Horse Manure And Pig Fat: Be Grateful You Weren't A Victim Of The Great Fire Of London

Tabish Khan
By Tabish Khan Last edited 17 months ago

Looks like this article is a bit old. Be aware that information may have changed since it was published.

Horse Manure And Pig Fat: Be Grateful You Weren't A Victim Of The Great Fire Of London
A painting of the devastating fire, featured in the exhibition. Copyright Society of Antiquaries

Medicine was not quite up to our standards during the time of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Painkillers certainly didn't exist, so how were burns, and the pain caused by burns, treated?

All manner of strange treatments will be on display in a new exhibition at the Royal College of Physicians, reminding us that there's nothing quite like the fat of a neutered male pig to soothe the blistering pain of a burn.

According to books from the time, horse manure is also very effective at treating the pain — though we imagine the infection that may arise later may be a larger cause for concern than the pain it's treating. What's even stranger is the specificity of the treatment; the manure will only be effective if it's from an animal fed 'at grasse'.

Some of the texts from the exhibition, plus a cauterising iron and an apothecary jar. Copyright RCP Photography: John Chase

Among these recipe books and herbal medicine texts are more orthodox prescriptions including eggs and red onions. We know that red onions taste better than white onions, but we're not sure why they'd be any better at treating burns.

This exhibition should be a fascinating look back to the Great Fire to see what rudimentary medical treatments were applied to the wounded.

'To Fetch out the Fire': reviving London 1666 is on at the Royal College of Physicians, 11 St Andrews Place, Regent's Park, NW1 4LE, until 16 December. The exhibition is free to enter and is open Monday to Friday.  

Last Updated 17 November 2016