In years gone by, your health was in danger of many things one of them being treated by a doctor, write Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD

If ever there was a misnomer it is the phrase 'the good old days'. Some days were good for some people, of course, but for most, earlier times were harsher and unrewarding.

Nowhere is this more true than in the field of medical care where it is difficult to believe some of their earlier notions, theories and practices of the profession.

In the 18th Century, for example, whether you were rich or poor, operations were done without anaesthetics and with little or no attention to hygiene. For those with money, the doctor would operate in your own home usually on the kitchen table.

This had the dubious advantage of probably being more hygienic than the average hospital operating theatre.

For the poor and destitute, the parish was responsible for the care of the disabled and sick and, to do this, money was raised through a local Poor Rate. People in the poor house had the services of a doctor. The Finchley Poor Rate books, for example, reveal that in 1782 Finchley Parish paid Phillip Roberts of Barnet an annual fee of £10 for such services. Friern Barnet paid £12 per annum to Dr John Taylor of Whetstone for caring for its poor that sum to include treatment of all accidents and casualties.

The books also give details of some of the charges for medical and other services. In 1768, blood letting cost three shillings (15p) and in 1744 a dose of brimstone, treacle, copper and hogs tar for Sarah Turner cost one shilling. A Mr Wilkinson was paid 7d for hiring his horse and cart to take John Kay (who was insane) to Edmonton to see the doctor and a gratuity of 10s.6d was paid to a man who had broken his leg. More unusual is the £1.4s paid for making a box and burying a woman found hanged on Finchley Common.

Early records and medical textbooks of these times reveal some strange beliefs and theories: avoid green vegetables lest they cause the flux.

Smoaking (sic) tobacco ought to be encouraged, particularly in cold wet weather as it will prevent infectious diseases.

To cure putrid fever (typhus) make an infusion of rue, sage, mint, rosemary and wormwood in strong vinegar, mix with camphor dissolved in spirits of wine this mixture to be wiped over face and loins.

The Annual Bills of Mortality for London reveal the most common causes of death.

The 1801 record, for example, shows:

Consumption (tuberculosis) 4,078
Convulsions 3,503
Fevers 2,201
Small pox 1,579
Old age 1,452
Whooping cough 1,004
Dropsy 845
Asthma 639

Of the total of 19,198 deaths in that year, 8,304 were of children under the age of five, which is interesting to compare with the 1,452 dying of old age. Of the adults, ten were attributed to excessive drinking, one to fighting, one killed by a bull, one killed by a madman, 112 drowned, and 412 committed suicide. Perhaps the most unusual was the one person killed by 'eating an immoderate quantity of nuts on his birthday'.