Documentary series recreating a 19th-century pharmacy. The team try some Victorian remedies on volunteers - will the bronchial kettle work as well as modern treatments?
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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.
Victorian cities and other industrial centres were notorious for thick smogs or "pea-soupers".
This noxious mix of smoke and sulphur dioxide,
thrown up by the burning of coal, made breathing-related illnesses a scourge of the age.
Ruth is preparing a Victorian cough treatment called a plaster.
I have a volunteer coming in,
who says he's willing to try out a plaster.
This isn't quite the same as a modern plaster!
This is a medical treatment, something you put on the skin to draw things out of the body.
It can be all sorts of things, like there are plasters
that fit on the head to help draw away, working for headaches.
There are plasters that help to sort of, like earache, you could put
plasters around the back of the ears that will help to draw humours out.
All sorts of conditions were believed to be able to be relieved in this way.
Of all the sort of early Victorian forms of medicine, in some ways
this is one of the least invasive, one of the most gentle methods
because you're not breaking the skin or anything, you're just applying it on the surface of the skin.
Certainly that warmth and the vapours that rise off it,
even if they do nothing else, can be really soothing.
I've got to melt this wax down, which is going to take a little while,
and then I add the olive oil.
Plasters were a common preparation for many conditions throughout the 19th century.
These sticky leather strips could be infused with different active
ingredients and were used to treat a variety of ailments.
This is the most active ingredient.
This is an oil of Frankincense.
It smells wonderful.
I just want a couple of drops of this.
Some ailments were treated with more dangerous ingredients - the poisonous belladonna plant
to relieve muscle spasms, lead for cuts,
and opium for local pain relief.
Gosh, as that goes into the warm oil, boy, can I smell that!
Frankincense is one of those valuable spices...
well, it's not a spice, it's a resin from a tree, but it's one of those
really important ones in the history of medicine.
It's particularly good at sort of clearing things out from the chest.
That's why it's an important ingredient for this plaster.
Next door in the treatment room, Tom is using a favourite Victorian implement - the bronchial kettle -
to try and relief the symptoms of customer Keith Dodd's dry, wheezy cough.
What we've got to try and help you with that today is a thing called a bronchial kettle.
-Looks very interesting.
-The idea of this is it's going to
create a lot of steam and so on, and it's got some herbs in there,
and what we're going to do is get you,
if you want to come around here and I can sit you in this
little booth that we've made in the back here.
With added herbs and Tom's self-made tent, the bronchial kettle is an industrial step up from placing
the customer's head under a towel over a bowl of steaming water.
We'll try and create a kind of steamy environment.
Hopefully what will happen is we'll get a kind of nice
thick steam coming up, and you mentioned the cough was dry...
It's a very dry cough, yeah.
And so what the idea behind it would have been
would be to counteract the dryness of the cough in some way by
creating a very wet environment for you.
Now this is the scary bit.
Ruth now has to cut out a template for her cough plaster.
"Place the leather on a thick...
"and smooth it before putting on the shape."
Now I've got to cut
a paper stencil.
A decent bit of card.
That's sort of the shape I want...
Oh, I like making things. And to make it stay in place, I'm to wet it.
Ruth then spreads the waxy mixture into the gap
left by the card template.
I obviously don't need very much at all.
So all I've got to do now is cut around
and then I could pack these in boxes.
You put a bit of wax-proof paper between each one and you can stack them up in boxes so you could sell
a box of cough plasters, a box of headache plasters.
Although it's a very old idea and sort of a very old technique,
the whole way of packaging it and selling it is actually really new.
There we go.
That's me first chest plaster.
-I do have a bit of a cough, yes.
-You do? And what sort of a cough is it?
A bronchial sort of cough.
A bit asthmatic.
Retired army medic Anthony Dunford has come in to try the plaster.
What I'm hoping is that as the wax melts it will release the active ingredient, which is Frankincense.
