Episode 1 Victorian Pharmacy


Episode 1

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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Transcript


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Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire

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revives the sights, sounds and smells of the 19th Century.

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-Morning.

-Morning.

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At its heart stands the pharmacy,

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a treasure house of potions and remedies from a century and a half ago.

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Now, in a unique experiment, Ruth Goodman, Nick Barber

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and Tom Quick are opening the doors to the Victorian pharmacy,

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recreating a high-street institution we take for granted, but which was once a novel idea.

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How can I help?

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They'll bring the pharmacy to life, sourcing ingredients, mixing potions and dispensing cures.

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But in an age when skin creams contained arsenic

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and cold cures were made from opium, the team will need to be highly selective.

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They'll only make safe versions of traditional remedies

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and try them out on carefully selected customers.

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The start was like the Wild West.

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-People didn't know what was good and bad.

-Try and get a bit of speed up... Oh, there we go.

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The pharmacy was something that affected everybody's lives in one way or another.

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They'll discover an age of social transformation that brought healthcare

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within the reach of ordinary people for the very first time,

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heralding a consumer revolution that reached far beyond medicine

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to create the model for the modern high-street chemist as we know it today.

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The Victorian pharmacy opens its doors in 1837,

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the year when the teenage Queen Victoria ascended the throne.

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Wow, look at this place!

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This is fantastic.

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-Ooh, that smell!

-It's much bigger than I thought it would be.

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There's a heck of a lot of stuff here, isn't there?

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There's a tremendous amount of stuff.

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Fresh from her time on the Victorian farm,

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Ruth Goodman will now be applying her skills in new areas -

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from medicines to cosmetics.

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As a domestic historian, she knows just how important the pharmacy was to ordinary people.

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Doctors were expensive. Really, on a day-to-day basis, only the rich were using doctors.

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Occasionally a poor person might be able to save up for a consultation,

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maybe a doctor might offer some free consultation, but in general

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most people in the 19th Century turned to the pharmacist

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for the majority of their healthcare.

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Oh!

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It's a beautiful place to be in. We're going to be able to make this work really well.

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Nick Barber is professor of the practice of pharmacy

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at the University of London's School of Pharmacy.

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Parrot Brand polishing soap and Monkey Brand.

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Things like Sloan's Liniment, which people use nowadays, and Zam-Buk.

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As the pharmacist, he will be responsible for recommending

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and preparing all the remedies and medicines that his shop dispenses.

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It's a unique opportunity for Nick to learn how his profession evolved.

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It's a fantastic chance to recreate what it was like to be

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a Victorian pharmacist at a time when pharmacy was completely different to how it is today.

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Pharmacists were creating new things. Lots of innovation happening then - the growth of chemistry -

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and pharmacists were experimenting and developing new sorts of treatments as well.

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We're going to have fun with this!

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-I'm going to see how this sign's getting on.

-OK, see you.

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There's old pill-rolling devices here.

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Look at these liquids up here, this is a tincture of zingib.

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No Victorian pharmacy would be complete without an apprentice.

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And these are all the Latin names I'm going to have to know about.

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That job falls to Tom Quick.

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A PhD student in the history of medicine, he's hoping to put theory into practice.

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The natural products were all in their Latin names.

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And so much equipment as well, right?

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It's remarkable, isn't it?

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Really, what I think of as history isn't about just seeing things behind glass cases.

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It's about people's lives and what people did on a day-to-day basis.

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We've got all the kit here, which was all needed in those days. We've got, erm...

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We've the balance there, right?

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Yeah, you'd be weighing things out carefully.

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You know, careful being the key word, because you killed people if you got these things wrong.

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Some of these things I was taught when I was an undergraduate, but I've never used them professionally.

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So actually to do these sorts of things, to go back to mixing,

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to pounding, to compounding things is an enormous challenge.

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The front of shop is where they will come face to face with the public.

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In the early Victorian age, new ideas on how to treat illness

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were beginning to filter through to the high street,

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but in this moment of change from traditional to scientific medicine,

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many of the cures the pharmacy will sell

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are based on old beliefs and remedies.

