Curative Humours in Nottingham

The power of 'tanner's ooze' in curing fever

Joseph Woolley - framework Knitter and diarist - writing of the prevalence of a deadly "Fever" in Nottingham in the spring of 1801 noted that "Some days" there could be as many as "Eight funerals at Saint Marey [sic] Church" in the City*.

If death were avoided, he went on, then the illness could be expected to be severe and long-lived.  The curate of Clifton church, a Revd. Brown (says Woolley) "had it and a sever fit of illness he had for 14 or 15 weeks...."

One remedy for the fever of 1801, championed locally was based on a belief in the curative powers of the 'humours' associated with the city's leather tanning industry.

Tanning - the process of converting raw animal hides and skins to produce leather - was a well-established trade in Nottingham with the process itself being particularly 'odiferous'.

Regarding the Nottingham fever of 1801 The Annual Register** recorded:-

"In 1801, when a fever was raging in all the higher parts of town [Nottingham] and its vicinity, there was but one tanner's yard in that street; yet, but very few dangerous symptoms appeared in it during the time the fever was raging.  But while people could be found, sufficiently credulous to believe, that the scrofula could be cured by the touch of a king, no wonder they should also believe, that the plague was wholly arrested in its progress by the effluvium arising from the tanner's ouze"



* Woolley's diaries are housed at Nottinghamshire Archives DD 311/1-6.  They are extensively quoted in Caroilyn Stedman's book "An Everyday Life of the English Working Class"


** The Annual Register for 1805.  The incident is also quoted in D.D. Gladwin's "The Waterways of Britain: a social panorama" (London: Batsford, 1976) pp.54-55.

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