The Cottages of Helen Allingham….

Recently, via my work in the antiques/vintage field I came across a couple of framed prints from the early 1900s, by artist Helen Allingham.

Photograph from “Happy England” published 1903 (public domain)

Helen was undoubtedly one of the finest painters of the Victorian era, well-known for her paintings of cottages; Helen had close links to this area of Surrey and many of the cottages that she painted were local to here….

Helen was born Helen Mary Elizabeth Paterson on the 26th September 1848 in the small village of Swadlincote, near to Burton-on-Trent, Derbyshire. She was the eldest of seven children; her father, Alexander Henry Paterson was a doctor and her mother, Mary Chance Herford, the daughter of a wine merchant. Before Helen reached her first birthday the family moved to Altrincham in Cheshire. Tragedy was to hit the family when Helen was just 13 years old; in May 1862, after treating victims of a diphtheria epidemic her father caught the disease himself and died, along with her 3-year-old sister, Isabel….

Helen’s mother took her young family to Birmingham to live – to be near to family who could help provide for them. From a young age it became obvious that Helen had talent as an artist; her maternal grandmother, Sarah Smith Herford and aunt, Laura Herford were both successful artists in their own rights – and so it was only natural that Helen was to be encouraged…. She enrolled in the Birmingham School of Design – and then at the age of 17 achieved a place in the Female School of Art, London…. In 1867 she was accepted into the Royal Academy School, where she became influenced by Masters, such as Sir John Everett Millais – co-founder of the Pre-Raphaelite Movement….

Having a need to support herself, whilst continuing to study, Helen took on work from engraving companies, sketching figures and scenes.

In 1869 she was commissioned by a magazine to produce a series of full-page illustrations; she also did commissions for other publications and for children’s books…. In 1870 she was employed by The Graphic, a high quality magazine – she was the only woman at the time to be taken on by them – her reputation was gaining and she became more and more in demand…. She finished training at the Academy in 1872, to concentrate on her career producing illustrations – such as those for Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’….

It was around this time that Helen met fellow artist Kate Greenaway, at evening classes and they were to become life-long friends. It was also about this time that she met well-known Anglo-Irish poet and editor of Fraser’s Magazine, William Allingham, 24 years her senior; they were married on 22nd August 1874.


As William was well established, Helen no longer had a need to work; they moved to a house in Trafalgar Square, London and she began to concentrate on painting watercolours, her absolute passion….

Study of flowers…. Public domain – Image: Irina via

In 1874 two of her pieces, ‘The Milkmaid’ and ‘Wait for Me’, were accepted for an exhibition at the Royal Academy. Both paintings sold and further commission works came in….

In 1875 she became the first woman to be granted full membership of the Royal Watercolour Society; this was also the year her first child was born. Helen and William had three children, Gerald Carlyle in November 1875, Eva Margaret (Evey) in February 1877 and Henry William in 1882….

Having spent happy family holidays in the countryside Helen started to paint rural scenes…. It wasn’t long before the Allinghams decided to relocate to the country and moved to Sandhills, a hamlet close to the village of Witley, in Surrey. It was here that she gained her fame for painting cottages….

The time at Sandhills was a productive, successful period for both Helen and William. He found inspiration for his ‘William Allingham’s Diary 1847-1889’…. A work that reveals much about Victorian literary life…. William had many great writer friends, such as Alfred Lord Tennyson (a life long friend), George Eliot, Thackeray, the philosopher Carlyle and others….all who feature prominently in his writing….

Helen’s own work flourished; her cottages became particularly popular back in London and were much sought after. In 1886 she was invited by the Fine Art Society in London to hold her own exhibition entitled ‘Surrey Cottages’ – she exhibited 62 paintings. The following year another exhibition, this one called ‘In the Country’ saw her display a further 82 paintings….

However, Helen had another reason for painting cottages…. She was an environmentalist – following the same path as the likes of William Morris and John Ruskin…. Old cottages were being destroyed, either literally by demolition or by unsympathetic restoration – as, with the arrival of the railway network, wealthy Londoners were buying up rural properties for weekend retreats – old cottages that had stood for centuries…. Helen’s way of preserving their memory was through her painting, she would endeavour to capture their image before they were destroyed or changed beyond recognition. She paid great attention to detail and portrayed them with intense accuracy…. Occasionally she would add ‘licence’ by reverting modernised features back to the original; maybe reinstating lattice windows or a thatched roof for instance…. In fact, even today, her works are still studied by architects to understand how these old cottages were built….