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Poison of lance-headed viper. Oh, my giddy.

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In 1837, despite the dangerous products on the shelves,

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anyone could trade as a pharmacist.

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Even grocers were setting up as chemists.

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Hee-hee, look at that!

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Wow!

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That looks so good. It's just fantastic to see your name above a shop like that.

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Yeah... You'd want a good standing within the community to be a pharmacist.

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It was a hub of the town, really, and people used to come here...

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Everybody's ill, everybody comes to the pharmacy.

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Opening a new shop was a massive investment, and pharmacists needed to be entrepreneurs to survive.

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Marketing was everything.

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Like many of their predecessors,

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the new Barber & Goodman pharmacy is having a grand opening.

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BAND PLAYS: "Blaze Away"

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In order to understand how people responded to 19th Century remedies,

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Barber & Goodman will dispense authentic but safe Victorian medicines

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to carefully chosen volunteers.

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The pharmacy's first customer is Sue Dodd, who has worked as a nurse for 35 years.

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Hello, Mr Barber.

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I have a very bad cough, is there anything that you can help?

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Well, have you tried modern cures for a cold? Do you think they work?

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Some do, although you can't beat natural local honey and lemon for sore throats.

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Generally things like that.

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Well, in Victorian times what we'd have given you

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is Dr John Collis Browne's Chlorodyne.

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I've got the Chlorodyne here.

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It was invented when he was an Indian army doctor for cholera.

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It didn't treat cholera, but it became a very popular treatment

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for coughs, colds, chests and things like this. It's got in chloroform,

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it's got, er...opium in it and it's got cannabis in it.

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Why would they put those things in?

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Well, it makes people feel better, as you might imagine.

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Many pharmacists made up their own versions of Chlorodyne,

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but the high opiate content made these medicines addictive, and death from overdose was a real risk.

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Collis Browne's mixture is still on sale today, but with a low, non-addictive dose of morphine.

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Opium suppresses cough, so if people do have troublesome coughs, then it would help bring that down.

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We'll knock out something for you which is a bit safer.

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And will it have the opium and things like that in?

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-No, we'll find one without those sorts of things.

-Oh, good!

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-Just natural herbs we'll use for this one.

-That sounds wonderful.

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Before his customer returns for her authentic Victorian cough medicine,

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Nick will need to find a less risky recipe.

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Horehound and aniseed. Try that, see what that looks like.

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-Balsam of horehound and aniseed.

-That's it, so what have we got in?

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Paregoric elixir...

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The chemist's bible was the Pharmacopoeia,

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which listed all the remedies and potions of the day.

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The one we can't use, definitely, is paregoric,

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and paregoric is camphorated opium - it's a form of opium -

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so, again, we've got the morphine in.

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So we need to take that balsam of horehound and aniseed and try and reformulate it

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using current knowledge and using things which are a bit safer than some of the ingredients.

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-My goodness, it's gorgeous at this time of year.

-Isn't it?

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Nick's chosen remedy, balsam of horehound, was made up largely of natural herbs and flowers.

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-Cleavers - this is what we're after, yeah?

-Perfect, exactly.

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The job of sourcing the essential ingredients falls to Ruth and herbalist Eleanor Gallia.

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Eleanor is an expert in plant medicine.

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A Victorian pharmacist would have needed her knowledge of the natural world.

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So why do we want cleavers in a cough medicine, then?

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They're the most wonderful immune stimulant, and they're very cleansing for the body.

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With respiratory catarrh conditions, the first thing you need to do is

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encourage the phlegm away from the chest,

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so the body is very good at cleansing itself and draining itself.

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A pharmacy needed to maintain a healthy stock of medicinal plants.

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So do we need anything else, as well as the cleavers, while we're out?

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-Plantain.

-Oh, that's quite a common thing.

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The surrounding countryside was a valuable and free resource.

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They like to be stood on, planted into the ground.

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While Ruth is gathering the ingredients for the cough medicine,

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at the back of the shop, Nick and Tom open up the pharmacy's laboratory.

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Wow! Look at this place.

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This is going to be amazing, isn't it?

