a milkman, an artist and a winkle boiler

During the second world war, conscientious objectors  were allowed to choose non combative roles such as ambulance drivers and orderlies. Some also opted to be “human guinea pigs” in medical trials.

image found here

“In early 1941, a dozen male volunteers arrived, suitcases in hand, at the Sorby Institute, a research facility in Sheffield, Yorkshire. They included a milkman, an artist, a maths teacher, a ladies’ hairdresser and a winkle boiler. They were destined to spend the war years allowing themselves to be infected with scabies, undergoing lengthy periods of vitamin deprivation, and taking part in potentially dangerous investigations into how long the body could cope without water.

milko found here

Scabies infestation, or ‘the itch’, then affected about two million Britons. At the time there was no effective cure. In a flash of inspiration, Major Kenneth Mellanby CBE, saw a well of available ‘volunteers’ on whom non-life-threatening experiments could be carried out, fitting in with their pacifism.

He shipped in army bedding previously used by those with scabies, and the volunteers slept naked between the sheets. Others were given unwashed underpants that they wore for a week at a time. Nothing happened.

At a lecture to military officers, Mellanby stated that scabies was contracted by picking up a young adult female which caused the audience to erupt with laughter. He meant a female mite, but the gaffe made him wonder if infected women could be hired to sleep with the volunteers. Would experimental adultery look good in the scientific report?

image found here

Fortunately, before any women were enlisted two volunteers became infected; the combination of close contact and infected underwear had done the trick.

The volunteers had to remain infested for nine months, which must have been a relentless ordeal. Some wandered the corridors naked in the cold air to mollify the itch, probably wondering if life under fire in the Western Desert would not have been easier.

image found here

Treatment started with scalding baths and vigorous scrubbing, followed by a coating of sulphur ointment. The most effective treatment proved to be painting the entire body, except the head, with benzyl benzoate. 

To keep up morale, pacifist meetings were held and allotments maintained. A mock coat of arms was devised depicting a sarcoptes mite atop the motto ‘Itch Dien’.

image found here

Dietary experiments were also carried out, and the effects of vitamin A deprivation were logged. This task required participants to deliver every bowel movement to the lab. In 1943 one final, even more controversial, experiment was undertaken. Aimed at establishing the life expectancy of shipwrecked sailors, it required volunteers to go without water for up to five days. Only lifeboat rations, such as chocolate and dried meat, were allowed.

image found here

The Sorby Institute closed its doors in 1946. Many of the recruits remained until the end, enjoying a kind of macabre bond. A jokey newsletter was produced to help people remain in contact and recount tales of the bizarre years they spent together. Some of the recruits also wrote this poem:

Recondite research on a mite

Has revealed that infections begin

On leave with your wife and your children

Or when you are living in sin.

Except in the case of the clergy,

Who accomplish remarkable feats,

And catch scabies and crabs

From door handles and cabs,

And from blankets and lavatory seats.

image found here

the weaving of British underwear

The Maharajah of Patiala was rumoured to be a connoisseur of underwear.


That potentate of potentates was assumed to have taken a “whole floor” at the Savoy Hotel and assumed to be out shopping for “his sartorial foible, British underpants of a particular weave costing £200 per pair,” assumed to have “brought from India his special curry cook who takes twelve hours to prepare that dish,” assumed to spend “three and a half hours every morning curling his sardonic beard and adjusting his jewel-studded turban.”


To an English friend who strolled in when he was pulling on his quite modest underpants, His Highness said, “I noticed yesterday that it took exactly two and a half minutes to comb my beard and put on my turban. I have not brought from India regalia worth eight million pounds Sterling. I left my curry cook in Paris to supervise the diet of the Maharanee who is ill. I don’t insist that every article of leather be removed from any room I occupy. Most of my entourage are staying in Paris. I am here at the Savoy in two small suites—and having a jolly good time.”


In a small suite at Dorchester House the Gaekwar of Baroda briefly camped last week with his wife, a secretary and a few servants. Their Highnesses will slip over to Paris for the Gala Season and last week they left behind them in France their sleek motor car with solid gold fittings. As a self-made potentate would—the Gaekwar was a cowherder until adopted by the widowed Maharanee of Baroda as heir—His Highness did bring from India to the Jubilee gems such as Patiala was assumed to have brought.

42 carat gold bike found here

When correspondents addressed him respectfully as the Gaekwar of Baroda, his expression showed that something was amiss though his brief replies were the pink of Indian courtesy. “You see, gentlemen,” said the Gaekwar of Baroda’s secretary afterward, “His Highness the Maharaja should no more be called ‘The Gaekwar’ than a man who is Mr. Smith should be called ‘The Smith.’


There breathes no Englishman who does not know that Ranjitsinhji, the late sovereign of Nawangar, was the greatest Indian cricketer of all time and indeed one of the world’s greatest. In London honeymooning last week was Ranji’s nephew, His Highness the Maharaja Jam Saheb of Nawangar. For a wedding present he received a racehorse from the Aga Khan and five elephants from his father-in-law, the Marahao of Sirohi.


Published in: on July 27, 2010 at 8:21 am  Comments (38)  
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I will if you will

George Hazeltine, a rich American who died at the age of 86, spent his last days in a Los Angeles hospital, where he became very attached to two of his nurses, Lillian Pelkey and Madeleine Higgins. So he announced his intention of making a new will, in order to leave $10,000 to each of them. The two nurses protested against this proposal, but agreed to humour the old man.


Since there was no writing paper available, Nurse Pelkey wrote the will on her underwear, which Mr Hazeltine signed, the Misses Pelkey and Higgins acting as witnesses. This resulted in them both being barred from receiving their legacies, but neither of them wished to do so in any case. The will was however, admitted to probate and a great niece who was also a beneficiary and under no disqualification, inherited the estate under its terms.


Lingerie also featured in the will of Ellen Collins of Philadelphia in 1932: “I bequeath my white flannel embroidered petticoat to Mr Albert Cummings.”Tragically, Mr Cummings died before his intending benefactress  who presumably had some reason to believe he coveted her petticoat.


This will be my last post for a little while. I’m flying off to the south of France to meet up with Queenwilly and The King for a week or so, then on to Greece where Daisyfae and Dolce await. We three girls are going to scare the pants off Athens then head over to the Isle of Lesbos to laze about eating Greek salads and drinking retsina…… here’s to foie gras, truffles, mah jongg, blue skies, sandy beaches and good friends…. see you all soon….  xx

Lesbos Fashions 1873

Published in: on June 7, 2010 at 8:33 am  Comments (59)  
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