William and Helen lived a happy life during their time at Sandhills. Witley and the surrounding area had a large, thriving community of artists and like-minded people. Helen’s friend Kate Greenaway lived close by….as did others, such as printer and engraver Edmund Evans, illustrator Randolph Caldecott and watercolourist Myles Birket Foster. The Allinghams knew Gertrude Jekyll, who lived in nearby Busbridge and Helen painted in Jekyll’s garden; one such piece ‘The South Border’ is now displayed in Godalming Museum….

In 1888 William’s health began to fail. Wanting  to be near their London circle of friends – and where their children could obtain the best possible education – they decided to return closer to the city and moved to Hampstead. Helen however, continued with her work recording the timber-framed cottages and their inhabitants, by travelling back to Surrey and Kent by train….

William died in 1889, leaving the family with little money. Once again Helen had to depend upon her skills to support herself – and now her children too…. Her cottage paintings continued to sell well, often fetching a good price. In 1890 she became the first woman to be elected into the Royal Society of Watercolours….

Sometimes she would travel further a field to paint – such as Ireland, France and Venice.

Once a year she would exhibit in London, her cottages ever gaining in popularity…. A collaboration with Marcus B. Huish on a book, ‘Happy England’, published in 1903 about English country life, featured some 80 of her colourplates. A further book in 1905 with her brother, Arthur Paterson, ‘The Homes of Tennyson’ saw another 20 plates and Stewart Dick’s ‘The Cottage Homes of England’ published in 1909 featured 64 more…. Whilst Helen was never particularly wealthy, she and her children lived comfortably….

The Homes of Tennyson…. Image: emmeffe6 via

It was during a visit to a friend in Haslemere that Helen was taken ill; she died on 28th September 1926, two days after her 78th birthday…. An incredibly talented lady – (once remarked upon by Vincent Van Gogh whilst he studied English illustrated journals) – who lived an extraordinary life…. I, for one, am delighted that I came across those prints from 1903….needless to say I have decided to keep them rather than sell them on and I’d love to add to them to make a collection….

As I have gathered together the images for this blog I have been looking closely to see if this old place could possibly be the subject of one of Helen’s paintings…. However, I suspect it would be highly unlikely, as fortunately over the centuries little has really been done to completely change its original appearance…. Who knows, when Helen Allingham was painting her cottages, this one may even still have had its thatched roof…. Sadly it no longer has – but it did have one once – I’d love to have seen it then….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you have found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX…. (Below are some more images of Helen’s paintings for you to enjoy)….

Our very own Saint George….

I have always assumed a country’s patron saint would be native to that land – or at the very least would have spent part of their life living there…. However, this is not necessarily true; indeed our very own Saint George never even set foot on English soil…. In fact, I say ‘our own’ – but to be correct it has to be pointed out that we actually share him with many other countries, cities and organisations…. George is also patron saint of lands and places such as Beirut, Malta, Portugal, Ethiopia, Georgia, Catalonia, Serbia, Lithuania, Venice, Palestine and the City of Moscow. He is the patron saint of soldiers, archers, cavalry and chivalry….farmers, riders and more recently scouts. He is believed to help those suffering from plague, leprosy and syphilis….

Carlo Crivelli : Saint George – Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

It is thought George was born in Cappadocia – (now part of modern-day Turkey) – around 280 AD, in to a wealthy Christian family. His father was a soldier and it was after his death that George’s mother moved the family back to her native Palestine…. George grew up and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a soldier, serving as an officer in the Guard of Roman Emperor Diocletian….

In 303 AD Diocletian ordered the systematic persecution of Christians; George refused to take part and also refused to renounce his own Christianity…. Some believe that initially Diocletian tried to persuade George to convert by offering him land and wealth – when this method failed he gave orders for George to be tortured. It is said he was forced to swallow poison, was crushed between spiked wheels and boiled in molten lead…. each time his wounds healed overnight – the work of God…. George was told if he offered a sacrifice to the Roman gods his life would be spared. A crowd gathered to witness him doing so – but in front of all the onlookers he prayed to the Lord instead…. A great flash of fire came from Heaven, an earthquake shook the ground, buildings and temples collapsed…. The sign was taken that God wished George to die for his faith….and so he was beheaded at Lydda, Palestine on 23rd April 303 AD; he died the death of a Christian martyr. Some say Diocletian’s own wife was so impressed by the resolve of George that she converted to Christianity….only to be beheaded herself….