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The nerve centre of their business, this is where the pharmacist would

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experiment with new cures and manufacture drugs and potions.

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It's halfway between an alchemist's cave and a kitchen and a storeroom and all sorts, really.

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Yeah, this is a really interesting space for me.

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This is the place that probably changed the most dramatically

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over the time period we're looking at - 1840s, '50s.

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This is kind of like a kitchen, right?

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You've got all these ingredients over here, these sort of herbal things.

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And you'd be here at the bench, making your latest concoction to sell in the shop.

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Yes, to sell to the lucky public out there.

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But by the end of the century, this is kind of more a place of chemical experimentation.

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We've even got a hammer for pounding the herbs.

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What I hope to learn is some of the techniques

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which Victorian pharmacists used to use, the manual skills which some of us have forgotten.

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I also hope to learn some of the different sorts of approaches which they had to medicine in those days.

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The Industrial Revolution was at its height and half the population of Britain lived in towns.

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Overcrowding, poor sanitation and grinding poverty left many people vulnerable to disease.

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Hundreds of thousands died in the crowded, sewage-ridden cities.

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But Victorians had only the haziest of ideas about what caused illness or how to treat it.

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And so they often fell back on traditional remedies...

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as Nick is about to discover as he prepares a bruise medicine made from earthworms.

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Well, I didn't think I'd be doing this when I was doing a Victorian remedy -

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digging, rather bizarrely, for earthworms.

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Earthworms were part of an old remedy which was around

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before Victorian times, from medieval times, really,

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in which people would

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take the earthworm and they would boil up earthworms

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with olive oil and some form of wine

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into oil of earthworms, which they put on bruises.

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Here's one.

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Another one to add to my haul.

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There must be easier ways to treat bruises than this.

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Customers would often ask a pharmacist to make up favourite traditional remedies like this.

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You can always say, if people believe in things, then things do work.

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The power of belief on health is very great.

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Oil of Earthworm - who would have thought that was a Victorian recipe?

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It's obviously something that has come from long before, an old idea, one of those things

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that has hung on into the early part of the Victorian medical experience.

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In the proper recipe we use real earthworms and boil them in oil.

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But, in the interest of worm welfare, we're not going to do that.

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We're going to use these dried worms, exactly the same species, which we've obtained.

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In the pharmacy at this time, you took things which were whole

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and you had to break them up by physical force.

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I've always been fond of earthworms.

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Charles Darwin spent a lot of his life studying them.

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And I think he'd be upset by this.

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I don't think the worms would have been any use at all in their bruise.

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I think probably

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it just came from the old days when people saw things that looked similar and related them.

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So, for example, the skin of an earthworm,

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when you take it out of the soil, does look a bit like a bruise.

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They didn't understand what a bruise was as we do now, of course.

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In those days, there wasn't much science around,

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so if things looked similar, that was probably good enough for most people.

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We can add some red wine.

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It seems rather a waste, but...

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That's now ready to heat up.

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I've got the stove lit over here. I'll put it on there.

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I'll bring them over here to cool and take these lucky ones back to the garden.

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There's a strong placebo effect with all sorts of treatments.

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Even in modern days, we can get 20 to 30% effect size from a placebo treatment.

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We know that if the doctor is very positive about it and says it will work, it is more effective than not.

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That's a nasty bruise, how did you get that?

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Playing around with a tennis ball.

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James Scott is a pharmacy student.

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...common throughout history and there have been lots of remedies for it.

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We're going to try the oil of earthworm.

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-How literally...?

-Literally earthworm, Mixed with olive oil and some red wine.

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We're just going to put that on the top.

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Now, we're going to leave that.

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I think tomorrow you should try applying this again,

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probably morning and evening, and then we'll see how you do in a few days' time. Come back then.

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OK, thank you very much.

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Bye.

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Pharmacist's apprentice Tom is hard at work setting up the carboys.

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So that's the iron oxide, I believe.

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I'm going to try and make a lovely purple colour so that we can...

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The idea would be to attract as many people in

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by demonstrating your pharmaceutical skill in some way, basically.

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I think we'll just see what happens for the moment.

