Sight care has come along way since Emperor Nero's use of Emeralds to protect his eyes against glare when watching Gladiators fighting in Roman Arenas.

Earlier narrators of history credited St Jerome (circa 347 to 420 CE) as being the originator of spectacles and as such he was often portrayed either wearing a pair of spectacles or with a pair close to hand. He is called the patron saint of spectacle wearers, which may account for why from the late 14th century spectacle wearer are portrayed in biblical stories.

There is some dispute over exactly when and where the first spectacles (paired lenses that were intended to be worn on the nose or at least held in front of both eyes) were used. Historical evidence appears to point to the 13th century as the earliest period for their appearance. Roger Bacon, a  thirteenth century English friar who lived much of his life in Paris, cetainly outlined the optical principles behind corrective lenses in his Opus Majus (c.1266) and there are suggestions that friars possessed a secret knowledge of spectacles. They would certainly have found use for them in their scriptoriums.

Much has been written about ophthalmology's history: with its theories for vision and various cures for diseased eyes but  little has been written about mankind's efforts to improve his or her vision through the use of mechanical devices i.e. the science of ophthalmic optics or optometry.Museums house various artifacts of natural materials that primitive and medieval man could have used to magnify close up details.

However it is only from the 19th century that we have records of how failing vision could be measured so that spectacle lenses could be scientlifically prescribed. These lenses could be secured into spectacle frames to optimise the vision of working men and women and so give rise to greater productivity in the new industrial processes.And at the end of the 19th century that British Opticians got together to form a new profession that was to become Optometry. These scientific, refracting opticians (as opposed to mechanical opticians or sellers of scientific apparatus)  wanted to be know as professional testers of sight. They did not want to be confused with medical practitioners and they wanted the public to trust them not to be guilty of quackery.

In 1948 the National Health Service offered Free health care for all Britains – at the point of need .It had been intended that all sight care, both the treatment of diseased eyes and the optical correction of healthy eyes, would be overseen by the Hospital Eye Service (HES). However at the outset the refractive measurement and correction of healthy eyes was designated a supplementry service and it soon became apparent that  the HES could not cope with eyecare demands for diseased and healthy eyes. So 10 years later, the Opticians Act of 1958 separated sight testing and the provision of spectacles from the general health provisions of the HES and the General Ophthalmic Services (GOS) were born.

Since then most optometrists have argued that the health benefits and cost effectiveness of community eyecare means that the cost of examining healthy eyes should be borne by the NHS, however successive governments have permitted market forces to dictate that the sale of spectacles and related vision improving appliances should pay for community eyecare.


In the past much of our knowledge about the world came through our ears; hearing the words of friends, neighbours, travelling lecturers, clergymen and other 'pedagogs' – moderately imperfect vision was not a major handicap. Modern eyes need perfect vision to function comfortably in our world which is dominated by visual imagery: most of our knowledge today comes through our eyes, through the visual medias of the 'internet,'  TV and other screens.

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