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Establishment and Dissent in Nineteenth-Century Medicine: An Exploration of some Correspondence and Connections Between Religious and Medical Belief-Systems in Early Industrial England

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 March 2016

John V. Pickstone*
University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology


I know the historical sociology of religion only as an outsider; as an historian of medicine helped by that literature to a better understanding of early industrial society and perhaps to a clearer vision of what the social history of medicine ought to be. To read a recent review of the social history of religion, such as A. D. Gilbert’s Religion and Society in Industrial England, Church, Chapel and Social Change, 1740-1914, is to recognise how underdeveloped by comparison is the social history of medicine. Historians of medicine have the equivalent of church histories, of histories of theology and, of course, biographies of divines, but we lack the quantitative and comprehensive surveys of the chronological and geographical patterns in lay attendance and membership, and in professional recruitment and modes of work. For as long as medicine was generally only a transaction between an individual and his medical attendant, few statistics were produced and there is little national data. Yet there are very few local studies of how diseases were handled and how the various kinds of practitioner interacted with each other and with their various publics, so it will be some time before we shall be able to generalise on such matters.

Research Article
Copyright © Ecclesiastical History Society 1982

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1 This paper is in part based on arguments presented to the Society for the Social History of Medicine, July 1977, and abstracted in ‘Medical subcultures in Victorian Lancashire - voluntarism and the establishing of medicine’, Bulletin of the Social History of Medicine 20 (1977).

2 For guides to recent writing on the social history of medicine see Woodward, John and Richards, David, eds Health care and popular Medicine in Nineteenth Century England (London 1977)Google Scholar. The best general social history of modern medicine remains Shryock, R. H., The Development of Modern Medicine (Madison, Wisconsin 1936 reprinted 1979).CrossRefGoogle Scholar

3 Ward, W. R., Religion and Society in England, 1790-1850 (London 1972).Google Scholar

4 On eighteenth century medicine see the article by Bynuni, W. F. in [Porter, R. and Rousseau, G. S. eds] The Ferment of Knowledge (Cambridge 1981)Google Scholar; Lawrence, ChristopherThe nervous system and society in the Scottish Enlightenment’ in Barnes, Barry and Shapin, Steven, eds Natural Order, Historical Studies of Scientific Culture (Beverly Hills and London 1979)Google Scholar; Jewson, N. D., ‘Medical knowledge and the patronage system in eighteenth century England’, Sociology 8 (1974) pp 369-85.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

5 Marshall, J. D., ed The Autobiography of William Stout of Lancaster, (Manchester 1967).Google Scholar

6 Booth, C., ‘Doctors from the Yorkshire Dales’, Proceedings of the XXIII Congress of the History of Medicine (London 1974) pp 9981001.Google Scholar

7 John V. Pickstone and S. V. F. Butler ‘The politics of medicine in Manchester 1788-1792. Hospital reform and public health services in the early industrial city’, forthcoming.

8 Halle medicine has been studied by Dr. J. Geyer-Kordcsch, formerly of the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine, Oxford. On ‘psychological medicine’ see the article by G. S. Rousseau in Ferment of Knowledge.

9 On early nineteenth century medicine see Smith, F. B., The People’s Health, 1830-1910 (London 1979)Google Scholar; Durey, M., The Return of the Plague: British Society and the Cholera 1831-2 (Dublin 1979)Google Scholar; Hodgkinson, Ruth, The Origins of the National Health Service: Medical Services of the New Poor Law, 1834-1871 (London 1967).Google Scholar

10 On state medicine see F. B. Smith, The People‘s Health chapter 5; MacLeod, Roy, ‘The frustration of state medicine, 1880-1899’, Medical History 110 (1967).Google Scholar

11 F. B. Smith, The People‘s Health p 375.

12 For medical botany see the recent popular work by Griggs, Barbara, Green Pharmacy, A History of Herbal Medicine (London 1981)Google Scholar; Logic Barrow (see pp 225-47) is investigating medical botany’s connections with spiritualism and popular radicalism. Mrs. Ursula Miley is completing an MSc thesis at UMIST on the social history of the movement in N. W. England. The local details are gleaned from Coffin’s Botanical Journal and other periodicals.

13 There is no reputable history of British homeopathy. Most of my information is derived from my own research on Lancashire hospitals and dispensaries, or from the work of Glynis Rankin of the Sociology Dept. of Keele University. The homeopathic institutions of Lancashire will be discussed in my forthcoming book on local hospitals; Ms. Rankin’s discussion of Quin and Epps is contained in an unpublished paper, to which I am indebted.

14 Annual Report of the Manchester Homeopathic Hospital and Dispensary, 1852. Durnford was also a sanitarian - see Clark, G. Kitson, Churchmen and the Condition of England, 1832-1885 (London 1973)Google Scholar. On homeopathy and sanitation see Stevenson, Lloyd G., ’science down the drain’, Bulletin of the History of Medicine 29 (1955) pp 126.Google ScholarPubMed

15 The material on Rochdale, largely contained in a collection of newspaper clippings, has been analysed by Stella Butler and myself.

16 Harrison, Brian, Drink and the Victorians (London 1971).Google Scholar

17 Coffin’s, Botanical Journal 1 p 277.Google Scholar

18 On the Boots see Chapman, Stanley, Jessie Boot of Boots the Chemist (London 1974).Google Scholar

19 Hinton, J. M., A Review of the Evidence taken before a Committee of the House of Commons in relation to the State of Education in Manchester & Sal ford (London 1852).Google Scholar

20 On the arguments against the Medical Act see Burns, J. H., The Age of Equipoise (London 1964).Google Scholar

21 See the UMIST PhD thesis, 1982, by S. V. F. Butler on ‘science and the education of doctors in the nineteenth century’.

22 For continuing forms of ‘medical dissent’ directed against experimental medicine (anti-vivisection) and state medicine (anti-vaccination) see French, R. D., Antivivisection and Medical Science in Victorian Society (Princeton 1975)Google Scholar; R. M. MacLeod, ‘Law, medicine and public opinion: the resistance to compulsory health legislation 1870-1907’ Public Law (1967).

23 Some of the arguments about voluntary hospitals plus a bibliography can be found in Pickstone, J. V., ed Health, Disease and Medicine in Lancashire 1750- 1980 (Manchester 1980).Google Scholar