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At a time when many customers couldn't read, these tall, colourful

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storage bottles were a clear sign that this was a chemist's shop.

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So, very red.

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This is a washing soda. Mix them together.

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The mixture's slightly purple.

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We're just going to have to see what happens.

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Learning how to mix the chemicals precisely enough to produce a successful colour

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was a fundamental test of a young apprentice's skill.

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Half purple, half red now. You don't want to mess up this.

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How can you trust a chemist who can't even make the colours

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that enable you to recognise them as a druggist, you know?

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I don't know what to do here.

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Yeah, it's not really working that well, is it?

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Am I looking at the right thing?

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Yes. Plantago lanceolota, that's the lanceolate plantain.

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Ruth and Eleanor have found another wild plant, the common plantain, for Nick's cough cure.

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So what's good about this for a cough medicine?

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It's used in all sorts of allergies and irritations in the lungs.

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Once the lungs are irritated, then they become inflamed and then they produced more mucus.

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So, plantain soothes and tones the mucus membrane.

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The mucosa is incredibly important because it's where the oxygen that you breathe in

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dissolves from gaseous form into a liquid form.

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And you can actually take it in a tea, you can use it in hay fever

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when you have that problem, the allergy problem.

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So it's a very useful plant to befriend.

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So what about the more exotic ingredients, those things from

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-foreign parts?

-You'd buy those in, maybe from London.

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So I suppose they are being gathered by herbalists in other parts of the world, for sale.

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Herbalists and collectors.

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And they still are.

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It's really interesting, how, at the beginning of the 19th Century,

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there's this sort of body of herbal knowledge. I mean,

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-people like John Boot...

-And his son, Jesse.

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And his son, Jesse, exactly.

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Boots the Chemists, the founders, they begin as a little medical herbalist shop,

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selling botanicals in one form or another, inspired by all sorts of different people.

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Jesse himself, Jesse Boot, John's son, was very interesting.

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He studied pharmacy in his spare time, and then they employed a chemist.

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And the herbalist business was no longer making money. Moving into....

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And the druggists were so big at the time, and they were very much about making money.

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And so it was in their interest not to be....

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..encouraging too much.

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Well, not to be encouraging people to be using their own medicines.

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The word "drug" derives from the Dutch "droog" for "dried plant".

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Today, there are more than 7,000 medical compounds derived from plants.

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Tom is edging closer to a near-perfect colour.

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It looks an all right colour now. All we need to do, really,

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is dilute it so, hopefully, a little bit of light comes through it. It's very thick.

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So I'm just going to go for it and pour this straight in, try not to

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make too much of a mess, and see what happens.

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Having achieved a reasonable purple, Tom moves onto the yellow carboy.

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One explanation for the fixed colours of the carboys

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reveals an ancient theory that still influenced early Victorian medicine...

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Yeah, that's about right, I think.

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-..that each of the colours represented one of the four elements...

-Job done.

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..or humours, that made up the body.

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The four humours were black bile, blood,

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phlegm and yellow bile.

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And those really equated to things which could be seen coming out of the body, to put it basically.

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And this was how they understood the body.

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The body had too much of things inside it,

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and therefore things would come out when it had too much of that humour. So it could be kept in balance.

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Belief in the four humours persisted well into the 19th Century and an excess of blood in particular

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was thought to be the cause of many illnesses.

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Bloodletting was big business and a jar of healthy, voracious leeches

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was a real money-spinner for the Victorian pharmacist.

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Horrible looking things, aren't they?

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Carl Peters-Bond runs a leech farm in South Wales.

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What did they use them for in Victorian times?

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Basically, where they used to cut people to remove blood, which is

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obviously very painful, the leech can bite.

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It sort of cuts a little Y-shaped hole.

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A leech this size would probably take about 8ml, and you'd probably lose about 50 afterwards.

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It's almost a luxury because it's painless - fairly painless.

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And were they luxury items or were they everyday items?

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They would probably have been a very expensive item.

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I would consider them a luxury.

0:21:110:21:13

Go on then, let's see what they're like.

0:21:130:21:17

Well, it feels a bit like a slug.

