Episode 6 Victorian Pharmacy


Episode 6

Documentary series recreating a 19th-century pharmacy. In 1868 pharmacies were regulated by law for the first time. The team face the tough examinations needed to become qualified.


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Transcript


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Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire revives the sights, sounds and smells

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of the 19th century.

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At its heart stands the pharmacy, a treasure house of potions

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and remedies from a century and a half ago.

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Now, in a unique experiment, historian Ruth Goodman,

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Professor of Pharmacy Nick Barber

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and PhD student Tom Quick have opened the doors to the Victorian pharmacy,

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recreating a high street institution we take for granted,

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but which was once a novel idea.

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They're bringing the pharmacy to life, sourcing ingredients,

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mixing potions and dispensing cures. But in an age when skin creams contained arsenic

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and cold medicines were based on opium, the team need to be highly selective.

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They're only trying out safe versions of traditional remedies on carefully-selected customers.

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The start was like the Wild West. People didn't know what was good and bad.

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Try and get a bit of speed up. 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're discovering an age of social change, that brought healthcare within the reach of ordinary people

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for the very first time, 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 team are about to face their biggest challenge yet -

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adapting to new laws which regulated their trade for the very first time.

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Four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven...

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In the first half of Queen Victoria's reign,

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no professional qualifications were required to run a pharmacy.

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Actually, it was the most dangerous shop in a town or village, absolutely, by far,

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because of the range of materials which were in there.

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Realising the dangers, a few select pharmacists set up the Pharmaceutical Society,

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as a pressure group calling for regulation of the trade.

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Look at this - rat poison, in a chemists!

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"Contains the most powerful arsenic poison!"

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I hate to think what's on this fly paper.

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Oh, probably arsenic.

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The most immediate impact the Society had was in raising awareness amongst pharmacists themselves.

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They needed to be more responsible and safety conscious about the hazards on their shelves.

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We have poison in the window.

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We'd better take that out.

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Oh, look at this - double cyanide gauze.

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There's so many things that are dodgy.

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And all these powders in all the drawers, as well.

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There's so many different things that might explode at any moment.

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What I find most disturbing though is all these things aimed at babies and children, you know?

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All these poisons and opiates - particularly the opiates.

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-Awful.

-By the end of the period we're looking at we've got heroin coming along.

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That was supposed to be an improvement on morphine because

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-it's just a chemical manipulation of morphine to make heroin.

-That's sort of our stock in trade.

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You come to a pharmacist because they've got the weird, wonderful, strange, odd, the hard to get...

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-Yeah, and they're powerful.

-Everything. Completely unregulated.

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Anyone could sell these things, really.

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-I think some legislation is long overdue in this area.

-Yes.

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Experimentation with new synthesised chemicals often provided problems as well as solutions.

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New toxic products were in high demand, thanks to their powerful cleaning properties.

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Many of the stain removal products, extremely dangerous things.

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Things like oxalic acid, borasic acid, sulphuric acid

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were all recommended in household manuals as methods

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of dealing with dirt.

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Metals like antimony and lead were used in manufacturing,

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while mercury was used in the making of felt hats, turning people "mad as a hatter."

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Arsenic, a cheap by-product from the mining industry, was the most common poison.

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Crop sprays, candles, skin creams and rat poisons all contained arsenic,

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and it provided the most effective way to colour a product green.

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Green wallpaper - such a fashionable colour for wallpaper -

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Paris Green, made of arsenic. The dyes in peoples' dresses could be poisonous,

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so you could be absorbing arsenic through your skin

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as you were wearing your best dress, in its lovely fashionable greenness.

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Deaths from accidental arsenic poisoning were so common that an Arsenic Act was introduced in 1851,

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allowing only a select few to sell the poison.

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Among them were pharmacists,

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but there was still no law requiring them to be qualified.

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Nick is exploring the few measures that were in place in the pharmacy to prevent accidental poisonings.

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He's joined by Ian Burney, senior lecturer in the history of medicine at Manchester University.

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You can see a couple out here.

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These are ribbed bottles, aren't they?

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Why is the bottle ridged?

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As you see, there are so many bottles here.

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One of the ways in which a pharmacist, in reaching for a bottle,

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might be able to know, just by touch, whether it's poison or not is to make them distinctly ribbed.

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The place to go for an antidote was the pharmacy.

