The Bloodbath or a meeting with master surgeon

Hello everybody!

Welcome to the first post in October, the best month in the whole calendar year!

We are not sure if other bloggers would agree, but since we created Vanadian Avenue, our life has become much more interesting. Of course, we were always keen on arts and culture and knew the local artistic circles pretty well, but now we cannot even go to the supermarket without coming across something worth writing about. Maybe it’s a blogger’s curse or maybe we are just having our eyes open wide. In any case, there is not enough time to mention everything we would like to. Sometimes it takes us months before we have the time to sit down, edit the photographs and write a full report. Good things come to those who wait, says the proverb and we cannot agree more. We have decided that October will be dedicated to catching up with everything what’s been happening in recent months. Be sure to check us regularly, many stories will be told in the next 30 days!

The beginning of the catching up will be kinda gory. Several weeks ago, Rita and Mal took advantage of the Heritage Weekend and went on a historic spree around Hereford. We climbed the Cathedral tower (and received an official certificate to prove our success), visited Bishop Palace’s gardens, Cathedral library, Victorian Town Hall and joined a guided tour around the town. Hereford has a rich and bloody history and the tour guide took a delight in describing every murder or tragedy that took place in the city during the last 400 years. If the macabre tales are not enough to satisfy your thirst, then let us introduce you the man who can make the scariest horror movie look like a child’s play. Ladies and Gentlemen, please give a standing ovation to the Tudor era battlefield surgeon – Sir Owain Leech!

The master surgeon and his tools at the operating table.

Owain Leech is a creation (and event alter ego) of Kevin Goodman – historical interpretor, reenactor and author of the popular book “Ouch! A History of Arrow Wound Treatment from Prehistory to the Nineteenth Century”. Mr Goodman is the UK’s leading specialist in medieval surgery and weaponry. You can easily call him a walking encyclopaedia of early medicine. Not only he can find a serious and medically correct answer to the weirdest possible questions coming from his audience but he also has an entire set of historically accurate tools: designed and made with the same techniques as in the 16th century.

The proud owner and his collection

The presentation given at the Old House Museum has been Mr Goodman’s third visit to Hereford, this time as a master battle surgeon serving the Tudor Kings and their knights. Althought light hearted and full of humor (“What did you just call me? A barber surgeon? Capital offence!!”), it was a blood chilling experience. Some items you can see on the pictures here would be a great addition to the “Saw” movie franchise!

Those instruments could save your life!

The most fascinating thing we learnt was how skilled and well prepared the Middle Ages surgeons truly were. Despite strong beliefs in astrology, esoteric charts and magic, they were not charlatans or witch doctors as they are widely presented in books or in the media. To be able to operate, one had to terminate generally from 6 to 8 years with a surgeon of good reputation (even then references were important!) and recognized skills. A young apprentice would travel all over the country to study, read a lot and familiarize himself with the newest weapons and war equipment. Their knowledge was not only limited to human body. The surgeons were very well acquitted with chemistry, technology, languages (spoke several of them including Greek and Latin!) and art. They sometimes received private drawing lessons from royal house painters to be able to realistically sketch a wound or medically interesting case for consultation. Several surgeons came down in history as inventors of medical equipment. When they didn’t have the right tool in their possession, they would simply construct one. Many of their inventions are still being used today 🙂

Charts and tables used to diagnose patients

Surgeons could be found in any medieval party going to the batterfield. They usually set up their own camps not far from the battle grounds to treat the wounded or to operate.  The standard wartime health services offered included: arrow and bullet removal, musket balls removal, cauterising, drawing of teeth, wound stitching, trepanning, limb amputation, fractures and broken bones treatment and many others. The surgeons also looked after the prisoners of war, civilians, war horses and any other animals used during the battle.

Even more equipment. Just look at those syrgines 🙂

In times of peace, surgeons travelled from place to place offering their services to anybody who could afford them. The most skilled ones usually took residence in bigger towns where they were able to find clients among the nobility or were offered lucrative position within the royal court. The less fortunate doctors served the common folks and usually ended up creating private practices in the countryside. Few Hereforshire surgeries date back to the early Tudor period and are still housed in the same buildings.

Skulls used by surgeons during the operation

Tudor era operations were a painful and bloody business. Anaesthetics were not know at that time, so most patients were either drugged or made drunk before they were taken to the operating table. In most cases, clients were tied to the chairs and had their eyes covered so they could not see what the surgeon was doing. If the pain was too much to handle, the poor customers could be mercifully knocked out unconscious by the surgeon apprentice since they knew exactly where to hit without killing. The rich were given opium, a very expensive miracle “cure” that was newly discovered then. It took the surgeons several decades before the side effects of opium usage were discovered and described in medical books.

A nice collection of scalpels, big wooden hammer and a saw!

If you’d like to hire Owain Leech and hear all his stories yourself, please visit his popular blog and write him an email.
Kevin is travelling all over the UK  giving speeches in schools, museums, historical societies, castles and manors. He is aslo taking part in various city events as well.

Mr Goodman was also kind enough to feature several of our pictures on his site.
You can see the screenshot below or click on the link:

We are getting famous 🙂

Let’s hope the entry hasn’t traumatised you too much.
Rita really appreciate living in the XXI century and the canal root treatment instead of having her teeth pulled out with prehistoric pliers O_O.

Have fun and love your dentist!
Mal and Rita

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