Middleton Life: Trip to Thackray Medical Museum

Fancy swallowing some live snails to eat the phlegm off your chest and cure your TB? Or perhaps taking mercury to cure syphilis? Perhaps some liquorice could cure your whooping cough?

Those were two of the 19th century ‘quack’ cures the Middleton Life history project crew discovered during their trip to Thackray Museum yesterday.

The museum highlights the health and wellbeing of people living in Leeds from the early 19th century right through to modern day. It covers a time where there was no sanitation or clean water, when people lived in cellar dwelligns with their livestock and when working class people had a life expectancy of just 25 years.

We followed the plight of Hannah, a real girl from Leeds who lived in a cellar dwelling in 1831. She worked at Marshall Mills in Holbeck with her mother and broke both her legs in an accident there. Her mother waited 10 days before carrying her to the new LGI where they amputated her leg – without anaesthetic and in filthy conditions. Sadly she died 10 days later from infection.

In 1890 one in seven babies in Leeds died before their first birthday due to the poor conditions.

Some of the conditions people lived in just 150 years ago were shocking. Conditions in Middleton would have been pretty similar.

More recently Middleton Life member Christine Thornton recalled her father having all his teeth pulled out on the kitchen table in their Middleton home.

Members enjoyed their fact-finding trip about how life – and health – used to be. Next week we’re off to the National Coalmining Museum. For more information about Middleton Life, contact John Baron on 270 6903.