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-Poisonings must have been an issue in those cases?

-Absolutely.

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There are two categories of poisoning.

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One is accidental poisoning, of which there were many more.

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The things that captured headlines, the newspaper-reading public,

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were cases of criminal poisoning.

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Over the course of the 19th century there were roughly 500 poisoning cases that were tried.

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Arsenic was used in 45% of criminal poisonings in the 19th century.

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Often purchased from the pharmacy as fly papers or rat poison.

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Among the more disturbing cases were those of infanticide

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by parents reaping the benefits of insurance policies known as "burial clubs".

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There are a number of cases, especially in the 1840s,

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in which a working class mother

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is charged with having signed her infants up,

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not to just one burial club, but two, three, four -

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this is again, like poisons, unregulated, or under regulated -

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then delivering the child

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unto death, with arsenic in particular, right?

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-So, killing them?

-And then killing them.

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Then claiming the money, right?

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And, um, you can make a tidy sum on this.

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New laws like the Arsenic Act had only a limited effect in reducing the number of poisoning cases.

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The Pharmaceutical Society continued to pressure the government for stronger legislation.

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They achieved success in 1868 with the Pharmacy Act,

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when the government handed them control of the profession and made qualifications compulsory.

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The Pharmacy Act was symptomatic of what was happening in late Victorian times.

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They were obsessed with measurements, standardisation and regulations.

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So we have lots of other acts, as well.

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We have the Gauge Act in 1845, which set the standard gauge for railways,

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how far apart the rails are.

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And then the Football Association was created in 1863,

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to set the rules for the game, because there was chaos on the pitch sometimes.

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People from one town would play another town and they would be working to different sets of rules.

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And the pharmacists and others must have felt really beset by this.

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In many ways, their freedoms were being taken away.

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In some ways, things don't change that much. I'm one of the officers

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of the Council of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, who regulates pharmacists today,

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and we're still constantly in this debate.

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What's the best way to regulate? What's the limits you put on it

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so that you ensure safety, so that you improve quality?

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But also that you don't stifle freedom and stifle innovation.

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When the regulations were introduced,

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unqualified pharmacists were made to take exams in order to keep trading.

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-Hello, Briony.

-Hi.

-Hiya!

-Hello.

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The team are meeting Briony Hudson, curator of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum,

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to find out more about the exams.

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So how would they actually have gone about examining people?

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What would they have done in the exam?

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A written paper on chemistry and physics,

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practical stuff on dispensing.

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-OK.

-You'd have to answer quite academic questions about the make up of plants

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and the technical terms, but you'd also have to identify substances.

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A whole range of techniques that they're using to examine people.

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And also, you have to do a Latin paper.

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So I wonder whether you'd like to have a bit of a go?

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Just do an element of the exam, just to see...

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I hope you don't expect too much of us.

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-I don't think we're going to...

-I think we should.

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What I'd like to do is use the Materia Medica chest, which the pharmacy students

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would've learnt from, and get you to try and identify some of these unlabelled specimens.

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And just to test your practical skills, I'd like you to go away and make some suppositories...

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-..then we can judge how good your practical skills are.

-Uh-oh!

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Administered through the rectum, suppositories were popular with Victorians

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and favoured by examiners.

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A well-made suppository was easy to distinguish from one that was badly made.

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Of the three of them, Ruth feels she has the most to prove.

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I'd always assumed that this sort of, you know, the exams and the

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registering, only really applied to men. Only men were allowed to do it.

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And the Act just forgot to mention that women weren't allowed to do it.

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So, by default, they could.

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Yes, absolutely! And a lot of these women were coming out top and winning prizes.

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The arrival of an official examination heralded a new era in the Victorian pharmacy.

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Gone was the old name, "chemist and druggist", with its druggist origins in herbalism.

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From now on, they would be referred to as "pharmaceutical chemists",

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embracing the new science of chemistry.

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But to pass the exam, they needed a thorough knowledge of both disciplines.

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As Ruth is the only one with no pharmaceutical qualifications,

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she'll use the help of both herbalist Eleanor Gallia and scientist Mike Bullivant,

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to give her a chance of succeeding in the exam.

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Come on, then!

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They'll have to identify any one of the hundreds of chemicals or herbs a pharmacy stocked on its shelves...

