Small wooden leper crutches, posibly English, c 18th century.
© Science Museum / Science & Society Picture Library
The disease of leprosy was believed to be highly infectious, with symptoms including sores, ulcers, erosion of the bones and los of sensation at the nerve endings. The effects of the disease were often crippling, and these crutches would have been used for support. People were so afraid of leprosy that, since Biblical times, lepers had been outcasts. During the Middle Ages the Church sanctioned the building of thousands of 'lazarettos' or leper houses outside towns, to keep lepers isolated from the rest of the community.