Blood was the theme of this year’s annual conference of the Physicians of Myddfai Society held at Myddfai Community Hall on Saturday, June 29.

Dr Tim Smith of Chippenham, a retired Consultant Anaesthetist, said bloodletting was the mainstay of medical practice for 3,000 years.

In the Middle Ages, bloodletting was done by monks in monasteries.

Then a decree stated that it should be practised only by barber surgeons.

This continued until Henry VIII granted a Charter which declared that surgeons should concentrate on surgery and that barbers should do hair cutting, tooth pulling and bloodletting.

Dr Smith explained the origin of the barber’s pole: “After bloodletting, barbers would place the bloody bandages on poles. As they became wrapped around the poles, the bandages would form red and white stripes. The colour blue was an added decoration.

“Bloodletting was standard medical practice until the 1850s. The doctors’ medical journal is called The Lancet because doctors used the lance all the time, and took bleeding to extremes - often resulting in loss of consciousness.

“George Washington, who had a throat infection, was bled five pints in 12 hours and died of blood loss. Princess Charlotte died in childbirth, partly because of bloodletting, and the poet John Keats also died following bloodletting.

“By the 1870s this universal practice started to decline, but was retained for fevers and in veterinary practice. During World War I, horses were bled routinely three or four times a year.”

Andrew Jenkins of Biopharm UK, based in Hendy and the only leech farm in the UK, said the company’s leeches were kept in a sterile environment and were used worldwide in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

“Wales and France used to be the foremost places in the world for leech collection,” said Mr Jenkins. “The Lady of Llyn-y-fan Fach may well have brought some leeches out on her legs when she emerged from the lake.

In the past, local men and women would collect leeches from ponds and lakes to supply leech traders in the cities, who would then send them all over the world.

“There are leeches on the shores of Talley Lake and there is a leech that lives in the anus of a hippopotamus.”

“Although they can’t see, they have five pairs of eyes to differentiate between light and dark. They can also sense blood from a distance. Our leeches are fed three times, and then spend two years in hibernation before being sent to hospitals.”