0:21:170:21:21

It feels very leech-ish.

0:21:210:21:23

So these would be picked out and they would be put on to a patient... Whoops!

0:21:230:21:29

Not too keen on getting stabbed by that end, I must admit. I'm a bit nervous about it, I have to say.

0:21:290:21:35

Carl's partner, Christopher Peters-Bond, has bravely volunteered to befriend the leech.

0:21:350:21:41

Quite a bit smaller than the other leeches.

0:21:410:21:44

These have been starved for almost two years, so their gut is completely empty of blood.

0:21:440:21:50

-You just lay them on the skin?

-Yep.

0:21:510:21:55

-Oh, it's really arched its head, hasn't it?.

-Yes.

0:21:570:21:59

That very different to when they were just holding on my skin.

0:21:590:22:04

It's just tasting about. Yeah, there he goes. He's sort of having a bit of a nibble.

0:22:040:22:08

I can feel like a little bee sting.

0:22:080:22:11

But apart from that, no, it's next to nothing at all.

0:22:110:22:17

That's what they've evolved over millions of years to do. Bite painlessly and remove the blood.

0:22:170:22:22

It's a natural pharmaceutical tool, really.

0:22:220:22:27

This is a really medieval sight, isn't it?

0:22:270:22:30

We've got 2,000 years of history here.

0:22:300:22:34

This great long Western European tradition of bloodletting.

0:22:340:22:38

Here's one of its sisters that have....

0:22:380:22:40

What a contrast! One hungry leech, one leech three-quarters of the way through his dinner.

0:22:400:22:46

The leech injects an anti-coagulant when it bites and the wound can

0:22:490:22:54

bleed for up to 10 hours after the leech has dropped off.

0:22:540:22:58

Even modern first aid can do very little to stop the bleeding.

0:22:580:23:03

It will just keep on going. It's about 50ml.

0:23:030:23:06

It shows how potent the chemicals are in its saliva

0:23:060:23:10

to really produce that effect for such a long period of time.

0:23:100:23:13

How do you feel after it?

0:23:130:23:16

I feel fine, to be honest with you.

0:23:160:23:17

-I don't really feel any different to before.

-A pleasant experience, do you think?

0:23:170:23:22

It's certainly not as unpleasant as it looks, perhaps. It's...

0:23:220:23:26

All a bit more straight forward.

0:23:260:23:27

Yes. I'm surprised that there's no pain at all or anything like that.

0:23:270:23:33

I can completely understand how someone might sit through several of these,

0:23:330:23:37

thinking that they were doing themselves some good.

0:23:370:23:39

Yeah, it certainly beats all the other bloodletting methods, doesn't it?

0:23:390:23:43

It's so much better than being cut with knives or....

0:23:430:23:46

I don't think I would have volunteered for

0:23:460:23:49

having a knife cut into me.

0:23:490:23:51

I hope you still feel as positive in 10 hours' time when you've changed the bandages six times!

0:23:510:23:59

After use, the leech goes back in the jar and the bloody bandages are dried out, ready to use again.

0:23:590:24:07

It wasn't until the mid-19th Century that Victorians understood the dangers of cross-infection,

0:24:070:24:12

so disease spread easily.

0:24:120:24:15

Right, next job.

0:24:150:24:17

All the ingredients for the balsam of horehound cough medicine

0:24:180:24:22

have been brought to the lab, where herbalist Eleanor joins Nick.

0:24:220:24:25

-This is horehound, is it?

-Yes.

-Where does horehound live?

0:24:270:24:30

-Is it a big plant or a little plant?

-It's a shrub. It's a kind of bluey-green shrub.

0:24:300:24:35

She's soaked the herbs in alcohol.

0:24:350:24:37

-In your original recipe, you had syrup of squill.

-Yes.

0:24:370:24:41

-Now, I'm sure you're familiar with squill.

-Yes, yes.

0:24:410:24:44

Can be rather toxic, but very old medicine.

0:24:440:24:46

A member of the lily family, squill has been used for centuries to loosen mucus from the lungs.

