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On the banks of the Bedale Beck, in the small market town of Bedale in North Yorkshire, stands one of the most unusual historic buildings in the whole of UK. Between the late 18th and the early 19th century, this small brick building was used to store medicinal leeches used by local doctors for bloodletting, a common procedure for treating a variety of ailments.

The local apothecary kept leeches alive in special containers using fresh water diverted from the river flowing just a few feet from the small castellated building. Moist turf and moss inside the container provided the leeches something to hang on to. In winter, a fireplace kept the leeches warm and snug and prevented the water in the containers from freezing. Food, however, was not included because these bloodthirsty suckers can survive for surprisingly long time, sometimes up to a year, without feeding. Keeping them hungry was also desirable as they made the creatures more efficient at sucking blood.

bedale-leech-house-1

The Bedale Medicinal Leech House. Photo credit: Rosser1954/Wikimedia

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