Documentary series recreating a 19th-century pharmacy. The team discover the world of pharmacy in 1837, when traditional remedies such as leeches were popular and regularly used.
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Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire
revives the sights, sounds and smells of the 19th Century.
At its heart stands the pharmacy,
a treasure house of potions and remedies from a century and a half ago.
Now, in a unique experiment, Ruth Goodman, Nick Barber
and Tom Quick are opening the doors to the Victorian pharmacy,
recreating a high-street institution we take for granted, but which was once a novel idea.
How can I help?
They'll bring the pharmacy to life, sourcing ingredients, mixing potions and dispensing cures.
But in an age when skin creams contained arsenic
and cold cures were made from opium, the team will need to be highly selective.
They'll only make safe versions of traditional remedies
and try them out on carefully selected customers.
The start was like the Wild West.
-People didn't know what was good and bad.
-Try and get a bit of speed up... Oh, there we go.
The pharmacy was something that affected everybody's lives in one way or another.
They'll discover an age of social transformation that brought healthcare
within the reach of ordinary people for the very first time,
heralding a consumer revolution that reached far beyond medicine
to create the model for the modern high-street chemist as we know it today.
The Victorian pharmacy opens its doors in 1837,
the year when the teenage Queen Victoria ascended the throne.
Wow, look at this place!
This is fantastic.
-Ooh, that smell!
-It's much bigger than I thought it would be.
There's a heck of a lot of stuff here, isn't there?
There's a tremendous amount of stuff.
Fresh from her time on the Victorian farm,
Ruth Goodman will now be applying her skills in new areas -
from medicines to cosmetics.
As a domestic historian, she knows just how important the pharmacy was to ordinary people.
Doctors were expensive. Really, on a day-to-day basis, only the rich were using doctors.
Occasionally a poor person might be able to save up for a consultation,
maybe a doctor might offer some free consultation, but in general
most people in the 19th Century turned to the pharmacist
for the majority of their healthcare.
It's a beautiful place to be in. We're going to be able to make this work really well.
Nick Barber is professor of the practice of pharmacy
at the University of London's School of Pharmacy.
Parrot Brand polishing soap and Monkey Brand.
Things like Sloan's Liniment, which people use nowadays, and Zam-Buk.
As the pharmacist, he will be responsible for recommending
and preparing all the remedies and medicines that his shop dispenses.
It's a unique opportunity for Nick to learn how his profession evolved.
It's a fantastic chance to recreate what it was like to be
a Victorian pharmacist at a time when pharmacy was completely different to how it is today.
Pharmacists were creating new things. Lots of innovation happening then - the growth of chemistry -
and pharmacists were experimenting and developing new sorts of treatments as well.
We're going to have fun with this!
-I'm going to see how this sign's getting on.
-OK, see you.
There's old pill-rolling devices here.
Look at these liquids up here, this is a tincture of zingib.
No Victorian pharmacy would be complete without an apprentice.
And these are all the Latin names I'm going to have to know about.
That job falls to Tom Quick.
A PhD student in the history of medicine, he's hoping to put theory into practice.
The natural products were all in their Latin names.
And so much equipment as well, right?
It's remarkable, isn't it?
Really, what I think of as history isn't about just seeing things behind glass cases.
It's about people's lives and what people did on a day-to-day basis.
We've got all the kit here, which was all needed in those days. We've got, erm...
We've the balance there, right?
Yeah, you'd be weighing things out carefully.
You know, careful being the key word, because you killed people if you got these things wrong.
Some of these things I was taught when I was an undergraduate, but I've never used them professionally.
So actually to do these sorts of things, to go back to mixing,
to pounding, to compounding things is an enormous challenge.
The front of shop is where they will come face to face with the public.
In the early Victorian age, new ideas on how to treat illness
were beginning to filter through to the high street,
but in this moment of change from traditional to scientific medicine,
many of the cures the pharmacy will sell
are based on old beliefs and remedies.
Poison of lance-headed viper. Oh, my giddy.
In 1837, despite the dangerous products on the shelves,
anyone could trade as a pharmacist.
Even grocers were setting up as chemists.
Hee-hee, look at that!
That looks so good. It's just fantastic to see your name above a shop like that.
