From the eighteenth century through to the abolition of public executions in England in 1868, the touch of a freshly hanged man's hand was sought after to cure a variety of swellings, wens in particular. While the healing properties of corpse hands in general were acknowledged and experimented with in early modern medicine, the gallows cure achieved prominence during the second half of the eighteenth century. What was it about the hanged man's hand (and it always was a male appendage) that gave it such potency? While frequently denounced as a disgusting ‘superstition’ in the press, this popular medical practice was inadvertently legitimised and institutionalised by the authorities through changes in execution procedure.
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