Penny Dreadful: From True Crime to FictionThe Madding Crowd: 18th Century LondonBloodletting: Barber Surgeons and Early MedicineThe Play's the Thing: From Melodrama to Musical
Early Practitioners
The Humours
Surgical Procedures
Barbers and Surgeons Part Ways
Dissections and Corpse-Taking
Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street in Concert
Barbers and Surgeons Part Ways

The alliance between barbers and surgeons was always an uneasy one. For centuries, barbers were not interfered with in the practice of surgery and dentistry. But as knowledge progressed and surgeries became more complicated, it became evident that they were attempting too much. It was impossible to expect ordinary human beings to competently practice surgery, dentistry and the various tonsorial operations. People began to complain that the barber-surgeons were making them sick instead of well.

Many barber-surgeons resorted to quackery in order to cover up their ignorance of medicine and anatomy. These abuses came to the attention of the mayor and council of London. The surgeons began to forge to the front of the guild and became increasingly jealous of the privileges accorded the barbers. Every time a surgeon was given a diploma entitling him to practice his profession, the diploma had to be signed by two barbers. The surgeons resented this, but the barbers were very much favored by the monarchs and preserved their privileges until the middle of the 18th century. Henry VIII, Charles II and Queen Anne presented the barber-surgeons with valuable gifts and raised many of them to high offices. As the practice of medicine advanced, the barbers became less and less capable of performing the triple functions of barber-surgeon-dentist. The surgeons wished to be separated entirely from the barbers, and they petitioned parliament to sever the ancient relationship. By an act of parliament, which received the sanction of the king, the alliance between the barbers and surgeons was dissolved in June 1745.

Dissections & Corpse-TakingNext


Home  -  I. Penny Dreadful  -  II. The Madding Crowd  -  III. Bloodletting
IV. The Play's the Thing  -  Recipes

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