Saint George of Lydda Image credit: Roman Zacharij via Wikimedia Commons Public Domain CC BY-SA 3.0.

Upon canonising St. George in 494 AD Pope Gelasius I apparently remarked of him…. “Whose names are justly reverenced among men, but whose acts are only known to God”….

The earliest known reference to St. George was the account by St. Adamnan, Abbott of Iona in the 7th Century. He had heard the story from a French bishop who had travelled to Jerusalem. It was during the Crusades of the 10th and 11th Centuries that returning soldiers brought back with them stories they had learned from the Eastern Orthodox Church – and so St. George’s reputation grew…. But it wasn’t until 1483 that the tale became really well-known, when Caxton printed it in a book called The Golden Legend – a translation of French bishop Jacques de Voragine’s work, telling of the lives of saints….

Stories during the Middle Ages centred very much around the beliefs of the time – tales were embroidered with myth – such as the legend of Saint George and the Dragon….

Saint George Slaying the Dragon. Unterlinden Museum, Colmar, France. Public domain CC-BY-2.0.

A city in Libya, possibly Silene, had on its outskirts a small lake, inhabited by a plague infected dragon…. The creature was terrorising the city, killing many of the people…. To try to keep the dragon appeased the city dwellers began to feed it with two sheep a day….but it wasn’t long before the supply of livestock ran dry. The King devised a lottery scheme so that local children were chosen and fed to the dragon…..then one day his own daughter’s name was drawn…. At first the King tried to bargain for her life – but the people were having none of it as so many of their own children had already been sacrificed…. It was as she was being led to the lake that George rode by and encountered the fair maiden and he enquired as to what was happening. The maiden begged him to carry on his way as the dragon would surely kill him too…. As they talked the creature suddenly came charging towards them; George leapt upon his horse and drew his sword and smote a cross into the dragon’s flesh – he then speared the beast and threw it to the ground…. He told the maiden to take her garter and fasten it around the creature’s neck and when she had done so it became meek and followed her back to the city…. At first the people panicked but George told them not to be afraid; he promised that if they were to believe in God and become baptised he would slay the dragon. The King was first to do so, followed by all his people….George killed the dragon; it was then dragged from the city to the fields, needing four ox carts in order to do so…. The King built a church at the site where the creature was slain and a fountain sprang up – giving healing water for those who were sick….


The earliest church known in England to be dedicated to St. George is in Fordington, Dorset….and in 1222 the Council of Oxford named April 23rd as St. George’s Day…. But it was King Edward III who really set the ball rolling on the path to him becoming our patron saint….

When in 1327 Edward III came to the throne, after the disastrous reign of his father, he needed to make England strong and powerful once again; with his bravery, honour and gallantry St. George was an ideal image to portray this…. Around 1348 Edward III founded the Order of the Garter, our system of knighthoods and honours; he made it under the patronage of St. George…. Since the 14th Century St. George has been seen as a ‘Protector of the English’; he became adopted by us as one of our own…. Soldiers once wore white tunics with the Red Cross of St. George on the front and back….the flag became incorporated in the Union Jack….



In 1415 Henry V gave a speech at the Battle of Agincourt, citing St. George as England’s patron saint. As a result Archbishop Chicele raised the importance of the saint’s feast day – thus making April 23rd officially St. George’s Day….

St. George’s Chapel, Windsor (the venue of a certain soon upcoming Royal wedding) built by Edward IV and Henry VII as Chapel of the Order has its official badge showing St. George slaying the dragon…. The George Cross inaugurated by King George VI in 1940 and given for acts of heroism and courage in circumstances of extreme danger (mainly to civilians) also has a dragon slaying George depicted upon it….



Although not a national holiday there will be those in England who will be flying the flag of St. George this coming April the 23rd…. As a nation we don’t go overboard with the celebrations on our patron saint’s day….some may choose to wear blue as this was rumoured to be St. George’s favourite colour – or maybe a red rose, which is associated with his death…. Some towns and cities, such as Manchester, have a St. George’s Day festival – but for the rest of us, if we are so inclined, we may enjoy a spot of Shakespeare, sing Jerusalem, partake in a little Morris dancing or eat a hearty traditional English meal, such as a roast dinner, bangers & mash or fish & chips….