-So you're going to get that sort of pungent smell rising up under your nose.
You'll be breathing it in.
It's pointy end down. So that just goes on the centre there.
We just smooth that. I can feel the warmth of your body
is melting that wax. It's more pliable than when I put it on.
That seems to be sticking.
Oh, it is, isn't it?!
Hey, the self-adhesive plaster! SHE LAUGHS
Perhaps I don't need my bandages after all.
The Victorians obviously would have worn it as long as possible, two or three days,
so it is really a matter of how much you can put up with before you need to get it off and have a wash.
I will persevere.
-Are you getting any benefit from that there?
-Yes, it's definitely helping.
I can actually breathe really deeply now,
which I couldn't have done 10 minutes ago, so it's really helped.
I'm certainly breathing more easily at the moment.
As you seem to be enjoying it so much, then, I'll leave you there for a while.
OK, don't forget me!
OK, see you in a bit.
The bronchial kettle was one way of clearing the airwaves, but another popular method was spitting.
If a shop wanted to keep the phlegm off the floor, it was in their interests to provide a spittoon.
What we've got here is a spittoon full of phlegm.
Would have been of the worst duties in the shop, to have to empty this thing, basically.
Cleaning them out was a serious health hazard
as the spittoon could easily be contaminated with tuberculosis -
a common disease in Victorian times.
The way we think about medicines today and disease today,
this idea of lots of different people spitting into the same bowl, it seems bizarre.
But actually, if you think about certainly early-19th-century ideas of disease,
it's not so weird because...
the idea is that really,
disease is like a visible thing.
This is before bacteriology, remember, so there's no idea of
a hidden substance there that's going to give you a disease.
So although there might be a big sort of...
the way we might think of it, a huge amount of tuberculosis
and all sorts of things festering in this swamp, really,
actually, as far as they were concerned,
as long as you get rid of the mucus itself, no problem.
Few things worried Victorians more than their bowel movements.
The pharmacist was able to offer a very special treatment to keep them regular.
Victorians believed there was nothing like a good purge to make them feel better.
It was what you needed to do, clear yourself out.
This is something called the everlasting pill.
It's one of my favourite remedies from the Victorian age.
Particularly at this time, people wanted to purge the body, and this was one of the ways of doing it.
What they used was a pill a bit like this, which was made out of something called antimony.
Antimony is a really heavy metal.
It's quite a toxic metal, which we wouldn't use these days, but in those days they didn't see it as that.
They'd take this, it would go into their gut,
a little bit of the antimony would be dissolved,
they'd have vomiting,
they'd have diarrhoea, and the pill would pass through.
It's called the everlasting pill because it's fished out of the faeces at the end,
washed up, put in a bottle on the shelf,
and any member of the family who wants a good purge
takes it the next time they want to take it.
Potentially, it's passed on through the generations.
Some doctors began to question the wisdom of using such dangerous techniques.
The search for alternative, less risky treatments was on.
Malvern Spa in Worcestershire offered an alternative therapy - the revolutionary new hydrotherapy cure.
Hello, John. Nice to meet you.
I'm in such trepidation about this.
Don't worry, it's only cold water.
Remember, it's 5.00 or 6.00am
and I need your help to wet the sheets.
-Dr John Harcup has brought the water cure to Blists Hill.
-Have you done this yourself?
Not wrapped in a white sheet, but I had a cold bath on many occasions.
-By cold do you mean...?
-Oh, yes. Very cold.
We did some research work in the 1990s about this.
It was amazing. I had my blood test before and after a cold bath,
-and my white cell count went up dramatically.
-So this is actually...
..stimulating the immune system.
And it really is. Did they know that in the Victorian period?
-No, they hadn't a clue.
-So why were they doing it, then?
What's this supposed to do for me?
This is supposed to relax you.
-I don't call that very relaxing!
Well, this is the effect of water, you see.
Your heart works more efficiently and harder,
and you get a better circulation in other parts of the body.
