A small brick hut on the edge of the Bedale Beck in England currently doesn’t look like much. People can peek in the windows, but there’s nothing inside these days. It was once, however, occupied by ornate jars filled with bloodthirsty leeches.
The Georgian Bedale Leech House in Bedale, North Yorkshire is the last standing leech house in the United Kingdom. It was constructed to keep them alive, fresh, and hungry for blood while they waited for druggists or doctors to use them for bloodletting.
Now, there’s nothing left that would indicate how the leeches were stored, but containers of moist turf, moss, and water likely lined the place after it was built in the late 18th century, just as bloodletting became a widely used practice in Europe. A fireplace kept the leeches warm in the winter, and it’s thought the beck was rerouted to run through the structure. It’s surely one of very few monuments to humanity’s attempts at providing comfortable lodging for the bloodsucking relatives of the earthworm.
Leeches have been used medicinally for 4,000 years. Women often collected leeches in bogs and marshes with horses—or frequently their own legs. After feeding, the leeches could go as long as a year without another blood feast. They were transferred to the building.
The castellated building was restored by the Bedale District Heritage Trust in 1985, but it went up for sale to a private owner in 2003. The building, just over 10-feet by 10-feet, is adorned with a door and three windows and overlooks the peaceful Bedale Renaissance Park.
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