Springwood High – GCSE Medieval Medicine


I can’t recall exactly what we were talking about at this point but she was very interesting.  I look deep in thought!

How lovely it is to talk to older children for a change.  We love visiting primaries but it’s really nice to have a change of aspect and talk at a higher level.  This workshop is one of our favourites and we wish that we ran it more often.  Possibly we will in the future as I believe medicine will be a compulsory part of the history curriculum at this level.  I’m sounding like a stuck record here, but this was our first ever visit to Springwood High (we do have lots of repeat bookers honest!).  It’s spread over a huge site and we were a little lost on arrival as to where to go but were soon directed to where we were to set up.  The caretaker knew exactly who were and seemed to be expecting us, which was great.  I was very surprised to find on arrival that the school has it’s own cat.  A lovely ginger cat which was curled up asleep in reception for most of the day.  The first time I ever recall seeing a cat in a school.

imageAlthough this workshop was originally created for GCSE level, it seems that the way the GCSEs are taught is changing and Year 9 seems to be a more common age group for us to teach it too.  We were lucky to be running the workshop in a massive hall. Usually we run the workshop in a large classroom.  Although I do enjoy the more intimate feel of a classroom as I think it makes students less shy.  Year 9s are a notoriously shy Year group, loathe to volunteer for any task which can make running a workshop a little challenging.  As with an actor in say a panto, audience feedback and interaction really gives you something to feed on and work with and you can gage if your audience are enjoying the workshop or not.  The first ever time that we ran this workshop for Year 9 or 10, we were horrified that we’d created something that they didn’t enjoy but I recall afterwards that they’d all told their teachers how much they’d loved it, much to our surprise.  I think it was the same here.  The students were shy to come up but we heard lots of nice comments from them on their way out.

DSC_0122The workshop is designed to teach the cornerstone of early medicine, the 4 humours in a fun and memorable way.  To do this we bring students up to represent the humours of our medieval man and how they were related to the 4 seasons and the 4 elements.  We look at how humours could be put out of balance and how an imbalance of the humours might be treated.  We use some fun and memorable props to represent these things and even the teachers were wandering in at the beginning and asking why there was a firemans helmet and a Spring lamb on the table!  The whole idea is present a visual, audial trigger to their memories so that when they come to their exams, they can picture their friends in their mind and how they looked and recall how all the things were linked.  There were lots of photos being taken, so I’m sure they won’t forget.  A big thank you to the school for letting us use some of their photos here and on our webpage.

We also look at bleeding and purging.  We looked at how people were bled either with knife and bowl, cupping glasses or live leeches.  We looked at the vein man which would show where to be bled from.  We then looked at purging of the body using the clyster pipe.

imageOne of the newest parts of this workshop is the wise woman & physician debate.  Wel portrays Dr William Hobbs, physician & surgeon to King Richard and his brother Edward before him.  This is based on a real physician from the 15th Century, who was listed in a lovely book that I own called “Medical practitioners in Medieval England”, which lists all the known medical people from the period.  Hobbs is an old family name.  I picked William Hobbs in particular as he is correct for the period we portray and you never know, he may have been a relative.  I portray Matilda, a fictitious wise woman from the period but the cures we talk about are based on real cures from the time.  We debate whether each of us is more suitable to treat the medieval man and he must decide which of us he’d like to have treat us.  Surprisingly many of the students thought that as medieval people they would chose the wise woman but I think many would have picked the physician in that day and age as he was the doctor of his day, with all the latest knowledge.  Today, I agree, I’d rather put my life in the hands of the wise woman.  Interestingly, I have just been reading about ‘piss merchants’ who were very much maligned by the 19th C, whereas In the 15th century, uroscopy was a science and art form.  It would be interesting to run a comparative workshop to the 19th C and see how much had changed.

urineChartWe finish by looking at medieval surgery in all its gory detail!  Amputations, tooth pulling, tooth worms, arrow extractions, trepanning and the wound man.  Students were then allowed time at the end of the workshop to come up and view some of the replica items and ask us about them.  I had some great discussions with a couple of girls, both from eastern Europe, although I’m struggling to recall which countries now.  In particular about the modern use of cupping glasses.  It’s always very interesting to hear such information as it enriches our own knowledge and helps us build on it.  Her family were clearly strong believers in the use of dry cupping.  I’m very interested in alternative medicine myself but have never tried this.

Thanks so much to all the teachers and staff and the students too.  We loved our visit and we hope that they enjoyed the day too.  Thanks also very much for our lovely roast dinner, it was amazing and greatly appreciated!  We hope to see you again another year.


About kazhoney

I recently (2018) made a decision to live a more plastic free life. This blog documents my successes and failures and is a way to encourage me on in my move towards a plastic free life.
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