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http://boar.org.uk/abiwxo1ClayColicWater      Latest edit 27 Jul 2009

The Bourne Archive

Clay Family Papers

Pharmaceutical advice for Matthew Clay.

Names Included:-






Matthew Clay
Mr Mitchel

Mr. Saul

Joseph Waterhouse



Aldersgate Street


Drewry Lane

Date: 17 September 1750.

This document takes the form of a manuscript note on paper 210 x 167 mm, addressed on the back: ‘For Mr. Matthew Clay In Bourn’

Sepr 17th 1750

The Method made use of by Mr Saul for procuring the Medicine wch he makes use of for ye Gravil is – virt .

Send a Post Letter To Mr Mitchel a Jeweler, in Drewry-Lane near Long Acre in London, and desire him to deliver to Mr Joseph Waterhouse at ye Red Lyon in Aldersgate Street, a Doz: of his Bottles of Cholick water (Such as Mr Saul of Brothertoft in Lincolnshire has of him) and ye sd Mr Waterhouse will pay for them, you may likewise desire him to Send a Direction how to use ye sd Medicine.

It will be proper to let Mr Waterhouse have timely Notice of ye same wth an order for him to pay for it,

The 12 Bottles will cost £1: 4: -

NB. 12 Bottles is accounted a Compleat Quantity to Take.


The abbreviation, virt will be vide-licet, to be read as ‘namely’.

‘Cholic’ means ‘of or pertaining to bile’ (OED)

‘Colic’ is paroxysmal griping pains in the belly (OED)

It is not immediately clear what may have been Matthew’s trouble. Since his correspondent spelled the word with the ‘ch’ we may assume he meant the former but at that time, medical theory was based on the humours of the Pythagorean philosophers. References to the humours are found in Morris’ book, as late as the 1860s. ‘Cholic’ might therefore, refer to choler, that is, irascibility. Or, the writer may have been thinking of a bitter taste rising from the stomach in Bilious vomiting or of what was then called ‘cholera’, bilious diarrhoea. Since then, the name ‘cholera’ has been transferred to an apparently similar disease but one which arises from infection by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, which the English found in India and called originally, ‘Indian’ or ‘Asiatic’ cholera. The adjective is nowadays, dropped and the old use of the word forgotten.

He may however, have been thinking of ‘colic’, which word refers to the colon, the large intestine. This might draw itself to the attention of the patient by undergoing painful spasms, called ‘colic’. The OED (online edition) first notes use of the word ‘colic’ in about 1440 while ‘cholic’ is not found until 1846. Therefore, either the writer in 1750, was well in advance of his time, or he meant ‘colic’.

Gravel is mentioned. This is more formally known as urolithiasis, the presence of small clumps of crystals of urea in the urine. Where they are large enough to be noticed, they are usually bound together by other precipitated chemicals such as calcium oxalate and magnesium ammonium phosphate (Lock & Smith kidney stone). However, popularly, it also refers to a difficulty in passing urine, whether the crystals be present or not (OED online: gravel 4). While reference to the urinary solids can be traced back to about 1400, the freer, popular usage is recorded only from as late as 1886. The connection between on the one hand, recourse to a medicine called ‘colic water’ and on the other, urinary gravel would lie in renal colic.


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