Whatever you get up to on Saint George’s Day….have fun….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers’ page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….

A Wise Woman’s Medicine….

Herbal medicines and remedies have in recent years seen a rise in popularity. In the past they were dismissed by many doctors but thanks to studies and research during the last twenty or thirty years, their benefits are now being taken much more seriously….

Holland & Barrett Chrisinplymouth via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Depending on the doctor, sometimes alternative medicines and treatments are available on prescription; a recent survey suggests two-thirds of doctors believe such treatments should be available on the NHS. Acupuncture, homeopathy, osteopathy, chiropracy and herbal medicine are all now regulated…. Other practices such as aromatherapy, massage, reflexology and meditation, although there is no regulation, are still considered as being beneficial and may be recommended. Chinese medicine and crystal healing are still dismissed as there is not enough scientific evidence….

A qualified medical herbalist will have a BSc (or the equivalent) in herbal medicine – and will have the same skills at diagnosing as a GP, having studied orthodox as well as plant medicine….

Of course, herbal medicines and remedies have been with us since the year dot…. The Romans, Greeks and Ancient Egyptians all used them as did many before them….at the end of the day there was little alternative and it was to remain so until we began to study medicine in a more scientific way….

Image: Public Domain Source: Wikipedia

During the Middle Ages most villages and neighbourhoods would have had a ‘wise woman’ (occasionally it could be a man – maybe a monk – but generally it was a female role). She would have knowledge of herbs, ointments and poultices – and may well have offered prayers and charms to help the process. Often she was a midwife too and people may have even sought her guidance when their livestock fell ill…. She was a valuable, respected member of the community – her knowledge having been handed down from generation to generation….

For more physical ailments people would have possibly visited the barber….many were able to perform surgical operations, pull teeth and set broken bones. A priest may have been called in to treat somebody with a mental illness ~ to drive out the ‘demons’….

A travelling barber-surgeon examining a man’s head: a group of locals watch with interest…. Etching. Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Generally, up until the 13th Century the Church had stood in the way of medicine, declaring it to be an unrespectable profession. A renewed interest in learning meant universities began to teach young men medicine…. In the beginning the Church was still very much in control, university trained physicians had to have a priest present to aid and advise when they administered to a patient….

13th Century illustration showing the veins…. Image: Public Domain Source: Wikipedia

The trained medical world was completely male dominated – women were excluded from universities…. It was also dominated by wealth – as only the rich could afford its services. The poor had to remain reliant on the popular healers, such as the wise women. Professionally trained doctors disapproved of this ‘folk-medicine’, keen to protect their own livelihoods and status…. It would hardly come as a surprise then if we were to learn that they did little to discourage the witch hunts that were to become epidemic across Europe and Britain during the 14th-17th Centuries….

Nobody knows the exact figure of how many were executed for witchcraft during this period. The number varied tremendously from country to country; for example in Germany there were some 26,000 recorded deaths – whereas, in Ireland there were just 4…. Studies have drawn conclusions that out of some 110,000 recorded trials – in total 60,000 resulted in conviction and consequently execution – three-quarters were women….

Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Five of these executions took place in Wales; the first was that of Gwen ferch Ellis (Gwen the daughter of Ellis) in 1594….

Gwen was born around 1542, in Llandyrnog, Vale of Clwyd, in Wales. At a young age she went to live with an uncle, where she remained until she married….

Her first husband died after only 2 years of marriage…. In 1588 Gwen remarried – this time it was to a miller and they lived at his mill in Llanelian-yn-Rhos; husband number two died 18 months later…. So, she married for a third time, a man from a neighbouring parish, Betws-yn-Rhos – and this is where they settled; the fate of this third husband is unknown….

According to records Gwen earned a living by spinning and weaving linen cloth…. She was also a healer, mainly of animals but would help people, especially children, when called upon…. She would make herbal remedies and salves and offer charms to help with the healing in exchange for small goods and food items…. Her charms always began “In the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost”…. so they were actually more prayers than spells…. Verbal and written charms were not uncommon at the time….