Yeah... You'd want a good standing within the community to be a pharmacist.
It was a hub of the town, really, and people used to come here...
Everybody's ill, everybody comes to the pharmacy.
Opening a new shop was a massive investment, and pharmacists needed to be entrepreneurs to survive.
Marketing was everything.
Like many of their predecessors,
the new Barber & Goodman pharmacy is having a grand opening.
BAND PLAYS: "Blaze Away"
In order to understand how people responded to 19th Century remedies,
Barber & Goodman will dispense authentic but safe Victorian medicines
to carefully chosen volunteers.
The pharmacy's first customer is Sue Dodd, who has worked as a nurse for 35 years.
Hello, Mr Barber.
I have a very bad cough, is there anything that you can help?
Well, have you tried modern cures for a cold? Do you think they work?
Some do, although you can't beat natural local honey and lemon for sore throats.
Generally things like that.
Well, in Victorian times what we'd have given you
is Dr John Collis Browne's Chlorodyne.
I've got the Chlorodyne here.
It was invented when he was an Indian army doctor for cholera.
It didn't treat cholera, but it became a very popular treatment
for coughs, colds, chests and things like this. It's got in chloroform,
it's got, er...opium in it and it's got cannabis in it.
Why would they put those things in?
Well, it makes people feel better, as you might imagine.
Many pharmacists made up their own versions of Chlorodyne,
but the high opiate content made these medicines addictive, and death from overdose was a real risk.
Collis Browne's mixture is still on sale today, but with a low, non-addictive dose of morphine.
Opium suppresses cough, so if people do have troublesome coughs, then it would help bring that down.
We'll knock out something for you which is a bit safer.
And will it have the opium and things like that in?
-No, we'll find one without those sorts of things.
-Just natural herbs we'll use for this one.
-That sounds wonderful.
Before his customer returns for her authentic Victorian cough medicine,
Nick will need to find a less risky recipe.
Horehound and aniseed. Try that, see what that looks like.
-Balsam of horehound and aniseed.
-That's it, so what have we got in?
The chemist's bible was the Pharmacopoeia,
which listed all the remedies and potions of the day.
The one we can't use, definitely, is paregoric,
and paregoric is camphorated opium - it's a form of opium -
so, again, we've got the morphine in.
So we need to take that balsam of horehound and aniseed and try and reformulate it
using current knowledge and using things which are a bit safer than some of the ingredients.
-My goodness, it's gorgeous at this time of year.
Nick's chosen remedy, balsam of horehound, was made up largely of natural herbs and flowers.
-Cleavers - this is what we're after, yeah?
The job of sourcing the essential ingredients falls to Ruth and herbalist Eleanor Gallia.
Eleanor is an expert in plant medicine.
A Victorian pharmacist would have needed her knowledge of the natural world.
So why do we want cleavers in a cough medicine, then?
They're the most wonderful immune stimulant, and they're very cleansing for the body.
With respiratory catarrh conditions, the first thing you need to do is
encourage the phlegm away from the chest,
so the body is very good at cleansing itself and draining itself.
A pharmacy needed to maintain a healthy stock of medicinal plants.
So do we need anything else, as well as the cleavers, while we're out?
-Oh, that's quite a common thing.
The surrounding countryside was a valuable and free resource.
They like to be stood on, planted into the ground.
While Ruth is gathering the ingredients for the cough medicine,
at the back of the shop, Nick and Tom open up the pharmacy's laboratory.
Wow! Look at this place.
This is going to be amazing, isn't it?
The nerve centre of their business, this is where the pharmacist would
experiment with new cures and manufacture drugs and potions.
It's halfway between an alchemist's cave and a kitchen and a storeroom and all sorts, really.
Yeah, this is a really interesting space for me.
This is the place that probably changed the most dramatically
over the time period we're looking at - 1840s, '50s.
This is kind of like a kitchen, right?
You've got all these ingredients over here, these sort of herbal things.
And you'd be here at the bench, making your latest concoction to sell in the shop.
Yes, to sell to the lucky public out there.
But by the end of the century, this is kind of more a place of chemical experimentation.
We've even got a hammer for pounding the herbs.
What I hope to learn is some of the techniques
which Victorian pharmacists used to use, the manual skills which some of us have forgotten.
