Gripes and constipation: home cures from Georgian Warrington

Philip Jeffs unearths some dubious “cures” that you most definitely should NOT try at home!

Today’s item of interest is a small volume entitled “Martha Rylands, Warrington, 26th May 1815, Receipts Known to be Valuable”.

Martha Rylands’ pocket-book

Her grandfather Dr. Kirkland’s interests seem to have been primarily in persistent ulcers to the skin and the serious medical complaints associated with them, a field in which he had some national fame. His records give a wonderful insight into the medical world of the late 1700s.

Contrastingly, Martha’s little book is very much a list of cures for common family illnesses and shows how day to day medicine was still very much an amateur business. Below I list a couple of the more interesting recipes Martha used for her children’s occasional illnesses (with the ever-present caveat “don’t try this at home”).



Gripes of Children
Prepared Chalk 2 drams
Bole Armenic 2 drams
Gum Arabic ½ ounce
Oil of Aniseed 40 drops

Laudanum 120 drops
Lump Sugar 1 ounce

Rub them well together and gradually add 6 ounces of water to them. Dose from 30 to 80 drops taken a day mixed in a pap with a spoonful of milk.

Medicine for the Bowels of Children
Magnesia ½ dram
Powder of Rhubarb 10 grains
Nutmeg Water 2 drams
Syrup of Poppies 2 drams
Mint Water 2 ounces
Tincture Soot 10 drops

It seems to me that the most effective aspect of these medicines would be the laudanum and the syrup of poppies, either is going to basically drug a child into being quiet, getting rid of the symptom if not the cause. Still, gripes and constipation would probably have sorted themselves out before long anyway.

Martha Rylands’ cure for gripes, written in 1815

You may notice on the image of Martha’s medicine for the gripes, that we do also have a treatment for piles (not Dr. Kirkland’s celebrated cure, but in this case Dr. Kendrick of Warrington’s treatment). Given the number of cures for piles in the volume, it was obviously something of an issue in Georgian Warrington.







This article was originally posted in 2014.