As summarised in the storyworld article on ‘Health in the Commonwealth’, the health of the general populace in mid-17th-century England, as with everywhere else in Europe and the wider world, was truly dire by modern standards.
Yet within a few years of the advent of the Commonwealth, radical change was already underway. Although there were many sources for that change.one of the most important was the impact of vinery – a technology that remained all but unique to the Commonwealth for all of that time.
Vinery, as a distinct discipline, began in 1657 with the publication of Patience Heatherstone’s Meditations Upon A Tree. At first it seemed to be no more than a mere curiosity, on a par with alchemy though with somewhat more promise of practical outcomes. But as the nation began to recover from the devastating epidemic of the Plague in the mid-1660s, the nation’s health at last assumed real priority, with such epidemics placed firmly in the category of ‘never again’. As occurred somewhat later in our timeline, there was a growing awareness that one of the key factors in health was the easy availability of adequate quantities of clean water. It was here that vinery came into the story, with the first of products that went into widespread use: a tree that could replace the prosaic village pump.
In terms of both anatomy and technology, making a tree act as a water-supply was not that much of a stretch. Every tree is, by its nature, a water-pump, with roots that seek out their own sources of water according to the conditions of the underlying geology and soil. All that was needed was to tweak the ‘knotwork’ of the seed such that the tree would seek out more water than it required for its own needs alone, and then channel that excess into an accessible outlet. The result was not just water without human effort, and much closer to wherever it might be needed, but water of a far higher quality than might be available from almost any existing well or pump – water filtered naturally by the tree to such a level that even microbial carriers of disease would be excluded from the supply.
The impact on health was immediate, visible, and huge. Demand for ‘the pump of the viners’ was likewise huge, and soon outstripped the immediate means of supply. The outcome there was that vinery changed almost overnight from a scientific-curiosity to a mainstream technology for which there was an immediate and almost insatiable need – necessitating the urgent creation of guilds and the like to support the requisite training and tests of competence.
Whilst the products of vinery were grown, as for other plants, they were, like sterile-hybrids, unable to breed, with each viner-tree created anew from the respective starter-seed. But even if viner-products could not be created directly via the usual methods of plant-husbandry, the processes of vinery, together with the fledgling sciences of botany and microscopy, could guide the processes of selective-breeding in horticulture and the like. The result was considerable improvement in the quantity, efficacy and range of medicinal plants – again with almost immediate impacts on health and on survivability from illness and injury.
By the end of the 17th-century, overall health within England became the best by far in Europe – an impact that spread to other nations around the world that chose to join in to the Greater Commonwealth. This difference in national health – much of it attributable to vinery alone – would continue for a century or more, until other nations began to catch up.
Last Update: August 30, 2017