One ailment particularly rife in many parts of Britain in times past was whooping cough. This wretched illness, with a cough that might last up to three months, was highly infectious and often fatal to babies. There used to be regular epidemics and it is not surprising that in addition to the many herbal remedies available this illness resulted in charmers prescribing a huge variety of cures.
In the late seventeenth century Richard Stapley, who lived at Hickstead Place in Sussex, wrote one of these cures in his diary: ‘Take three field mice, flay them, draw them and roast them and let the party afflicted eat it; dry the others in the oven until they crumble to a powder, and put a little of the powder in what the patient drinks at night and in the morning.’
['flay' means to skin; 'draw' means to remove the innards.]
Others would have the mouse boiled in milk and another recommendation recorded by William Parish, the vicar of Selmeston, was to roast the mouse alive. He was wryly dubious about effect of this particular approach. ‘Whether it is really good for the whooping cough or not I cannot say,’ the vicar comments, ‘but I am sure it must be bad for the mouse.'
As a cure, live spiders wrapped inside cobwebs had its supporters as did a silk bag filled with hair from the cross on a donkey’s neck. In this cure the patient sat on the donkey facing backwards and was sent to a certain spot three times on three successive days. On the other hand there were those who favoured eating bread and butter from a family whose father and mother were named John and Joan.
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