Gwen was good at healing and was proud of her expertise; the wealthy sought her help as well as ordinary folk…. She struck up a friendship with a woman of the gentry, Jane Conway of Marle Hall, Conwy. Jane had an affair with Thomas Mostyn – a prominent gentleman of the time – Gwen knew of this affair, which in itself put her in a difficult situation…. Jane had a falling out with Mostyn and so it is thought she wanted revenge upon him…. Whilst Mostyn was away Jane invited Gwen to stay with her at Mostyn’s home – it is believed Jane persuaded her friend to leave a charm – although this is something Gwen denied ever doing….

However, a charm was found….one of a rather sinister nature…. This one was written from back to front, thus making it a bad spell rather than a healing one…. Accusations began to fly – Gwen’s friends advised her to flee but she was adamant she had done nothing wrong….

Gwen was arrested by William Hughes, Bishop of Asaph. At the initial investigation, held at Llansanffraid Church, seven people gave evidence against her, 5 men and 2 women…. 60-year-old widow, Elin ferch Richard of Llanelian-yn-Rhos claimed Gwen had sent her son insane…. Bailiff William Griffith ap William of Betws-yn-Rhos claimed she had put a demon in his drink. He also added she was responsible for his friend’s broken arm and the bewitching of his wife – who had become paralysed, losing the use of her arms and legs…. Another, Griffith ap Hughes of Betws stated that Gwen had made his sick brother, David ap Hughes, worse by giving him salt…. But the most damning accusation was that she had killed a man through her witchcraft….

Gwen’s home was searched. A statue of Christ rising from the dead and a bell without a ringer were found….this ‘evidence’ was enough for the authorities to associate her with the old Catholic ways….

Gwen was not afraid of the Bishop; she stood up to him and continued to protest her innocence…. However, she was found guilty at this initial investigation and taken to stand trial at Denbigh Court…. Here the verdict was upheld – Gwen was hung in Denbigh town square….

Gwen was the first wise woman to be executed in Wales, 31 years after witchcraft had been made a crime punishable by death in the UK. Most of those accused in Wales spent a brief period in prison before their cases collapsed. Gwen, for all intents, appeared to be simply no more than a healer – who, had she kept herself to herself and not got involved in the affairs of the gentry – would most likely have seen her own case collapse….

The witch trials were indeed viewed by many as a way of preventing women from being involved in medical practices…. It wasn’t until 1865 that Elizabeth Garrett Anderson became Britain’s first female doctor and she had to use ‘back-door’ methods to gain this recognition. In 1876 universities finally allowed women to attend….

Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. Image: Wellcome Collection CC BY

Hospitals as we know them now did not start to emerge until the 18th Century. People in Britain had to generally pay for health care right up to 1948 – when our National Health Service was founded. Even at the beginning of the 20th Century a doctor’s visit could equate to half a week’s wages…. Sometimes treatment was available at Voluntary Hospitals; others sought help from religious communities, such as convents…. For those too sick or too poor the workhouse offered a primitive infirmary….

Perhaps nowadays we don’t always realise how lucky we are – we have the NHS. Maybe we take it for granted; sometimes we criticise it and yes, it is overstretched….but occasionally we should remind ourselves of how life was before it…. We give thanks to all those who work within it ~ keeping it going and looking after all of us….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you have found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers’ page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX

Cannibalistic Remedies….

Cannibalism…. What image does that conjure up? Missionaries stewing in a cooking pot somewhere deep in the jungle….or serial killers dining on ‘filet de jambe’, quaffed down with large quantities of Chianti…? There is no doubt cannibals belong in horror films – but eating human flesh has been with us since the beginnings of our time….

Europe has the oldest fossil evidence of cannibalism…. 100,000 year old Neanderthal bones found in the Marla-Guercy Cave in France had been broken by other Neanderthals in order to extract the bone marrow, skulls smashed open to gain access to the brains…. Further evidence revealed tools had likely been used to remove thigh tissue and tongues. In another cave, at El Sidon, Spain more gruesome Neanderthal finds….12 members of a family dismembered, skinned and eaten by fellow Neanderthals, some 50,000 years ago….