I also hope to learn some of the different sorts of approaches which they had to medicine in those days.
The Industrial Revolution was at its height and half the population of Britain lived in towns.
Overcrowding, poor sanitation and grinding poverty left many people vulnerable to disease.
Hundreds of thousands died in the crowded, sewage-ridden cities.
But Victorians had only the haziest of ideas about what caused illness or how to treat it.
And so they often fell back on traditional remedies...
as Nick is about to discover as he prepares a bruise medicine made from earthworms.
Well, I didn't think I'd be doing this when I was doing a Victorian remedy -
digging, rather bizarrely, for earthworms.
Earthworms were part of an old remedy which was around
before Victorian times, from medieval times, really,
in which people would
take the earthworm and they would boil up earthworms
with olive oil and some form of wine
into oil of earthworms, which they put on bruises.
Another one to add to my haul.
There must be easier ways to treat bruises than this.
Customers would often ask a pharmacist to make up favourite traditional remedies like this.
You can always say, if people believe in things, then things do work.
The power of belief on health is very great.
Oil of Earthworm - who would have thought that was a Victorian recipe?
It's obviously something that has come from long before, an old idea, one of those things
that has hung on into the early part of the Victorian medical experience.
In the proper recipe we use real earthworms and boil them in oil.
But, in the interest of worm welfare, we're not going to do that.
We're going to use these dried worms, exactly the same species, which we've obtained.
In the pharmacy at this time, you took things which were whole
and you had to break them up by physical force.
I've always been fond of earthworms.
Charles Darwin spent a lot of his life studying them.
And I think he'd be upset by this.
I don't think the worms would have been any use at all in their bruise.
I think probably
it just came from the old days when people saw things that looked similar and related them.
So, for example, the skin of an earthworm,
when you take it out of the soil, does look a bit like a bruise.
They didn't understand what a bruise was as we do now, of course.
In those days, there wasn't much science around,
so if things looked similar, that was probably good enough for most people.
We can add some red wine.
It seems rather a waste, but...
That's now ready to heat up.
I've got the stove lit over here. I'll put it on there.
I'll bring them over here to cool and take these lucky ones back to the garden.
There's a strong placebo effect with all sorts of treatments.
Even in modern days, we can get 20 to 30% effect size from a placebo treatment.
We know that if the doctor is very positive about it and says it will work, it is more effective than not.
That's a nasty bruise, how did you get that?
Playing around with a tennis ball.
James Scott is a pharmacy student.
...common throughout history and there have been lots of remedies for it.
We're going to try the oil of earthworm.
-Literally earthworm, Mixed with olive oil and some red wine.
We're just going to put that on the top.
Now, we're going to leave that.
I think tomorrow you should try applying this again,
probably morning and evening, and then we'll see how you do in a few days' time. Come back then.
OK, thank you very much.
Pharmacist's apprentice Tom is hard at work setting up the carboys.
So that's the iron oxide, I believe.
I'm going to try and make a lovely purple colour so that we can...
The idea would be to attract as many people in
by demonstrating your pharmaceutical skill in some way, basically.
I think we'll just see what happens for the moment.
At a time when many customers couldn't read, these tall, colourful
storage bottles were a clear sign that this was a chemist's shop.
So, very red.
This is a washing soda. Mix them together.
The mixture's slightly purple.
We're just going to have to see what happens.
Learning how to mix the chemicals precisely enough to produce a successful colour
was a fundamental test of a young apprentice's skill.
Half purple, half red now. You don't want to mess up this.
How can you trust a chemist who can't even make the colours
that enable you to recognise them as a druggist, you know?
I don't know what to do here.
Yeah, it's not really working that well, is it?
Am I looking at the right thing?
Yes. Plantago lanceolota, that's the lanceolate plantain.
Ruth and Eleanor have found another wild plant, the common plantain, for Nick's cough cure.
So what's good about this for a cough medicine?
It's used in all sorts of allergies and irritations in the lungs.
Once the lungs are irritated, then they become inflamed and then they produced more mucus.
So, plantain soothes and tones the mucus membrane.
The mucosa is incredibly important because it's where the oxygen that you breathe in
dissolves from gaseous form into a liquid form.
