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Dogstones

Now there’s a word for you, “Dogstones”. Gallstones found in canines perhaps, or some type of artisanal device for holding something in place? If you Google it, it appears there’s a large stone in Oban in Scotland, but that’s not it.

Let me cloud the waters even further by linking the Dogstone with a Hen and a Chicken, any guesses? Would be surprised if anyone got close.

Dogstones

That’s enough convolution for one day, so here’s the answer. A Dogstone is a slang term for the root of the native british orchid. whether this has anything to do with the term “The full Dogs Bo**ocks” I have no idea. So what’s the connection between an orchid and some poultry?

Let me take you on a little stroll down Fleet Street to a tiny little alleyway with a lovely name, it’s called Hen and Chicken Court. It’s one of those alleys that you can quite easily pass by without even noticing it, it’s so small.




There’s nothing that makes the interior of the court special, it’s partially covered and opens out slightly to reveal a couple of front doors, but that’s about it. Looking into the name it looks as if there was a small inn very near the alley called the Hen and Chicken. Writing in 1720 John Strype gives it a mention “Adjoining to St. Dunstan’s Church, Eastwards, is a small Place of two Houses, which bears the Name of Hen and Chicken Court”. The map below shows it from 1676.

With a little bit of research I found that a resident of the alley in 1784 was a Mary Edwards, who also plied her trade at the end of the court on Fleet Street, no not what you’re thinking, Mary had a thriving little business selling Gingerbread. To wash these pastries down she also sold a drink called Saloop and this where everything becomes clear.

Saloop was the english name for the Arabic drink Salep which is made from crushed orchid bulbs. The drink was popular in Britain from around the middle of the 17th century, but the Brits as always put there own spin on it. Its preparation required that the salep powder be added to hot water until thickened whereupon it would be sweetened with honey, then flavored with orange flower or rose water. Substitution of British orchid roots, known as “dogstones”, for the original Turkish variants started in the 18th century. The drink was popular up until the early 19th century, but had changed to using powdered Sassafras root and making it with milk instead of water.

It was mainly popular amongst what were termed “The lower Classes” as tea and later coffee were more expensive at the time. Over the years health claims were made for the properties of the drink, mostly unsubstantiated claims made by its purveyors, the major one being that it was a remedy for “chronic alcoholic inebriety”. These claims were to be the death knell of the drinks popularity and its sudden disappearance from the streets.

A claim was made during the Victorian era that the drink had restorative properties for those suffering from Venereal Diseases. Given Victorian sensibilities anyone seen drinking Saloop on the streets or in public would have rendered them a social perhia regardless of if they were infected or not. Very quickly the drink disappeared from popular culture, as did the livelihood of the people selling it. One can only assume that Mary Edwards decedents were not best pleased at having their livelihoods eradicated in such a fashion.

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