NYC – AMNH: Spitzer Hall of Human Origins – Neanderthal wallyg via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

‘Neanderthal’ may be a term we sometimes use when we want to be demeaning – but in all honesty tens of thousands of years later, Homo Sapiens were not much better…. Even in so-called ‘civilised’ societies pure and simple cannibalism was not unheard of – especially in times of famine…. Christian Crusaders ate the flesh of local Muslims after taking the Syrian city of Ma’arra in 1098…. Human flesh was sold in British markets during famine times in the 11th Century and during the Great Famine of 1315-17 cannibalism reached extremes…. Even in 1612 Polish troops after a prolonged siege in Moscow succumbed – and there have been more modern-day examples; such as the 1970s Andes air crash of a Uruguayan Air Force flight….when survivors had to resort to eating human remains….

These were cases of survival – but could this be applied to the general medical practices of Renaissance through to Victorian times? I’m referring to ‘corpse medicine’ or ‘medical cannibalism’….

Ancient healers in Mesopotamia and India believed human body parts had healing properties – but the Romans took it to another level…. Their belief was that the blood from freshly slaughtered gladiators, still full of the essence of the brave, was a good remedy for conditions such as epilepsy…. They drank it, still warm, probably straight from the body…. Gruesome..!!

As time meandered on and medicine ‘advanced’….blood still played a key part. In 1492, as Pope Innocent VIII lay on his death-bed, his doctors deemed it necessary to try to save him by prescribing a tonic of fresh plasma…. Three young shepherd boys were brought forthwith and accordingly ‘bled’….but it was all in vain….the Pope still died…. and tragically, so did the three boys….

Public domain

The word ‘cannibal’ came to the English language in the 16th Century….from the Spanish ‘canibales’ – a term used by Columbus to describe natives of the Caribbean Islands who were rumoured to eat human flesh….

Public Domain

Medical cannibalism started with Egyptian mummies….burned and then ground to a fine powder. Trade of this substance became a huge business – it was a common ingredient of medicines all over Europe and in Britain…. King Francis I carried a pouch with him at all times….just in case….


Other body parts began to be used – the fresher the better…. Fat, bones, blood, urine – remedies including human remains became more and more commonplace and were thought to be cures for just about any ailment; headaches, epilepsy, coughs, contusions, ulcers…. The ‘spirits’ of those the remains were taken from were thought to still be within….blood was the essence and vitality of the body…. Recipes for the use of the remains would often be specific – the flesh of a young man who had died a violent death, complete with veins, arteries and nerves, for example….would give ‘strength’ – the belief a violent death meant the spirit of the man would remain entrapped….

“We preserve our life with death of others. In a dead thing insensate life remains which, when it is reunited with the stomachs of the living, regains sensitive and intellectual life”…. ~ Leonardo da Vinci

The menstrual blood of a virgin was a much sought after commodity – on the account of its ‘pureness’…. The afterbirth of a new mother still held the fetal spirit…. It just gets more bizarre….

The 17th Century physician George Thomson claimed the sweat from a terrified person about to be hanged (or having just been so) contained a good remedy for haemorrhoids – the idea being the fear captivated within would shrink the piles into submission….

Executions became a market place for entrepreneurs and sufferers alike…. The executioner would happily sell a cup of warm blood for a few pence…. 16th Century epileptics would wait cup in hand….hoping to cure their ailment – whereas, the poor would hope to sell their cupful to the wealthy, who preferred not to get their own hands bloody….

It was the wealthy who really fuelled the demand for corpse medicine…. Royalty, priests, nobility, scientists…. Charles II had his own personal concoction – ‘The King’s Drops’ – powdered human skull steeped in alcohol…. Thomas Willis, a 17th Century brain scientist, proclaimed a drink of hot chocolate and powdered skull could help apoplexy and bleeding….

Skull and Bones timbu via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

18th Century British preacher, John Keogh claimed pulverized human heart was good for dizziness – ‘a dram in the morning on an empty stomach’….

Human fat was used externally; a remedy for gout when applied as a salve….bandages soaked in the glutinous substance supposedly healed wounds….

It is said Protestants used human flesh during the rite of Eucharist….and monks made a special marmalade type preserve containing human blood….

Although the main source of human remains came from the bodies of executed criminals, the high demand for such parts obviously created a black market…. Grave robbers exhumed fresh graves….beggars and the homeless were murdered….