And you can actually take it in a tea, you can use it in hay fever
when you have that problem, the allergy problem.
So it's a very useful plant to befriend.
So what about the more exotic ingredients, those things from
-You'd buy those in, maybe from London.
So I suppose they are being gathered by herbalists in other parts of the world, for sale.
Herbalists and collectors.
And they still are.
It's really interesting, how, at the beginning of the 19th Century,
there's this sort of body of herbal knowledge. I mean,
-people like John Boot...
-And his son, Jesse.
And his son, Jesse, exactly.
Boots the Chemists, the founders, they begin as a little medical herbalist shop,
selling botanicals in one form or another, inspired by all sorts of different people.
Jesse himself, Jesse Boot, John's son, was very interesting.
He studied pharmacy in his spare time, and then they employed a chemist.
And the herbalist business was no longer making money. Moving into....
And the druggists were so big at the time, and they were very much about making money.
And so it was in their interest not to be....
..encouraging too much.
Well, not to be encouraging people to be using their own medicines.
The word "drug" derives from the Dutch "droog" for "dried plant".
Today, there are more than 7,000 medical compounds derived from plants.
Tom is edging closer to a near-perfect colour.
It looks an all right colour now. All we need to do, really,
is dilute it so, hopefully, a little bit of light comes through it. It's very thick.
So I'm just going to go for it and pour this straight in, try not to
make too much of a mess, and see what happens.
Having achieved a reasonable purple, Tom moves onto the yellow carboy.
One explanation for the fixed colours of the carboys
reveals an ancient theory that still influenced early Victorian medicine...
Yeah, that's about right, I think.
-..that each of the colours represented one of the four elements...
..or humours, that made up the body.
The four humours were black bile, blood,
phlegm and yellow bile.
And those really equated to things which could be seen coming out of the body, to put it basically.
And this was how they understood the body.
The body had too much of things inside it,
and therefore things would come out when it had too much of that humour. So it could be kept in balance.
Belief in the four humours persisted well into the 19th Century and an excess of blood in particular
was thought to be the cause of many illnesses.
Bloodletting was big business and a jar of healthy, voracious leeches
was a real money-spinner for the Victorian pharmacist.
Horrible looking things, aren't they?
Carl Peters-Bond runs a leech farm in South Wales.
What did they use them for in Victorian times?
Basically, where they used to cut people to remove blood, which is
obviously very painful, the leech can bite.
It sort of cuts a little Y-shaped hole.
A leech this size would probably take about 8ml, and you'd probably lose about 50 afterwards.
It's almost a luxury because it's painless - fairly painless.
And were they luxury items or were they everyday items?
They would probably have been a very expensive item.
I would consider them a luxury.
Go on then, let's see what they're like.
Well, it feels a bit like a slug.
It feels very leech-ish.
So these would be picked out and they would be put on to a patient... Whoops!
Not too keen on getting stabbed by that end, I must admit. I'm a bit nervous about it, I have to say.
Carl's partner, Christopher Peters-Bond, has bravely volunteered to befriend the leech.
Quite a bit smaller than the other leeches.
These have been starved for almost two years, so their gut is completely empty of blood.
-You just lay them on the skin?
-Oh, it's really arched its head, hasn't it?.
That very different to when they were just holding on my skin.
It's just tasting about. Yeah, there he goes. He's sort of having a bit of a nibble.
I can feel like a little bee sting.
But apart from that, no, it's next to nothing at all.
That's what they've evolved over millions of years to do. Bite painlessly and remove the blood.
It's a natural pharmaceutical tool, really.
This is a really medieval sight, isn't it?
We've got 2,000 years of history here.
This great long Western European tradition of bloodletting.
Here's one of its sisters that have....
What a contrast! One hungry leech, one leech three-quarters of the way through his dinner.
The leech injects an anti-coagulant when it bites and the wound can
bleed for up to 10 hours after the leech has dropped off.
Even modern first aid can do very little to stop the bleeding.
It will just keep on going. It's about 50ml.
It shows how potent the chemicals are in its saliva
to really produce that effect for such a long period of time.
How do you feel after it?
I feel fine, to be honest with you.
-I don't really feel any different to before.
