The Gripe Water

Early modern receipt books may be defined as collections of food recipes, medicinal remedies and household tips. These handwritten manuscripts were generally compiled by the housewife; she would use the receipt book as a means to record her own recipes as well as those borrowed from friends, neighbours, family, and even doctors and surgeons. Receipt books were highly valued and were often passed down through the generations; they were even formally bequeathed in wills. These manuscripts provide intriguing evidence of the homemade medicinal remedies in use in the early modern period. This blog is focused on a recipe for ‘Gripe Water’ from a receipt book attributed to Mary Chantrell, dated 1690. The manuscript can be found at the Wellcome Library in London and it is also available in a digitised format online via their website.


Wellcome Library MS.1548, 53.r-v


The layout of this recipe is interesting: it is written in prose, and there are no separate lists of ingredients or utensils as is often the case in modern-day recipes. It must have been rather difficult for early moderns to make sure they had all the ingredients required before starting to make the recipe!

One of the most striking things about this particular recipe is the number of individual ingredients used: ‘gilley flowers’, ‘rosemary flowers’, ‘borage flowers’, ‘blacke cheryes’, ‘strawberyes’, ‘rasberyes’, ‘mint’, ‘balme’, ‘angellicoe’, ‘rue’, ‘morella cheryes’ ‘coriander seeds’, ‘caraway seeds’, aneseeds’, ‘nutmeg’, ‘cloves’, ‘mace’, ‘cinamon’, ‘ginger’, ‘pennyroyall’, ‘brandy’, ‘sherye’ and ‘white wine’. Some of these herbs and spices were difficult to cultivate in seventeenth-century English gardens necessitating their purchase from specialist suppliers. Exotic spices, such as ginger, mace, cinnamon and nutmeg often had to be imported. The housewife would need to know where to obtain these individual items as well as how to judge their quality in the making of this remedy.

The quantities of ingredients is notable: a gallon each of strawberries and raspberries, 12 pounds of cherries, three gallons of brandy, a gallon of white wine and a gallon of sherry! Such quantities would have made the recipe expensive. Perhaps the large amounts used were due to the recipe being made for a large household, or maybe the intention was to share or exchange the final product amongst others in the local community. Perhaps the ‘Gripe water’ would be made once and then kept and stored for future use over the coming months or even years.

Finally, the equipment used is interesting. The recipe mentions the use of a ‘Limbeck such as the Apothecaryes use’. This ‘Limbeck’ (more commonly termed an ‘alembic’), was an apparatus used for the purposes of distillation. Using this kind of equipment supports the notion that activities commonly associated with the history of science might be performed in the home, and encourages us to consider the domestic environment as an ‘experimntal space’.

Early modern receipt books, like this one, raise many questions. But they also provide us with a tantalising window through which to view early modern domestic medicine.



Further reading

  • Lynette Hunter, ‘Women and domestic medicine,’ in Women, Science and Medicine 1500-1700, eds. Lynette Hunter and Sarah Hutton (United Kingdom: Sutton Publishing, 1997).
  • Elaine Leong, ‘Collecting knowledge for the family,’ Centaurus55, (2013): 81-103.
  • Anne Stobart, Household Medicine in Seventeenth-Century England(London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016).


Lucy Havard

Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s Casebook

On 25thApril, 1891, five-year-old Beatrice Saunders, drowsy and delirious, was brought to London’s Royal Free Hospital by her mother. Louisa Aldrich-Blake, a 25-year-old medical student, later to become an eminent surgeon, spent the next 10 days patiently documenting the progression of the little girl’s illness in her casebook (shown below). Beatrice died of tuberculous meningitis on 4thMay 1891. Aldrich-Blake’s casebook provides us with a valuable lens through which to view the education of a nineteenth-century female medical student.

Aldrich-Blake’s casebook, Wellcome Library, MS 5794.

This casebook is part of a collection of Louisa Aldrich-Blake’s clinical notes, written between 1887 and 1908, presented to the Wellcome Library in 1926. It documents a number of patient cases that Aldrich-Blake observed as a student on the wards.

Much of Aldrich-Blake’s documentation is in keeping with Nicholas Jewson’s concept of late nineteenth century ‘Hospital Medicine’. This can be appreciated in Aldrich-Blake’s record of a complete medical examination on admission of the patient to hospital. She adopts a logical systems-based approach: ‘nervous system’, ‘alimentary system’, respiratory system’ and ‘circulatory system’ are all examined thoroughly.

There is an overwhelming preoccupation with statistical analysis by way of patient observations in Aldrich-Blake’s account. Numerical data features strongly – the number of respirations, the heart rate and the temperature being specified several times. This is further emphasised through the inclusion of the patient’s observation chart (see below). In one sense, this renders the text obsolete: the account of the deteriorating child is distilled down to numbers on a graph, an objective depiction of life and death.

Observation chart, Wellcome Library, MS 5794.

30 hours after the patient’s death, an autopsy was performed, and the findings described in great detail. Of the seven pages that Aldrich-Blake used in her casebook to record this admission, a significant proportion (one-and-a-half pages) was dedicated to the post-mortem examination. This is in keeping with Jewson’s view of pathological anatomy as integral to Hospital Medicine.

However, elements of Aldrich-Blake’s documentation also correspond with Jewson’s notion of ‘Laboratory Medicine’, for example in the testing and analysing of bodily substances. Aldrich-Blake recorded the results of Beatrice’s urine analysis in her casebook: ‘Urine: acid. No alb. No sugar. Abundant urates’.

Despite these unquestionable features of ‘Laboratory Medicine’, Aldrich-Blake’s account also contains some aspects of ‘Bedside Medicine’, notably a diagnosis achieved via the patient’s self-report of their illness. Given that the focus of this case is a five-year-old child, clearly the patient would not be expected to provide a history herself. However, the mother does give such a report, and Aldrich-Blake’s inclusion of this highlights its significance:


Quite well up till April 22nd, no previous alteration in temperament. In the evening after coming home from school complained of headache and shivered. Early next morning had a severe fit of coughing of a peculiar character. After this she vomited and continued to do so after food or medicine until admission to R.F.H on April 25th.


Aldrich-Blake’s casebook entry demonstrates co-existing elements of ‘Bedside’, ‘Hospital’ and ‘Laboratory Medicine’ as described by Jewson. This casebook is a rich resource for helping us understand the practices of nineteenth-century medical professionals. It also provides us with some insight into the somewhat nuanced transition from bedside to hospital medicine.


Wellcome Library, MS 5794, 5.r.


Further reading

Foucault, Michel. The Birth of the Clinic. Translated from the French by A. M.Sheridan. London: Routledge, 2003.

Jewson, Nicholas. ‘The disappearance of the sick-man from medical cosmology, 1770-1870’, Sociology, 10, no. 2 (1976), 225-244.

Pickstone, John. ‘Ways of Knowing: Towards a Historical Sociology of Science,Technology and Medicine,’ The British Journal for the History of Science, 26, no. 4, (December 1993), 433-458.


Lucy Havard