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Hall's Croft and Medicine

Hall's Croft was integral to John Hall's medical practise as a site to grow herbs, create medicines, and research illnesses.

Medical History of Hall's Croft

Hall’s Croft has been inhabited by three different medical professionals in its history: Dr William Williams, Dr Thomas Thomson and physician John Hall. For a Jacobean physician like John, his house and property would have been essential to how he administered medicine. John would have been paid to visit patients in their homes, so Hall’s Croft would not have been the site of his medical practice. Rather, John would have used his home as a place to create medicines, examine medical samples, and research illnesses. It was essential then that his property had a garden to grow the herbs and plants he needed, a dispensary where they could be mixed into cures, and an office space to store his medical books. 

'That present time's so sick/ That present medicine must be ministered'

— King John, Act 1, Scene 1
Urine flask
17th century urine flask

Jacobean Medical Practice

The medical profession lacked cohesion in seventeenth-century England. Sick people had to decide who they wanted to be treated by: a wise-woman, an astrologer, a herbalist, an uroscopist, an apothecary, a barber-surgeon, a physician, or even a member of the clergy. Each of these people offered a different type of service, knowledge, and price tag. John Hall was a physician, which meant that he had university qualifications (John studied at Cambridge), and was the highest ranking medical practitioner available to the residents of Stratford-upon-Avon.

John Hall's Life as a Physician

After John completed his university education, he seems to have disappeared from English records for ten years. During this time it has been speculated that he lived and practised on the Continent. This is significant because although medical advancements were slow in England, it was a time of rapid growth in Europe. If John did indeed spend time abroad amongst these new ideas and developments, he may have brought medical discoveries and progressive insight back with him to Stratford.

John was described by his contemporaries as a good physician, and records show that he treated well-known individuals such as William Shakespeare and Michael Drayton. Unlike other seventeenth-century medical practitioners, who favoured leeches and prayer, John preferred treating his patients with plants. There are records of him using over 100 different types of herbs in his case books. All of these herbs would have been accessible to John in his garden at Hall’s Croft or in the surrounding areas in Stratford. John recorded some of his Stratford cases in his Latin case notes while he practised. The case notes were published by James Cooke after Hall’s death in Select observations on English bodies, or Cures both empericall and historicall performed upon very eminent persons in desperate diseases.

"That present medicine must be minister'd"

— King John: V, i
'The Consultation' by William Piper Sproat
"The Consultation" by Moira Benton depicts a 17th century physician meeting with a patient

Jacobean Herbal Remedies

Although John favoured herbal remedies, and often had success with them, his uses of herbs and plants were based on the flawed Hippocratic idea of the four humours. ‘Medicines’ were created to induce purges (through vomiting or diarrhoea) in patients to rebalance their humours. There is even evidence of John using this type of treatment on himself when he was sick.

Even after the Halls moved away from Hall’s Croft, it has been speculated that the building was used as a dispensary and there is evidence that at least two apothecaries lived and trained there while John was alive. Now Hall’s Croft hosts a permanent Jacobean medicine exhibition to celebrate its longstanding connection to the medical profession.

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