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..as well as completing their practical experiment - making genuine Victorian suppositories.

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Women first qualified as pharmacists in 1868.

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Inspired by this, Ruth is developing some new products, to sell in the pharmacy.

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You're making up my zinc oxide for me, Mike?

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I'm just about to start.

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Scientist Mike Bullivant, who runs the lab, will help her to extract

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zinc oxide from zinc metal, for a new line of skin creams.

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She already has a customer lined up who suffers from acne,

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and has medical approval to test out the cream.

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-Oh, I remember that stuff from school!

-It starts fizzing.

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Zinc oxide is one of many chemicals that were new to the pharmacist,

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expanding their scope for commercial gain.

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It's an antibacterial agent still used on the skin today in sun creams and make-up.

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Now, be careful about that, because it's hot acid.

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It's an interesting compound. Such a simple compound.

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-Is it?

-Simple to make.

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-Is it?

-I just keep heating it like that, and stirring it, until all the zinc's disappeared,

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and then what's left is zinc sulphate.

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Making skin cream from zinc is a process that requires three chemical stages.

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Each of those stages, in turn, produces a useful by-product.

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One of them is calamine, used for treating chicken pox and measles.

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Another is a sulphate used to make eye lotion.

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That white solid is zinc sulphate.

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So that's the next bit?

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-Can I do water? Am I allowed water?

-Yeah, go on, then! Tip the lot in.

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Tip the lot in, OK.

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All right, now,

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to help that dissolve, that zinc sulphate dissolve in that water, you transfer it...

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-Back on the heat.

-Do you want to do that?

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-I can put things on the heat.

-Taking my job!

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I know. Well, this bit's only like cooking. I can do that.

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It is. Chemistry is like cooking, it really is.

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The calamine will be created by the next chemical transformation,

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which requires Ruth to apply a series of basic chemistry skills.

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See the unreacted zinc at the bottom?

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-Yeah, I can see all the little bits.

-That's hot.

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I'm glad to say, it's not actually hard to do physically, is it?

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-Just...

-Oh, I remember pipettes, this is another thing I vaguely remember from my school days.

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Just add it, drop-wise.

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Yep. Just a drop?

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-Ooh, fizzy!

-You see?

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Yeah, I did see that. And I just keep dropping until...?

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The bicarbonate has neutralised the remaining acid.

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-OK, so until it stops fizzing, when it drops in?

-Yep.

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Bicarbonate of soda, or baking powder, reacts with the zinc sulphate

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to create the calamine, which chemists know as zinc carbonate.

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We'll get to a point when the bicarb has neutralised all the acid.

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Then it will start reacting with the zinc sulphate.

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Once it's filtered, the final stage will be to heat the calamine,

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and that will give Ruth the zinc oxide she needs to make her skin cream.

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So, the stuff we want is going to get left in the filter paper?

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That's right. And the liquid that passes through is...

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-Is the discard?

-What we don't want.

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-That's largely water.

-Is it?

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The particles tend to clog up the filter paper a little bit.

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With a little time on his hands, Tom is taking the opportunity to brush up on his botany before the exam.

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Pharmacists needed to identify all of the plants used in medicine.

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It's kind of really basic knowledge that I have to know what's going to hurt people

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and what effects all these different plants are going to have.

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And how to tell them apart in the first place!

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As fresh plants were used more widely then,

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a Victorian pharmacist needed a more in-depth botanical knowledge than his modern-day counterpart.

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I probably shouldn't have just touched that.

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As far as I understand it, it's foxglove, or Digitalis, which is poisonous.

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Botany formed only one of six parts of the pharmacists' exam.

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Extensive knowledge was also required of all the animal and chemical products used in medicines.

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For the practical part of the exam, Briony has set each of the team a challenge - to make suppositories.

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So, these bigger suppositories...

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Nick is the first to attempt the task.

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Cocoa butter, beeswax, liquorice, olive oil, and hopefully a book which tells me what to do.

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For reference, he turns to the Art Of Dispensing, an instruction manual

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used by pharmaceutical chemists in the late 1800s.

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Oh, lovely. Everything's in grains,

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which I can't remember how many grains there are in an ounce.

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The first thing Nick has to do is get the right proportions of cocoa butter and beeswax.

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Together, these form the basic compound for the suppository.

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What I'm trying to find is something to give me some sense of the quantities.

