“the official medical hierarchy was supported by a whole host of unofficial figures, from straightforward charlatans or quacks, to folk healers and cunningmen, and people of other professions who practiced medicine as a sideline. “
Although the London Bills of Mortality are perhaps the best known and most complete set of records relating to death and disease we have from the 18th century, they were also compiled in many other towns, for example, Chester, Warrington, Dublin.
Given the extent of medical knowledge at the time, it is not surprising that a whole host of symptoms, ranging from difficulty in breathing, tingling hands, and loss of appetite, to diarrhoea and dysentery, were blamed on the fog, whether or not it was the actual cause.
Breathing in fumes from poisonous chemicals was highly dangerous; for example, inhaling vapour from mercury used in the manufacture of felt hats, caused Mad hatter disease.
It has been estimated that smallpox was killing as many as 400,000 people per year in Europe by the end of the 18th century. Sadly, the majority of these deaths were children, as it was “chiefly a disease of infancy and early childhood”. However, even if some of the population survive the disease itself, they may well succumb to secondary infections such as bronchopneumonia and streptococcal septicaemia.
“Poverty was a major cause of heavy outbreaks of disease, with many people living on the edge of subsistence, having a minimum of warmth, clothing, and shelter, and with the ever-present threat of starvation hanging over their heads. “
“The rich ate a bulky though unbalanced diet. There was a high intake of protein but few vegetables, as these were thought to cause melancholy and flatulence, and little fruit, white meats, milk, whey, butter, eggs, and cheese.”
It was not only among the poor that this insanitary state existed. Dr. Samuel Johnson, for example, when talking about his friend, the poet, Kit Smart, remarked: “Another charge was that he did not love clean linen; and I have no passion for it.”