Doreen Moore (née Ballard), who was born in Badsey in 1922, and still lives in the village, has passed on these old recipes for curing minor illnesses (some more successful than others!). In the days before the National Health Service, villagers were adept at dealing with these common-place complaints. Here, in her own words, are the cures that Doreen remembers from her childhood:
My earliest memory is of my mother relating the story of Gran Ballard’s cure for Dad’s earache when he was a small child. Apparently, she boiled a potato, cut off a small portion and, while still hot, dropped some into the offending ear. Years later, when up for an army medical, he was told he had perforated eardrums. I always imagined him walking around with two colanders attached to his head!
Next comes a cure for chilblains which I can say with utter confidence, worked wonders. Take a raw onion, cut it in half and then rub vigorosly on to the tortured toe and then sit back till the throbbing abates – utter bliss! The fact that friends forsake you immediately after treatment has to be bravely borne. Onions don’t smell for long.
- The next cure is one of many for the common cold. We used to be given blackcurrant tea at a first sniff or cough. It was made by pouring boiling water on to the fruit jam – I hate blackcurrants to this day – ugh!
- The second way was to smother the chest with a mixture of camphorated oil and mustard, then turn the patient over and slap more on the back. This torture was added to by tying a smelly sock around the throat. I think the shock of some of these remedies helped the cure.
- Cider was also useful as a medicine to cure a cold and it was invaluable to give "central heating" to a frozen body! Take a small saucepan to the shed, place under tap in cider barrel, take as much as required. Place same on gas stove, heat up, add sugar and a teaspoon of ginger. Drink up, then sit back and wait. Either the cold was cured or, in a bemused way, it became quite acceptable.
- Another cough cure was the application of goose grease. The goose population must have diminished when a ‘flu epidemic hit the country!
- Another sore throat "help" was some filthy black ointment called Iodee smeared all over the neck making the unfortunate patient look like a Kentucky minstrel.
Any sore eyes, by the way, were always bathed with cold tea and a stye on the eye-lid had to be rubbed with a gold wedding ring for some obscure reason.
I can’t even begin on wart cures except to mention that a certain weed that produced a milky substance which was rubbed on to the said wart seemed to work. I had three massive warts on the back of my hand which a spiritualist friend attempted to cure by passing her hands over the warts and appear to fling them away over her shoulder. As I had my usual hysterics, she refused future treatment for which I was thankful, and maybe anyone standing behind her at the time. Imagine being bombarded with someone’s second-hand warts!
As prevention was better then cure, my mother lined us up every morning before school for a spoonful of Virol which was rather good as it was like a thick malty toffee. My health improved more some days than others depending where the jar was kept. To counteract the nice things, we were also given a spoonful of Syrup of Figs "to clean our bodies", she said. I thought cleaning the outside with soap and water would have been enough. Another "tonic" given when the cheeks lost their lush was Parish’s Chemical Food containing lots of iron according to the label. When my young sister was born, I became quite addicted to baby’s Gripe Water. Any signs of her wind would enable me a quick nip!
Toothache was treated by rubbing the aching gums with neat whisky and swishing some around in the mouth. I did think Dad suffered more than some with this affliction, and he always forgot to spit it out after the swishing!
Headaches were not helped by Anadins when I was a child. The pain was relieved by a large handkerchief being wrung out in vinegar and placed across the brow. Whether the cold compress or the smell was effective I don’t know, but something helped. Could be faith healing, I suppose. Talking of applied compresses, I remember many a hot bread poultice slapped on to many a boil and the agony of waiting for the boil to come up to a head. It wouldn’t have dared not to, I can tell you.
Dad suffered badly from piles for years, but flatly refused to see a doctor. Along came a gypsy one day and, hearing of Dad’s affliction, went away and came back later with a bottle of the most foul green stinking concoction I have ever seen. "One spoonful a day, Gov," says he, "and your piles will shrink and be gone in weeks." Guess what? They were never any bother to Dad afterwards, in spite of the fact his eyes watered every morning on taking the cure, and he suffered morning sickness to boot! The pile medication was made from stinging nettles mainly – the mind boggles as to the other ingredients.
Dad’s cure for rheumatics was to carry a nutmeg in his pocket and his recipe for long life a raw onion a day.
Another gypsy cure I recall was a method to encourage regrowth of hair where the head resembled an egg. My Dad actually gave it a got, but as I remember, only had about two hairs over the top of his head and, through this, constantly wore a flat cap. The method of growing hair was as follows. One found a large piece of pig skin or "rind", turned the bristle side inward toward the scalp and then, putting on as much pressure as possible, one rubbed vigorously in a clockwise direction. This should be kept up till the unfortunate person flopped with sheer exhaustion. Shampoo sales must have increased with this treatment, or did the fat sink slowly toward the brain?
The most popular medication I remember was used for bladder complaints, ie cystitis. My mother’s old friend in the USA came home with this absolute cure and to prove it, was nearly a hundred years young when she died, and had had many years with kidneys and bladder in full flow as it were. The simple answer came in the form of a bottle of beer, accompanied by a raw onion and a hunk of cheddar cheese every night around eight o’clock. Should any healthy pals happen to call, they were given a chance to copy this cure just in case of failure of said organs. In my mother’s case, the beer was often substituted for a Guinness. Another help for waterworks was to drink the water after boiling asparagus. The cure in this case was worse than the complaint.
My Uncle Bill had a cure for helping sufferers from arthritis. He used to put three drops of Juniper Oil on to a sugar cube and let it all dissolve in his mouth. He also lived till ninety plus, so at least it didn’t kill him off.
When I think of all these aids to illnesses, I’m not surprised the population remained healthy so long. I imagine the local doctors must have had quite hard work to scrape a living around Badsey. Maybe it should have been called Badsey Spa or become a Pilgrimage Centre with all these miraculous cures going on. However, I think some of these methods probably are not as absurd as it first appears. Some, I feel, contain basic good sense. A gypsy once said to me, "On this earth God put a cure for all illnesses, you just have to know where to look." Makes you think!