‘Take a field mouse, skin it, fry in butter and give to the child’: Folk Medicine in 1920s East Anglia

Dr Mark R Taylor was the first full-time regional  medical officer for Norwich from the years 1920-1927. He was a doctor at the forefront of the increasing spread of professionalised medicine. However, he was also a doctor with a keen interest in folk medicine, or home remedies.  He believed that this was in rapid decline, and spent much of his time trying to collect and record the traditional medicinal knowledge in East Anglia. 

His research involved making appeals to the public to send him information, and relied on oral history testimonies. In particular, Women’s Institute’s and teachers were very helpful sources of information.

Here are some remedies for the common cold, sent to Dr Taylor from various women’s institutes:
cold 1

cold 2 cold 3 cold 4

As well as the common cold, Taylor collected cures for more serious diseases. He believed diseases which run a long chronic course supply the longest list of remedies, because such diseases afforded much greater opportunities for the would-be healer. Acute diseases had such a small period of trial and error that the healers normally concentrated on relieving urgent symptoms rather than curing the disease.

Taylor collected cures for roughly 110 diseases, and about 12 of these had as many cures as all the rest put together. One of these was whooping cough, which he has pages and pages of cures and charms for.

 The most popular remedy for whooping cough throughout East Anglia was a field mouse cooked in some form – roasted, boiled, stewed, baked and incinerated. Here are just some examples:

whooping cough 2 whooping cough 3
whooping cough 1

Blyburgh Women’s Institute say ‘mouse’s ear is a weed or herb that grows in grassy places, whooping cough 5dried and later been thoroughly dry is made into a tea is used for children in cases of whooping cough.’ This probably refers to pilosella officinarum which is a plant still used in herbalism today for whooping cough and bronchitis.

Taylor corresponded with many school teachers, and some of them asked their pupils to talk to family and friends about home remedies and write them down. Taylor’s collection of remedies for cuts, bleeding and wounds demonstrate the input of school children:

bleeding 2 bleeding 1

This is just a snapshot of the hundreds of remedies that Taylor collected. In a talk he gave to the Folk Lore Society he said: ‘The collecting has been not only a joy in itself, but it has brought me in contact with many interesting people’.

All of Dr Mark Taylor’s records are available to view during our opening hours. 

This blog post was adapted from a free Heritage Hour talk given at the Norfolk Heritage Centre. To see what Heritage Hour talks are coming up, have a look at page 9 of our latest events booklet. 

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