Hidden lives hidden things

While not the grandest of manor houses in Dorset, Hammoon Manor is certainly one of the most picturesque. It was at least notable enough to have a record kept of its extensive history and occupants preserved for prosperity. From Thomas Mohun, the knight who backed the right horse (literally) in supporting William the Conqueror, to Sir John Trenchard who backed the wrong one in supporting Henry Tudor’s claim to the throne over that of Richard III. And then there were other occupants such as Sir John Slade, who served under the Duke of Wellington and many others. As one ambles through the old rooms of this stone house under its thatched roof, with its beamed ceilings and oak doors, one can only wonder at the lives, hopes and aspirations of past occupants and conversations held in candlelit rooms. 

But, what of all those other men and women who passed through the doors of this old house, the scullery maids, servants, farriers, bakers, estate workers whose lives were so intertwined with the fortunes of its owners but whose existence, has long been forgotten, or so you would think! 

Many have left their mark on the fabric of the house the modern day ‘I was here’ graffiti!  From carved facsimiles of hands on stone (presumably because they couldn’t write) to scratched names on leaded light windows for those who could. Yet often it’s the small things left behind that tell the more fascinating story if only to leave more questions unanswered – here is one.

If you climb a steep and winding staircase to the second floor of the manor you find yourself standing in a large timbered room nestled under the thatched roof. It was here, (with leaded light and mullion windows giving barely enough light to see,) that the household servants used to live and sleep. A few years ago I decided the area needed a bit of a makeover and undertook to replace some of the ancient floorboards that were decidedly rotten.  In a corner, hidden under one of the boards amidst straw and accumulation of hundreds of years of detritus I came across a rather curious and unexpected find – two small circular wooden boxes one opened, and one unopened still bearing their wax seals. On top of each was the following inscription… 

B 41 Pills,
A warranted cure for the Clap, Gleets, Fluor Albus or Whites… 
acquired or constitutional
4s. 6d

(Four shillings and sixpence for those who aren’t old enough to remember when our currency was actually worth something!)

Purchased, it appears from one F.J. Clarke apothecary in Lincoln Inside each box was a rather dubious looking white powder presumably containing mercury, or compounds of arsenic, antimony, bismuth, or something similar – which I believe were the favoured potions for such conditions and – horribly poisonous. 

My curiosity piqued, I thought I would do a bit of digging. It appears and, for this, I would like to give credit to the intrepid historians of ‘Digging the Dust’, that just such pills were being offered to afflicted individuals in no less than The Sporting Times of 1880, a widely circulated sporting paper focused on horse racing and almost exclusively read by male readers – see the extract below. 

So there we have it mystery solved. Someone in the household, almost certainly a man, around that time had acquired or was ‘constitutionally disposed’ toward (what a wonderful euphemism) an uncomfortable problem and had given the warranted ‘B 41 Pills’ a run for their money so to speak. Let’s hope they worked!