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The Rising Burgh: 1560 to 1770s

Everyday Life

Health and Sickness

By David Hamilton

Bleeding Bowl Famine and epidemics were still common in the 1600s and the University moved to Irvine in 1656 to avoid the plague. Half the population (7,600 in 1610) were children and large numbers died when young. Thereafter Glasgow was increasingly spared the dangers of warfare and importation of food reduced risks of famine. Thus the 1700s were tranquil, since overcrowding and cholera were still to come.

St Mungo's Chapel Churchyard wardens recorded causes of death, ever-present smallpox being the biggest killer reducing with inoculation starting in mid 18th century. Important also were "consumption" – which included many cases of tuberculosis – and fever (probably typhus), with measles and whooping cough less important. Chronic disease was little remarked on, but rheumatism and asthma seem to have been common.

Robert Hamilton In health care, treatment was in the home. Orthodox healers gained in reputation and the learned physicians simplified their complex remedies and regimens. Other citizens consulted the hybrid surgeon-apothecary, the dispensing general practitioner of the day. The town added a civic cutter-for-the stone (bladder stone) to the payroll. The traditional local surgical apprenticeship was enlarged by taking selected University classes, available from 1714. From 1599, the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons had overseen these apprenticeships and controlled licensing.

William Spang The humble citizens still used traditional herbal remedies and local healers who, by the 1700s, were no longer in danger of witch-hunts. Pilgrimage in search of bodily healing was fading out in this Enlightenment era. The "deserving" poor had relief through the Poor Law from the 1600s. This occasionally paid for medical attention, but had a greater role in mitigating the consequences of disease by staving off destitution. Itinerant healers of variable quality still played a role, useful visitors being dentists and eye doctors.

Town's Hospital Hospital medical care emerged first in 1733 when the Town's Hospital opened as a poorhouse, but it also had a little infirmary for acute disease, including surgery and for dealing with the mentally ill.

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