It was so different from bleeding and purging,
and these heavy-metal poisons.
So this is a cure for the same sorts of things that
-all those really invasive techniques were being used for?
Of course, non-invasive, really.
The Malvern Water Cure was first offered in 1842 by two local doctors who were
appalled by the dangers of the drugs and techniques in common use.
-You'll warm it up very quickly.
I wish it did hurry up and warm up!
You're impatient. You're an impatient patient.
God, I am. I hate being cold!
You're going to feel better because you've been relaxed and you've been stimulated by the cold water.
Strange though it is, I would rather do this than swallow a dose of arsenic, mercury...whatever.
So you could either go to your physician and have something really poisonous prescribed...
-Yes, or you could come to Malvern and...
-Have the health regime.
-One day sort me out?
-No, no, no.
You came for three weeks, at least.
-So you've got accommodation costs, yeah.
-It was four guineas a week.
-That's a lot of money!
There were quite a number of famous names on the patient list.
-Yes. Charles Darwin came and he ended up by saying he didn't think the Water Cure was quackery.
And Florence Nightingale came when she collapsed after working
too hard doing the report for the Royal Sanitary Commission.
-And she wrote, seven years afterwards, that she owed
-her life to the Water Cure at Malvern.
So how long do I have to stay at this?
And then I'll come and unwrap you.
-I expect you'll be asleep, actually.
I don't like having my feet all tied up.
I always pull the bedclothes out at the bottom when I go to bed.
The Malvern Water Cure was far more than just being wrapped in wet sheets.
Plenty of hill-walking and the drinking of endless glasses of spa water were all part of the regime.
Taking the waters was hugely fashionable, and manufacturers began
producing drinks that mimicked the taste and fizziness of spring water.
These quickly established themselves as popular health drinks.
Scientist, Mike Bullivant, will be running the pharmacy laboratory.
His working knowledge of 19th-century chemistry will be invaluable.
Aerated gassed waters were a really big part of the sales for pharmacists.
-They made lots of money on it.
The basic ingredients are cheap enough, aren't they?
So how do you make gaseous water?
-Three ingredients. First is water, obviously.
-We've got citric acid.
-Which is an ingredient in today's waters.
It's perfectly harmless.
Second... Or third ingredient, sodium bicarbonate, baking soda.
Another harmless compound.
I can see them gassing together there, the gas being produced.
The carbon dioxide forming. So there's your aerated water.
And the acid test is, does it pop when you open it?
OK, give it a go.
That's a fairly tight seal on there.
-Nice design, there.
-This is a good bottle, as well, isn't it?
One of the big problems in the early days was that producing this water
produced pressure, and the bottles weren't strong enough.
And in the early days the pharmacists used to have thick woollen jumpers on
to protect them from the broken glass if the bottle exploded.
They tried various other bottles. I've got a couple that they tried.
This was a bottle which they produced because one of the problems
was if you produced a normal bottle, put a cork in it, as you did, as the cork dried out, it shrank, pops out.
And therefore, they produced this bottle
which has a round base, so it can't stand and let the cork dry out.
It's put down, it rests on its side, so the cork was kept permanently wet.
Right, here we are, shallow bath.
And this will prepare you for going up the hills.
It's to tone you up.
Tone me up.
Now, there is other things we can do with the water.
We can give you a douche.
You stood naked underneath one of three pipes.
One and half, two and half, or three and a half inches in diameter.
-The water from the springs on the hills was in a cistern...
And it dropped 20 feet on to your naked body.
And you get 56 imperial gallons of cold water going on you.
I think I'd better go and get some more water.
The popularity of aerated or soda waters spread across the Empire.
In India, British Army officers discovered that mixing soda water
and the drug quinine was the perfect tonic for victims of malaria.
Simply named Indian tonic water, it became not only the world's
most celebrated medicinal drink but also the perfect mixer for gin.
