View Full Version : Out of left field medical research project

12-24-2007, 04:01 PM
This evening I finished re-watching the BBC series North & South. No, not the Patrick Swayze nauseant, I mean a great series that's based on Elizabeth Gaskell's novel.


One of the characters in the story who works in the cotton mills exhibits a chronic illness which is characterized by coughing and shortness of breath. It kills her in the end. The characters tended to call it "fluff of t'lungs", but I was curious to see if A) it was indeed real, and B) if it was exhibited properly by the cast.

I looked up N&S on Wikipedia and BBC to see if anything was mentioned on the research. Nothing there worth real reading, so I looked up the filming locations on IMDB. I plugged the museums into a search engine and found them online.


I left a note for the museum curators:

Sent to Lancashire Textile Museum, 12/24/07.
Dear sirs:

I was recently watching the BBC's latest rendition of "North & South" by Elizabeth Gaskell. A quick check of the filming locations revealed your museums were used for interior scenes of Marlborough Mills in action.

The character Bessy Higgins displayed a constant cough throughout the series. It was referred to as "fluff in t'lungs" by the characters, and it seems it finally killed her off. This seems consistent what with all the CGI fluff in the air inside the mill itself. I am curious if you have any references or documentation as to what the illness really was and whether or not it would in fact kill someone off over time if treatment was not available. If you do not have that information I'd be interested if you steered me in the direction of those who might know.

I research nineteenth century illnesses in an effort to recreate properly the medicine of the era for historical interpretation. I am pleased your museum opened their doors to allow filming inside. It was a true pleasure to see a great example of nineteenth century industry brought to life.

Thank you for your attention. Please keep in mind I am e-mailing from the United States, so I am six hours behind you on eastern time.

Best Regards,
Noah Briggs
Atlantic Guards Soldiers Aid Society

I don't expect an answer back. I started trotting various word searches into Google:


and soon started trying to use modern health websites to narrow the search to occupational lung diseases.


I think I found it listed under "organic dust disease":

Examples of organic dust diseases:

* byssinosis
Byssinosis is caused by dust from hemp, flax, and cotton processing. Also known as brown lung disease, the condition is chronic and characterized by chest tightness and shortness of breath. Byssinosis affects an estimated 35,000 textile workers, to date, both former and current.


occupational asthma
Occupational asthma is caused by inhaling certain irritants in the workplace, such as dusts, gases, fumes, and vapors. Characterized by common asthma symptoms (such as a chronic cough and wheezing), occupational asthma is a reversible condition when diagnosed at an early stage. Persons at higher risk for occupational asthma often work in manufacturing and processing operations, farming, animal care, food processing, cotton and textile industries, and refining operations.

Here's another site which discusses Byssinosis:


What does this have to do with the Civil War? Absolutely nothing, unless you happen to portray an ex-textile worker, either from Lancashire or Yorkshire, UK, or Lowell, Mass. This was something I happened to do because it's quiet and I don't celebrate Christmas anyway. (Wrong month, and I am no longer a Christian anyway.)

Happy holidays!

12-25-2007, 07:13 AM
to your research.


Granted, it tracks modern textile industry workers in India--but it does present some interesting data

You might want to contact the NPS at Lowell National Historic Park. They might be able to help.