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Think I should just sign my letter of resignation now, actually.

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I think the chances of making this work are looking slim.

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"Method: weigh the base, using at least 16 grains for a 15-grain suppository."

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There we are. Bigger than that.

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So, if we put a 1,000 of cocoa butter in the pan.

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Maybe 20% of that for beeswax.

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That's a bit too much.

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Last time I made a suppository was probably about 1973.

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Nick adds the liquorice powder to the mix.

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This is the active ingredient, or the laxative part of the suppository.

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We're talking bucket chemistry here.

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There would be no agreement in Victorian times as to the right concentration.

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Probably one pharmacy would have one formulation, another pharmacy would have another.

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There are pharmacists who specialise in these physical skills.

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It's not my area of specialisation.

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But I still have that sense of pride about wanting to be able to make

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a good product, or a reasonable product, at any rate.

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Oh, dear!

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What a way to end your career.

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The moment is nigh.

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There we have some. One, two...

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..three, four.

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-Nick's previous experience has paid off.

-Et voila!

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-Ruth?

-Yeah?

-Do you want to come and have a look at the fruits of our labour?

-We're done, are we?

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Look at that.

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Back in the lab, all the zinc carbonate has been extracted,

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and Mike is now showing Ruth the next stage in the process of getting the zinc oxide.

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The zinc carbonate has to be dried, so it forms into a powder...

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I'm just transferring it to a boiling tube.

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..before being heated over a Bunsen burner.

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-Be cruel to that!

-Be cruel to that. OK.

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All we're doing with this zinc carbonate, this calamine,

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is to drive off the carbon dioxide.

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And that leaves us with the zinc oxide.

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The brilliant white powder will turn yellow.

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Zinc oxide, when it's hot, turns yellow.

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I suppose if you're a working pharmacist, if you've got notes on how to do these processes,

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-that's it, that's your stock in trade, isn't it?

-Mmm.

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-Definitely going yellow.

-It is. No doubt.

-Give it a shake.

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-I think we're ready.

-Looks pretty yellow to me.

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Just tip it out onto that.

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-Look at that.

-Yay, look at that!

-Lemon!

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-And to think that we've produced it from...

-From that.

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From that to that in a series of remarkably simple procedures.

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Yes! Right, come on then, let's go and make this cream.

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It will go white as it cools down.

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I'm pleased with that, thank you.

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Oh, it grinds down really quick, doesn't it? That's ever so easy.

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Ruth grinds the zinc oxide down to a fine powder...

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I've got rose and lemon and bergamot.

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..and then adds a herbal infusion

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of essential oils, glycerine, and a red dye.

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And look at the colour. Just look at the colour!

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You can see I hardly need any.

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Ruth will be trying it on a customer who's looking for an acne cure.

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Hello, Bridie. Thank you so much for coming in.

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Bridie Lloyd has suffered from acne for five years.

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I've got this lovely zinc ointment here. You need the tiniest bit.

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I think you should have a go. Just on your cheek, yeah? It's looking very, very purple.

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Yeah?

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-I don't think you want to stay looking purple, do you?

-No.

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That's something you ought to rub in.

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You see, that has given you quite a bit of colour, oddly.

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-And this side looks both paler and pinker...

-Yeah.

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..which I suppose is what they would have been looking for.

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The paler the complexion the better, but they did like colour in the cheeks,

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so you get these stories of Victorian ladies that would pinch

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their cheeks before somebody comes, to try to get a bit of colour.

0:20:460:20:51

A young man coming in the door, "I'll quickly pinch my cheeks,"

0:20:510:20:54

make yourself look a little bit more red, natural and glowing.

0:20:540:20:57

How do you feel about taking it away with you and using it for a few days?

0:20:570:21:01

Yeah, as long as I really don't look purple!

0:21:010:21:03

Thank you ever so much.

0:21:030:21:05

It's the day of the examination.

0:21:110:21:13

That's obviously olive oil.

0:21:130:21:15

Ruth and Tom still have the practical part of the exam to do - making suppositories.

0:21:150:21:21

Suppositories...

0:21:210:21:22

Unlike Nick, a professor of pharmacy, neither of them have ever done anything like this before.

0:21:220:21:29

Put it on the weights...

0:21:300:21:33

They're both using the same equipment as Nick, including a set of scales with weights.

