Next Meeting:

21 October 2020

"Pestilence, Penitence and Putrefaction: A History of Medicine in Winchester"


Professor Roy Weller

Summary Of Talk

The foundations of Modern Medicine lie in the teachings of Hippocrates who practiced in Greece in the 5th and 4th Centuries BC. He established many of the principles of the Evidence-Based Medicine that we practice today. During the subsequent 2500 years, Medicine passed through many different phases of development. The principles introduced by Galen in the First Century AD dominated Medicine until they were displaced by the rise of Scientific Medicine beginning in the 15 – 16th Centuries. From Ancient Greek Times, Medicine has been closely related to Religion. This association was particularly close in the Middle-Ages in Winchester when the Church taught that illness was a visitation by the Devil and a punishment for Sin; the only remedy was to offer Penitence to God. Much of the care of the sick lay with the Church as did the establishment of the early Hospitals.

I will review how major plagues such as the Pestilence of the Black Death and other devastating infections affected the population of Winchester and discuss some of the counteractive measures that they stimulated. Several Hospitals have been built in Winchester culminating in the Royal Hampshire County Hospital that serves the population today. Medicine itself went through a long process of development with the introduction of Herbal Medicines that flourished in the 19th Century and are the basis of Modern Therapeutics. We know something about the activities and reputations of Physicians in the 19th Century from memorials in the Cathedral and other churches but there is little about the activities of Surgeons. Surgery developed mainly for the treatment of injuries and wounds received in battle and remained largely separate from Medicine until the development of antiseptics, sterile procedures and anaesthetics allowed the expansion of Surgery and its closer relationship to Medicine. I will discuss and illustrate some of the features in our buildings and landscape in Winchester that reflect the causes of disease, their effects and the measures taken to keep the population of Winchester healthy.

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Brief CV

Having qualified in Medicine at Guy’s Hospital Medical School in London I started a career as a Pathologist specialising in diseases of the brain. I trained in London and New York before gaining a Consultant post in London. When a new Medical School was founded in Southampton University, I accepted the challenge to help establish the Curriculum and a diagnostic service for brain diseases; I was appointed Professor of Neuropathology. My career in Southampton has been directed at providing a diagnostic service together with teaching Medical Students, trainee doctors and nurses.

My most recent field of Research has been in Alzheimer’s disease providing research training for undergraduate and post-graduate students. Research gave me the opportunity to travel widely throughout the world to Conferences and to spend time teaching in many different countries.

More recently, I trained as a Guide in Winchester Cathedral and I still guide regularly. I have long had an interest in the History of Medicine as it forms a basis for progress in Modern Medicine. Winchester has many Historical Buildings and Monuments that reflect how diseases have affected the local population in the last two millennia.

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