-A pleasant experience, do you think?
It's certainly not as unpleasant as it looks, perhaps. It's...
All a bit more straight forward.
Yes. I'm surprised that there's no pain at all or anything like that.
I can completely understand how someone might sit through several of these,
thinking that they were doing themselves some good.
Yeah, it certainly beats all the other bloodletting methods, doesn't it?
It's so much better than being cut with knives or....
I don't think I would have volunteered for
having a knife cut into me.
I hope you still feel as positive in 10 hours' time when you've changed the bandages six times!
After use, the leech goes back in the jar and the bloody bandages are dried out, ready to use again.
It wasn't until the mid-19th Century that Victorians understood the dangers of cross-infection,
so disease spread easily.
Right, next job.
All the ingredients for the balsam of horehound cough medicine
have been brought to the lab, where herbalist Eleanor joins Nick.
-This is horehound, is it?
-Where does horehound live?
-Is it a big plant or a little plant?
-It's a shrub. It's a kind of bluey-green shrub.
She's soaked the herbs in alcohol.
-In your original recipe, you had syrup of squill.
-Now, I'm sure you're familiar with squill.
Can be rather toxic, but very old medicine.
A member of the lily family, squill has been used for centuries to loosen mucus from the lungs.
So another tincture that we've got is cleavers,
which is a really common herb, as Ruth and I discovered.
Plantain, this is an interesting one. Again, a very common herb.
And then the final herb we've got is the elecampane,
a huge, tall, yellow, golden flower, a bit like a sunflower
but with enormous leaves.
So that is our preparation ready to go.
A couple of teaspoons of treacle.
-Hence "the spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."
Slow job of stirring this in.
The more patience that you can work with, like cooking, the better.
So that's lovely.
-Ready to bottle it now?
Early pharmacists put art and skill into the medicines they created.
Thank you, Doctor.
Thank you very much.
But in order to make a profit, it was essential that the customer was satisfied,
and that word got out to the local community that here was a medicine that could be trusted.
It smells fantastic, I have to say.
Have a smell.
It smells quite nice.
It's half a teaspoon, three times a day in a glass of water.
See how it is.
-It's very, very strong.
It's clearing something.
Here's the bottle. We'd like you to give that a try. Come back in a few days and we'll see how you feel.
-I'll let you know.
To celebrate their first week in business,
Barber and Goodman are holding an open evening,
a chance to offer catch up on how their customers are doing.
-I've still got the bruise, unfortunately.
-Let's have a look.
It's gone shades of yellow.
It's changing, like they do.
I would say those remedies have had no effect whatsoever.
-What do you think?
-I would tend to agree.
I have found this, seeing how the Victorians approached pharmacy, fascinating.
There's a spirit, adventure, an entrepreneurism there.
I can actually say, yes, it has helped a lot.
-Has it eased your breathing?
-It's much better.
Before, as I breathed out, it was very crackly, it was very difficult,
a typical asthmatic-type feeling.
It has helped, I can feel as though I can breathe normally again,
for the first time in more than three weeks.
By the end of the 1840s, scientific advances
were beginning to filter down to the high street pharmacist.
Old ideas of bloodletting and purging gave way to exciting new techniques and cures.
Pharmacists would spearhead a whole new range of consumer experiences.
Blood and stomach pills. Wow!
Next time on Victorian Pharmacy,
as the Industrial Revolution spread, so too did breathing-related illnesses.
What sort of cough is it?
A bronchial sort of cough.
Are you getting any benefit from that there?
It's also a time of diversification for the pharmacy.
It is different - the business of making stuff and selling it.
Ruth takes the waters...
and the pharmacy recreates the T in G&T.
ALL: Good health.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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In a unique experiment, historian Ruth Goodman, Professor Nick Barber and PhD student Tom Quick are recreating an authentic 19th-century pharmacy.
The team discover the world of the pharmacy at the beginning of Queen Victoria's reign in 1837 - a world where traditional remedies such as leeches, oil of earthworm and potions laced with cannabis and opium were popular and regularly used.
Ruth gathers herbs and plants to make a traditional cough medicine for a customer to test. Meanwhile, other volunteers try some safe cures from Victorian times - will any of them work or was it all just quackery?