Tom's going to learn how to extract the vital ingredient, quinine,
from the bark of the South American Cinchona tree.
So what is this bark, then?
-This is bark from a tree.
-Yeah, which one?
It was Peruvian bark from the Cinchona tree.
They would have got the quinine out that way, by chewing it.
Or you can make tea with it. You can boil it up in water.
It controls fever. And it stops you shivering.
That's one of the things...the reasons they used to take it.
Which is quite separate from its anti-malarial properties, killing the malarial parasite.
I'm going to take the stuff that you've ground already.
This is the ground bark,
-and mix it up with this very strong alkali, calcium hydroxide.
And it releases the quinine.
This is the process that we're getting that one element out of all of these, then?
Yes, we're going to isolate one. It's like a needle in a haystack, I guess.
We will be able to isolate the quinine and none of the others.
Let's add the chloroform.
The solvent chloroform was also popular as a Victorian anaesthetic.
Queen Victoria was administered the drug for the birth of two of her children.
The quinine will be dissolved in...the chloroform.
The next stage is to add sulphuric acid to separate the quinine from the chloroform.
-Return that chloroform.
-We want the custard layer, then, right?
-The quinine is in this top layer.
The custard layer, I like that.
And this would be very highly skilled work for an apprentice, as well.
This would be kind of...almost, if you were going into a laboratory
and doing something like this, it would be really kind of top of your game sort of stuff.
Tom's chemistry lesson is about to get even tougher...
Tell me if you want a break.
-I'm all right so far.
-..as Mike adds ammonia to the solution, releasing a pungent odour.
I'd do it outside but one of the reasons for showing you this
is to show you what a profession you've joined.
-That's the turning point.
Now, that means that all of the...sulphate...converted.
Right, let's leave that to heat up a little bit and see what happens.
Let's go and get some fresh air and a cup of tea.
-OK, great. I'll see if Nick wants to have a look.
Hi, Mike. How's the quinine extraction going?
You've arrived at just the right moment, mate. The quinine is in here.
-But we've also got a load of rubbish in there,
and all the impurity we don't want, so I'm filtering it off.
The quinine should crystallise out.
That's if the process has worked.
Yep. This is just such a tremendous story of the Victorian times, wasn't it?
It's sort of how things changed, in terms of...
Well, the extraction, in particular. Because quinine was valued so much.
There were wars were fought over quinine.
Well, certain people would say that it enabled Europeans
to colonise Africa, the Dark Continent.
-People were going over, exploring Africa, getting malaria and not coming back.
But quinine, because of its anti-malarial properties, would actually allow people to come back.
-You can see it crystallising as it's falling out.
Adding the crystallised quinine to the pre-prepared soda water produces the classic Indian tonic water.
Just pick up one crystal.
It's probably way over the legal limit, but...
I don't think there was a legal limit in those days.
It was a damn sight safer than anything else they were doing.
There you are, Professor Barber.
-Let's go and find some gin.
-Sounds good to me.
Tonic water wasn't the only recipe
to be brought home from the British Empire.
As pharmacists established themselves,
customers came to them to make up all kinds of preparations.
Not only medicines but anything that required precision, including exotic food recipes.
This needs to be very, very, very much more precise than I'm used to.
I'll grab myself a bowl.
Ruth is attempting to recreate a recipe made famous in
1838 by two Worcestershire chemists, John Lea and William Perrins.
I tend to be quite a touchy-feely cook.
This precision, this being able to produce something
exactly the same, time after time, has not brought in the money.
Worcestershire sauce began life as a recipe for curry powder brought back from India and given
to local pharmacists Lea and Perrins to make up.
I've gone over, how annoying!
An employee then suggested that it might work better as a sauce.
You see, if I was just cooking,
it would have done, it would have been fine.
We've got ginger, obviously, and allspice.
Pepper, coriander, mace, brandy.
And asafetida. An interesting substance.
