21st August 1664. Going for a Purge.

Magnesium Sulphate is commonly found in the mineral Epsomite, a bitter saline emanating from springs arising from the porous chalk of the North Downs where they meet the non-porous London clay.

Magnesium sulfate

Magnesium Sulphate.

Today Samuel Pepys in his Diary of 1664 recorded: ‘So up and drank 3 bottles of Epsum (sic) Waters which wrought well with me’.

I am not surprised as 3 bottles seems an inordinate amount to drink; probably the vessels were small.

Magnesium sulphate is important for many bodily systems, but it also increases water in the intestines and to be avoided if one has problems there..

Epsom Salts originated in Epsom, Surrey and is a saline purgative which according to the British Pharmaceutical Codex 1954 was taken by mouth and which decreased the normal absorption of water.

Epsom looking towards the wells. Hassell 1816.

Epsom looking towards the wells. Hassell 1816.

The effect is that bulky fluid contents distend the bowel causing excited peristalsis and bowel evacuation.

The salts (Mg SO4) were extracted from the local mineral waters for which Epsom was famous and by the end of the Georgian period (early 19thc), had become a spa town centred like so many others on the Assembly Rooms.

One observer of the ‘golden age’ of spas was the physician to the wealthy ‘society’ of 18thc Bath, McKittrick Adair, who noted the change from malign and feared diseases which were now ‘becoming fashionable in an age of heroic sufferers’.

Fashion had entered medicine in the 18thc and the lack of knowledge of physicians resulted in a general ascribing of nervous disorders such as fainting and the ‘vapours’ to all manner of bodily misfunction, largely resulting from a treatise by the Professor of Physiology at Edinburgh: before this ‘nerves’ as such were unknown.

Adair was also frustrated by the widespread Galenic Purging in the spring and fall (autumn) which he said ‘was very general in the country’, and as a practitioner in Bath also noted: ‘that the fashionable functions of parties, balls and visits in cramped airless fug meant the dandies and fops of the ‘quality’, who frequented these supposed ‘healthful’ places, were in fact putting their health at risk in the climate of unwashed bodies, stale perfume, alcohol, coal smoke and toxic miasma, not to mention the steam emanating from the baths of the spa towns’.

Health concerns go hand-in-hand with charlatans, as in fiction where ‘Roger Swizzle an apothecary of modest means’, is so described by R. S. Surtees in Handley Cross.

He learns of a mineral spring at Handley Cross capable of ‘curing everything’ as on analysing the springs he finds the ingredients as expected and sets himself up as an ‘experimenta’ (quack) practitioner recommending a regime for wealthy dyspeptics.

Thus in fiction, Handley Cross became a major spa, the likes of Leamington, Cheltenham, Bath, Harrogate, Buxton and Epsom, including Ashby-de-la-Zouch in Leicestershire, 9 miles from the Author’s home of Burton-on-Trent where the water was used for another purpose: beer!



malvernwater.co.uk/Pic of Epsom.





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About colindunkerley

My name is Colin Dunkerley who having spent two years in the Royal Army Pay Corps ploughed many a barren industrial furrow until drawn to the 'chalk-face' as a teacher, now retired. I have spent the last 15 years researching all aspects of life in Britain since Roman times.

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