Early 20th Century (pre-NHS eyecare)

The following is taken from ‘Virtue’s Household Physician A Twentieth Century Medica’ which was published in London in 1926 and claimed to be ‘a practical description in plain language of all the diseases of men, women and children with the latest discoveries in medicine and most approved methods of treatment by a corps of eminent specialists, practicing physicians and surgeons’.

  • According to the surgical section, most eye ailments were the result of debility or having a weakly constitution (p.643 to 650). Restorative recommendations were for alternatives (herbal remedies), tonics, bathing, exercise in the open air, travel and a generous diet. Even though it was know that some inflammations were due to ‘a small bacillus germ ‘ given that this was before antibiotics became available it is unsurprising that physicians were restricted in their options for treating some diseases. However vision that was easily corrected with spectacles was also preferentially considered to be correctable by fresh air and diet, glasses were a last resort.
  • Glasses were not even mentioned as an option for the squinting patient. A patient with a squint(strabismus) was to ensure their ‘bowels were in good condition’, their general health was to be fortified with bathing, tonics and exercise and they were to avoid the company of other squinters – as it was thought to be encouraged by imitation. Strychnine or electro-galvanism were considered as an alternative to surgery.
  • In a later section relating to the use of homeopathic medications (p.690 to 703) although glasses are suggested as being necessary for a squinting child, it is still the constitution that needs to be attended to.
  • Undoubtedly some of the remedies for disease might have had some success at easing acute symptoms. For instance inflammatory conditions might have been eased, but symptoms relating to cataract or retinal damage could not have seen any improvement.



Alfred Yaxley reminiscing in Gillian Shepherd’s Knapton – Twentieth Century Voices recalled the price of glasses in 1948 as £7 15s and 4d NB  this was pre-GOS eyecare so pre-Free NHS spectacles. A farm labourer earned £24 a month so he could chose between new spectacles or  1 ton of salt (today expect to pay over £175) or 10 pullets (laying chickens maybe £10.00 each at 2013 prices).


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