Image taken from page 133 of ‘Humorous Poems…With a preface by A.Ainger, and…illustrations by C.E.Brock.L.P’ British Library via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

Thankfully by the end of the 18th Century the appeal for corpse medicine was beginning to wane….although remedies containing human parts were still available right up to the beginning of the 20th Century…. In 1910 a German pharmaceutical company continued to offer powdered mummy in its product catalogue….

We may well shudder to think of human remains being used in every day medicine – but back in the time it was considered completely normal and acceptable…. Just as today, with our modern-day equivalents; blood transfusions, organ transplants, skin grafts…. Perhaps in centuries to come people will look back and exclaim in horror “they used to use real body parts???” At least we no longer ingest human remains….but then again….what about those who choose to eat their placenta? Just saying….

Please…. If you have read this post through to the end – then I assume you found it of interest and I hope you’ve enjoyed it…. If you found this via Facebook, a little ‘like’ for the Cottage Capers page would be very much appreciated – a like and follow would be even better…. I’m not trying to sell you anything – I’m simply a blogger trying to establish myself…. Many thanX….

Saint Patrick : Apostle of Ireland….

Up until the age of 16 Patrick had led a reasonably ordinary life…. Yes, he was the son of a Roman-British army officer/deacon and the grandson of a Catholic priest – but despite this he was not particularly religious…. Not an awful lot is known about his early life….just that he was born in the latter part of the 4th Century, in Roman occupied Britain; nobody is sure exactly where, possibly Scotland but most likely Wales…. It is thought he was raised in the village of Banna Venta Burniae…. Even his real name is uncertain but there are indications it could have been Maewyn Succat….

Saint Patrick Lawrence OP via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

At 16 years old Patrick (along with many others) was kidnapped by Irish pirates….he was taken to Ireland and sold into slavery. The young Patrick found himself on Mount Slemish in Co. Antrim, where for six years he herded sheep and pigs for his master. Long periods of time alone meant he began to question whether this was his punishment for his earlier lack of faith…. He turned to religion….

It was during a dream that a vision came to him….telling him he would soon go home and that his ship was waiting. Believing this was a message from God, Patrick managed to escape from his master and travelled some 200 miles to a faraway port – where with some difficulty he managed to persuade a reluctant captain to allow him aboard his ship…. Patrick returned home to Britain and his family….

By all rights this should perhaps have been the end of an ordeal that had dominated so much of his life as a young man – but it appears this was just the beginning….

Patrick had another dream – this time he was being called back to Ireland….the people wanted him to tell them about God….

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day National Library of Ireland on The Commons via / No known copyright restrictions Original image URL:

Patrick was to return to Ireland but not straight away. First he went to France, where he studied for the priesthood at a monastery – possibly under Saint German, the then Bishop of Auxerre…. It was 12 years later, as a Bishop himself and with the blessing of the Pope he landed back on Irish soil, at Strangford Loch, Co. Down….

For the next 20 years Patrick travelled around Ireland, establishing churches and monasteries, baptising people and founding schools. As Ireland was a Pagan stronghold very often he would anger local Chieftains and Druids with his teachings, many a time he found himself imprisoned…. He was not above using a little bribery – presenting his captors with gifts in order to regain his freedom….

Saint Patrick baptising. Lawrence OP via / CC BY-NC-ND Original image URL:

As is so often the case with saints of long ago, many myths and legends surround Patrick…. One such story is the tale of St. Patrick’s Breastplate: Patrick and a companion were travelling to the Hill of Tara in the Boyne Valley to preach to the people; a place sacred to the Druids, once the ancient Capital of Ireland it was where the gods lived…. The Druid priests were keeping a watch out for Patrick, waiting to ambush him…. But all was quiet in the fields surrounding the Hill – just a deer and her fawn meandering along…. Unbeknownst to them Patrick had used his special powers (feth fiada) to turn himself and his companion into deer – and so using this disguise they were able to reach the Hill unstopped….inspiring the hymn written by Patrick – ‘The Deer’s Cry’ – which begins….

“I arise today, Through the strength of heaven, Light of the sun, Swiftness of the wind, Depth of the sea, Stability of the earth, Firmness of the rock”….

