Saturday, December 12, 2015

Miracle worker Lady Johanna St John

In January 2012 Sophie Cummings, then Collections Manager at Lydiard House, kindly wrote the following blogpost for me.

With so many people suffering from coughs, colds, aches and pains, it seems sensible to turn to Lady Johanna’s Recipe Booke for advice.

The ‘Booke’, which I’ve mentioned a few times before, contains 167 double pages of handwritten recipes, shared between Johanna, her friends, family and staff during the 17th century.

Luckily, Johanna has a number of remedies for coughs, such as:

An opening syrope for a cough
Parsley Fennel & succory rootes march mallow & Hollyhock rootes made clean & the pith taken out each 2 ounces Agrimony Bittony maidenhair scabious Bonewort Lungwort Bawm Coltsfoot Hysope Arins each P: i: raisins stone halfe a pound figs & Liquorish a n a 4 ounces Anniseeds bruised halfe an ounce boyle thes in a Pottle of water til half be consumed make it into syrope with sugar

This is quite representative of Johanna’s recipes. Although a small percentage contain odd ingredients (like snails, snake skin, amber, lead, goose dung, etc) most combine plants, herbs and spices to make syrups, tonics, skin treatments, poultices, plasters and ‘glysters’. As you can see from her ‘Opening Syrope’, she uses seventeen herbs, combined with raisins and figs. The plants are more or less familiar. Most of us are familiar (and even grow) parsley, hollyhocks, fennel and scabious, coltsfoot and lungwort are far less common.

At the moment, we are investigating the plants and spices Johanna used. How many would have been cultivated in her garden, or would have grown wild in the woods, or been bought in London, or imported from abroad? If any of you has a spare half-hour in the library or to search online, I am on the look out for recipes for rosewater, particularly 17th/18th century recipes. Any help would be much appreciated.

Work continued throughout 2012 and in August the Swindon Sixth Sense Youth Theatre Group gave a performance in the Walled Garden of Johanna’s Miracle Garden, written by Mike Akers.

The Education Team at Lydiard Park then had plans to develop further events to stimulate interest and understanding of the incredibly significant Lady Johanna St John and her role in the historical development of biomedical science. Plans included a schools resource pack, family quiz trail and exhibition and in April 2013 a series of lectures took place in the magnificent Grand Hall at Lydiard House under the heading: Science and Superstition: Herbal Remedies and the History of Cures Lecture Series.

The whole project was supported by a Wellcome Trust Arts Award. For more about Lady Johanna and the work that took place in 2012/13 read Sophie’s account on the Wellcome Trust Wellcome History blog.

This was an exciting time at Lydiard House with volunteers engaged in all the various projects from plant investigation to transcribing Lady Johanna’s Booke.

Little more than two years after the exciting Lady Johanna project, and with the recession over according to Cllr Garry Perkins, who this week told the Swindon Advertiser about a major cash injection for Forward Swindon (He [Cllr Perkins] said: "Now the recession is over, Swindon town centre should really be moving into the future.") yet Lydiard House and Park is considered to be untenable without a major cash injection from someone else.

If you care about the future of Lydiard House and Park why not join the Friends of Lydiard Park and please sign the petition, now endorsed by more than 7,000 people.

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