26th March 1665/6. ‘Turps’.

After the diarist Samuel Pepys was ‘cut for the stone’ he celebrated Today in 1665/6, writing that, ‘this is the day 7 years ago which by the blessing of God I have survived’.(1)

He continued, ‘now I am at a losse (sic) to know whether it be my hare’s foot which is my preservative against for I never had a fit of the collique since I wore it, and nothing but wind brings me pain for when I do not lie longer upon my back in bed my water the next morning is very hot. or whether it be by taking a pill of Turpentine every morning which keeps me always loose. (Don’t do this at home!)


Many questionable remedies were used in days gone by for various complaints and ‘Turps’ which is a distillation of coal oil and along with Kerosine (Paraffin) was used for abrasions, wounds and head lice and when mixed with animal fat, used for chest rubs and inhaling, the taste usually masked with sugar and honey.

The Terpines are Hydrocarbons, a large and diverse class of organic compounds and are primary constituents of essential oils of many plants and flowers. (2)

The essence is extracted by distillates giving perfumes, cosmetics, soaps, food and drink flavouring, scent for incense and in house cleaning products.

Though Terpentine is still advertised for medical uses, it has moved from the chemist to the hardware shop to be used as a solvent of paints. 

(1) Double dating before calendar changes in 1752 when New Year changed from 25th March to January 1st.

(2a) Terpenes, and Terpenoids ( which contain additional Functional Groups, are a major compound of Resin). The aroma of Hops and Cannabis sativa comes from Terpenes.

(2b) Vitamin A is a Terpenoid.





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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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