Hill of Tara – St. Patrick’s Statue & Pillar Stone. Diego Sideburns via / CC BY-NC-ND. Original image URL:

One of the main Celtic Druid celebrations is Beltane….a fire festival, marking the beginning of Summer. A fire would be lit at the top of the Hill of Tara by the Druid High King – from which fires all across the land would be lit…. Legend says Patrick defied this tradition by a lighting a fire of his own before the main event…. The Druid King sent his men to investigate – and they reported back that Patrick’s fire had magical powers and it could not be extinguished….they warned the King this fire could burn for all eternity…. Realising he was unable to put out Patrick’s fire – the King had to concede that the powers Patrick possessed were greater than his own…. Although he refused to convert to Christianity himself he allowed the Irish people to follow the Christian faith….

Patrick was not unsympathetic to the Druid beliefs…. It was whilst preaching one day next to a Pagan standing stone that he created the Irish Celtic Cross…. The stone was carved with a circle – a sacred Pagan symbol for the sun and moon gods. Patrick drew a Christian Cross through the circle, blessing the stone as he did so – thus uniting Pagan beliefs with Christianity….

Celtic Cross .and+ via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

Being aware that the number 3 held special significance in Celtic tradition, Patrick utilised this as a method of teaching Christianity to the people…. By using shamrock, the three leaved clover plant, he showed how each segment represented God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – three elements of one entity…. The humble shamrock was to become the symbol of Ireland….


For any missionary there must have been times of despair – struggling to deliver a message that must have often appeared to be falling of deaf ears…. One such time of despair for Patrick may have been the time he spent in County Mayo, upon a mountain…. He had gone there for the 40 day period of Lent – perhaps to reflect and meditate – but instead was besieged by demons…. Demons in the form of black birds, so many of them the sky turned dark…. But still he continued to pray, refusing to be defeated…. Suddenly an angel appeared – a messenger from God…. The angel told him his work was being recognised – the Irish people were listening to him and they would remain Christian until Judgement Day…. The mountain is known as Croagh Patrick….

The holy mountain Croagh Patrick, County Mayo. EamonnPKeane English Wikipedia Public domain

Perhaps one of the legends we associate the most with St. Patrick is the banishing of all snakes from the land, by driving them into the sea…. It is doubtful there ever were any actual snakes in Ireland. The snake is a sacred creature to the Druids….this legend most likely gives the message that Patrick had succeeded in driving Paganism from Ireland….


Although Patrick can be attributed to converting Ireland to Christianity others had preached there before him – Palladius being one such – and becoming the first Bishop of Ireland. Patrick succeeded him as Bishop some time soon after 431AD and made Armagh, in Northern Ireland his base…. It was towards the end of his life that he wrote his memoirs, called his ‘Confession’….

“My name is Patrick, I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers”….

In his writings Patrick makes no reference to details such as the Hill of Tara, driving snakes into the sea, shamrock or indeed any of the myths and legends that surround him…. He talks of his spiritualism, his relationship with God, his time in slavery…. It is a direct insight into the man…. It has to be deemed incredible that these documents have survived all this time….

Patrick died on March the 17th – the year is a little hazy…. He is buried either in Armagh or Downpatrick…. We do know he was made a saint soon after his death and St. Patrick’s Day has been celebrated on March the 17th ever since….

Saint Patrick. DonkeyHotey via / CC BY Original image URL:

There was a wobble in the late 17th Century…. in 1695 Parliament replaced many Catholic feast days with Protestant holidays – after William (of Orange) and Mary were placed on the throne….effectively St. Patrick’s Day became outlawed – but nobody took much notice. Eventually the Patron Saint’s Day was reinstated….

Nowadays modern celebrations usually include a procession to a holy place, a chapel or perhaps a holy well…. Mass and prayers are said…. Then there are the festivities; food, music, dancing and of course a good drink. Falling during Lent a very welcome interlude….

A party going on right here Sniggie via / CC BY-NC-SA Original image URL:

St. Patrick’s Day parades did not actually originate in Ireland. It was in 1762 that Irish soldiers serving with the British Army marched through New York to music on March the 17th – an idea that caught on and became tradition, especially in communities in England with a large Irish population – such as Liverpool…. During the mid 19th Century, at the time of the Great Famine, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations were obviously low-key; but – one thing that came from this was the globalisation of St. Patrick’s Day…. Mass emigration – Irish people looking for new lives across the World taking the celebration with them….


Happy Saint Patrick’s Day…. Have a Guinness for me….