed the use of specific minerals in medicine. In England there were wells containing salt, sulphur or iron, known colloquially as salt, stinking or tart. An example of the last was discovered in woodland near Tonbridge in 1605 by Dudley, Lord North (1581-1666).
To promote its use he arranged for clearance of the land, the erection of lodgings and medical publicity with the publication of The Queen’s Wells in 1632 by Ludovick Rowzee, a physician from nearby Ashford.
The advertising was so successful that soon royalty attended. All the Stuart rulers, followed by Queen Mary II and her sister Queen Anne, came for fertility problems mainly associated with the difficulties of producing a male heir. The fashionable attended as it was not too far from London, situated in pleasant countryside and it boasted good facilities for therapy and entertainment.
It was suggested that you should consult your home doctor before travelling as Tunbridge did not accept children, those terminally ill nor those with infectious diseases. On arrival you would be met by Beau Nash (1674-1761) who attended each summer to arrange the entertainments of dancing, gambling and theatre. He would solicit a contribution to their costs.
Next would be a visit to the spa doctor who would recommend your individual regimen. This would include advice concerning bleeding, purging, diet, rest, exercise and moderation in alcohol intake. At Tunbridge one drank the waters rather than bathed in them. Your spa doctor would prescribe your own intake which could be up to eight pints. This would be taken before breakfast, starting with a small dose and working up to the maximum after at least a fortnight and then slowly decreasing again.
Having returned to your lodgings, breakfasted and dressed in one’s finery, you would spend the day at leisure. This could include socialising on the walks near the well, shopping, getting a book from the lending library or attending a long sermon at the local church. Gentlemen might read the daily papers and smoke at the pipe shop. The evening could be spent enjoying Nash’s diversions.
Much of the literature stated that if your ailment was not cured it was either because you had not drunk enough or that you were too mean and your stay was too short to let the waters have their effect.
Historians will be familiar with the challenges of researching an archive: sifting through a pile of dusty records, drawing a blank in a confusing catalogue, or scoring hundreds of hits searching an electronic database. With the help of an archive expert, however, the rewards outweigh the effort required.
When preparing for my presentation on English medical researcher Dr Annie Homer at the recent BSHM Congress in Edinburgh, I wanted to find out more about her time in Canada at the start of the First World War. In particular, she had served as the Assistant Director of the University of Toronto’s Antitoxin Laboratory, the forerunner of the Connaught Laboratories.
Extract from Antitoxin Laboratory Record of Diphtheria Antitoxin Refining, dated Sept 28th, 1914 [SPC Archives 83-006-01]
I contacted Dr Christopher Rutty, professional medical and public health historian, and consultant to Sanofi Pasteur Canada’s Connaught Campus in Toronto, where the original buildings and archive documents are preserved as part of the country’s medical heritage. By return e-mail, Chris sent me a copy of a lab notebook, which contained several pages written in Homer’s distinctive hand, revealing her work at the start of the war. The preservation of this “missing link” was a stroke of good fortune.
The Connaught Laboratories, University of Toronto, officially opened on Oct 25th, 1917 [SPC Archives 0591]
The Connaught Laboratories were established in 1917 to make up a shortfall of tetanus antitoxin needed by the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and became the site of pioneering advances in the production of vaccines, heparin and insulin. More information is available via The Legacy Project which can be viewed online at www.thelegacyproject.ca
Former RCP treasurer, Dr John Bennett, taken in 1958 when he was a junior doctor and suffering from glandular fever (he looks very cheerful on it!).
Forty-five life story oral history interviews with members and fellows of the Royal College of Physicians of London are now accessible remotely through the RCP Library Catalogue. Researchers can access the recordings plus a full transcript or detailed summary by following the link below.
The recordings cover a wide variety of topics, including medical education, working life in the NHS, diagnostics, treatments and drug therapies in a variety of medical specialties, and the enormous changes seen in both the practice and management of medicine since the end of WWII. While inevitably we have interviewed RCP presidents, treasurers and registrars the collection also contains many stories of physicians who have had only minimal contact with the college but have done important work in district general hospitals throughout the UK.
Oral history is a particularly useful historical source for exploring how individuals experienced certain events or changes, and this is certainly true of the RCP collection. Interviewees talk of the exhaustion, fear and excitement of their time as house officers, of the wonder and trepidation of using new drugs for the first time, and of patients they will never forget. We have heard stories of physicians carrying out dangerous experiments on themselves and their colleagues and the feelings in the profession at the introduction of ethics committees. Interviewees have also shared their thoughts and experiences of the introduction of different government policies, the change from the firm to the shift system, the impact of Modernising Medical Careers and the impact of the NHS Internal Market System.
My favourite extracts from the collection are;
Dr Norman Jones reflecting back on setting up the first renal dialysis unit at St. Thomas’ Hospital,
Sir Colin Berry on the changes in doctor / patient communication during his career,
and a short compilation with Dr Virginia Camp, Professor Christine Lee and Professor Clare Fowler talking about their experiences of applying for medical school.