The UK's Last Standing Leech House

Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0
Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 4.0

You probably know that leeches were once used for medicinal bloodletting. But did you know that the worms lived in luxury in their own houses?

Today, only one of these leech houses remains in the UK: the Georgian Bedale Leech House in Bedale, North Yorkshire. While the medicinal use of leeches dates back 2500 years, this leech house was built in the late 18th century by an apothecary on the estate of the Beresford-Pierse family of Bedale Hall. It was in use until the early 1900s, when the use of leeches dramatically declined.

The leech houses were used to store the worms—often in special containers of moist earth—and keep them alive and fresh until they were needed by druggists or doctors. A flow of water from the Bedale Beck, the adjoining river, was directed through the building and a fireplace kept the creatures warm in the winter. Absent from that set-up: blood to keep them nourished while they waited. Leeches can survive for up to a year between meals.

Leeches were usually collected by women in bogs and marshes who would use horses or their own legs to attract the creatures and transport them in boxes or cages.

The Bedale Leech House was restored by the Bedale District Heritage Trust in 1985, then sold to a private owner in 2003.

[h/t Atlas Obscura]