It was used as an aid to digestion
for centuries in Persia, which is where it's from.
It helps to...it stops flatulence basically.
This, like many of these ingredients, were actually felt to have medicinal
properties, of course, as well as being a nice taste.
That could be some of the reason why they're in here.
The asafetida, this is a sauce, a relish to eat with food so the fact that it
might help to calm your digestion would be really useful, a benefit, a bonus. Now, the vinegar.
But Lea and Perrins found the resulting mixture so distasteful
that they abandoned it in the shop's cellar.
Years later, while clearing out the cellar, they discovered
the sauce had fermented into something far more acceptable.
The new product was born.
My instinct is just to guess. SHE LAUGHS
Right, that's all of those in there.
A nice spicy, spicy mix.
If a recipe proved particularly appealing, there was nothing
to stop pharmacists from selling their own preparation en masse.
Some of today's biggest brand names started from such humble origins.
Mr Lea and Mr Perrins thought it tasted utterly disgusting at this stage. So...
Urgh, blinking heck, that's powerful! SHE LAUGHS
It's strong. But it's quite nice.
Maybe I've got a stronger palate than Mr Lea and Mr Perrins.
There, that looks quite good.
All I've got to do is come up with a name.
In the 1840s, getting the name right,
getting the brand right was really important if you were to sell loads.
Barber and Goodman's Spectacular Shropshire Sauce.
Ruth's Spectacular Shropshire Sauce joins the pharmacy's new range of branded products.
-The end of the process, isn't it?
And just getting an insight into all the different processes
that went into making this tonic water.
It is different, isn't it, the whole business of making stuff and then selling it.
You can see how people would have felt really proud of what they had
achieved as well, in terms of seeing it through from the very inception.
There's a sense in which the chemist and druggist is becoming a much more powerful force in some ways,
through, on the one hand, being hard-headed businessmen
and making their shops into profitable going concerns
and on the other hand, saying, "We're going to introduce chemical knowledge into the pharmacy."
To mark the launch of their Spectacular Shropshire Sauce,
the pharmacy's invited some of its customers in for a tasting.
Can I interest any of you in a little try of some Shropshire Sauce?
You only need a tiny bit, it's strong.
A couple of drops on your chips sort of sauce. Those sorts of flavours.
-It's that scrunched up face!
There's something about it that just gets me.
I've really enjoyed this first experience of early Victorian medicine.
It's been such a combination of so many things from the past and new experiments into the future.
We've been launching off now into the new science and if anything,
this experience has really whetted my appetite for the next finding out, the next, where did it go from here.
I'm dying to ask, how long did that plaster last?
About three hours.
Three hours? That's more than I thought, actually.
-Once the actual steam kettle got going
and the actual herbs came through, there was that 10-minute spell
when the smell of rosemary came in and it was beautiful.
Once it got going, it was really exciting for me.
So, let's have a toast.
Cheers, or perhaps we should say, good health!
-May you all come back as customers, often!
Next time on Victorian Pharmacy...
the medicine that was supposed to cure everything.
Soap powder acts as a laxative.
Yep, I'm willing to try everything.
I can feel them working already.
Ruth cooks up some Victorian hair-restorer.
How long does this take?
I don't think we're working in minutes.
And more Victorian contraptions are unleashed on the public.
Look at that! She's almost doing that by herself!
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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As the Industrial Revolution spread through Britain, so too did breathing-related illnesses, due mainly to the thick smoke and smog. Nick Barber, Ruth Goodman and Tom Quick try some Victorian remedies on volunteers - will the bronchial kettle and leather 'plaister' work as well as modern treatments?
After sampling some of the old ways, the team venture into new discoveries. Ruth braves the Malvern water cure, while Nick and Tom recreate the discovery of Indian tonic water, which was originally drunk to fight off malaria after quinine was found in the bark of the cinchona tree.
The pharmacy also begins to market its own Spectacular Shropshire sauce.