0:24:460:24:52

So another tincture that we've got is cleavers,

0:24:520:24:55

which is a really common herb, as Ruth and I discovered.

0:24:550:24:59

Plantain, this is an interesting one. Again, a very common herb.

0:24:590:25:04

And then the final herb we've got is the elecampane,

0:25:040:25:07

a huge, tall, yellow, golden flower, a bit like a sunflower

0:25:070:25:12

but with enormous leaves.

0:25:120:25:14

So that is our preparation ready to go.

0:25:160:25:20

A couple of teaspoons of treacle.

0:25:200:25:24

-Hence "the spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down."

-Absolutely.

0:25:240:25:28

Slow job of stirring this in.

0:25:280:25:31

The more patience that you can work with, like cooking, the better.

0:25:310:25:37

So that's lovely.

0:25:400:25:42

-Ready to bottle it now?

-Yes.

0:25:420:25:45

Early pharmacists put art and skill into the medicines they created.

0:25:450:25:50

Thank you, Doctor.

0:25:530:25:54

Thank you very much.

0:25:540:25:57

But in order to make a profit, it was essential that the customer was satisfied,

0:25:570:26:01

and that word got out to the local community that here was a medicine that could be trusted.

0:26:010:26:06

It smells fantastic, I have to say.

0:26:060:26:09

Have a smell.

0:26:090:26:10

It smells quite nice.

0:26:120:26:14

It's half a teaspoon, three times a day in a glass of water.

0:26:140:26:18

See how it is.

0:26:180:26:20

-It's very, very strong.

-Mm.

0:26:240:26:27

-Oh, yes.

-HE LAUGHS

0:26:290:26:31

It's clearing something.

0:26:310:26:33

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.

0:26:330:26:38

-I'll let you know.

-Bye-bye.

-Bye-bye.

0:26:380:26:40

To celebrate their first week in business,

0:26:420:26:45

Barber and Goodman are holding an open evening,

0:26:450:26:47

a chance to offer catch up on how their customers are doing.

0:26:470:26:50

-I've still got the bruise, unfortunately.

-Let's have a look.

0:26:500:26:56

It's gone shades of yellow.

0:26:580:27:00

It's changing, like they do.

0:27:000:27:03

I would say those remedies have had no effect whatsoever.

0:27:030:27:06

-What do you think?

-I would tend to agree.

0:27:060:27:09

I have found this, seeing how the Victorians approached pharmacy, fascinating.

0:27:090:27:14

There's a spirit, adventure, an entrepreneurism there.

0:27:140:27:18

I can actually say, yes, it has helped a lot.

0:27:180:27:21

-Has it eased your breathing?

-It's much better.

0:27:210:27:24

Before, as I breathed out, it was very crackly, it was very difficult,

0:27:240:27:28

a typical asthmatic-type feeling.

0:27:280:27:33

It has helped, I can feel as though I can breathe normally again,

0:27:330:27:37

for the first time in more than three weeks.

0:27:370:27:39

By the end of the 1840s, scientific advances

0:27:390:27:42

were beginning to filter down to the high street pharmacist.

0:27:420:27:47

Old ideas of bloodletting and purging gave way to exciting new techniques and cures.

0:27:470:27:52

Pharmacists would spearhead a whole new range of consumer experiences.

0:27:520:27:58

Nipple shields.

0:27:580:27:59

Blood and stomach pills. Wow!

0:27:590:28:03

Next time on Victorian Pharmacy,

0:28:030:28:07

as the Industrial Revolution spread, so too did breathing-related illnesses.

0:28:070:28:12

What sort of cough is it?

0:28:120:28:13

A bronchial sort of cough.

0:28:130:28:16

Are you getting any benefit from that there?

0:28:160:28:19

It's also a time of diversification for the pharmacy.

0:28:190:28:22

It is different - the business of making stuff and selling it.

0:28:220:28:25

Agh!

0:28:250:28:27

Ruth takes the waters...

0:28:270:28:29

and the pharmacy recreates the T in G&T.

0:28:290:28:33

ALL: Good health.

0:28:330:28:36

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:410:28:44

Email [email protected]

0:28:440:28:47

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?


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