0:21:330:21:38

I don't have any weights here, so I can't exactly work out proportions.

0:21:380:21:44

Tom makes a bad start, failing to find his weights.

0:21:440:21:49

I'm kind of guessing that if I chuck all this together,

0:21:490:21:52

then we'll eventually get something I can bind with this stuff.

0:21:520:21:56

I'm sure I've done something drastically wrong.

0:21:560:21:59

With too much beeswax, Tom will have trouble melting his mixture.

0:21:590:22:04

Just how much oil should I put in?

0:22:040:22:06

Ruth shouldn't be adding the olive oil to the mix.

0:22:060:22:09

It's supposed to be used to lubricate the mould.

0:22:090:22:13

Damn stuff won't melt.

0:22:150:22:18

Strain it.

0:22:180:22:20

There's bound to be all sorts of stuff in there.

0:22:200:22:23

Oh, yeah!

0:22:230:22:26

Tom's finally discovered his weights.

0:22:260:22:28

That is kind of the basic sort of knowledge that everybody would assume you to know.

0:22:280:22:35

Messed it up.

0:22:400:22:42

So...

0:22:420:22:44

Ensuring the right medicinal content of the suppositories is only half the job.

0:22:440:22:49

I'm a terrible one for improvising.

0:22:490:22:51

I'm kind of working from a complete and utter position of ignorance.

0:22:510:22:57

The other crucial thing is making sure they're the right shape.

0:22:570:23:03

All we can do now is hope.

0:23:070:23:10

It's the moment of absolute, horrific truth.

0:23:140:23:18

Ooh...

0:23:200:23:21

Oh, no!

0:23:210:23:24

Oh!

0:23:240:23:26

Well, shame me fingers were dirty.

0:23:270:23:29

Half a suppository.

0:23:310:23:32

It's back to the school house and time for Briony Hudson

0:23:350:23:39

to judge their suppositories, for shape, size and firmness.

0:23:390:23:44

So, test one, suppositories.

0:23:480:23:51

That's a nice one!

0:23:510:23:53

-Can I just direct you to the nice ones?

-What about this one?

0:23:530:23:56

That one's poorly.

0:23:560:23:58

But you have got one, two, three

0:23:580:24:01

four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, eleven, twelve...

0:24:010:24:04

And yes, not badly formed. OK.

0:24:040:24:06

Mine come in a multitude of forms!

0:24:060:24:08

Oh, they do!

0:24:080:24:10

-They're not bad, are they?

-Which one's that? That's my good one.

0:24:100:24:13

That's the one you've identified, is it, as the best one?!

0:24:130:24:17

Yeah, that one's less successful, we might say. And next, Tom?

0:24:170:24:21

Um, yes. Not that successful, I don't think.

0:24:210:24:25

I managed to get one and a half.

0:24:250:24:26

-Interesting colour difference, considering the idea is to spread them...

-They were bespoke!

0:24:260:24:33

Oh, OK! So this is for a person that's more sick?

0:24:330:24:36

-Exactly.

-OK.

0:24:360:24:38

I know he's had some practice, but Nick's do win.

0:24:380:24:41

More produced, and a higher quality.

0:24:410:24:43

So very well done, Nick.

0:24:430:24:45

With plant and chemical substances to identify,

0:24:470:24:50

Ruth is joined for the next test by herbalist, Eleanor Gallia, and scientist, Mike Bullivant.

0:24:500:24:56

Having stronger medical backgrounds, Tom and Nick are taking up the challenge on their own.

0:24:570:25:02

So I've selected a drawer from the Materia Medica teaching cabinet,

0:25:040:25:08

and I'm going to ask each of you, in turn, to identify a few items.

0:25:080:25:12

The drawers of the Materia Medica cabinet contain hundreds of samples of the plants and chemicals

0:25:120:25:17

that a Victorian pharmacist would have had to identify.

0:25:170:25:20

So, could you, for me, identify

0:25:200:25:25

this specimen here?

0:25:250:25:26

You should be able to recognise that, I think.

0:25:270:25:30

What part of the plant is it?

0:25:300:25:31

-No idea what that is.

-No?

0:25:310:25:33

Not at all? It's orange peel.

0:25:330:25:36

Well, it's not orange! Clearly, it can't be orange peel, because it's not orange!

0:25:360:25:40

It is used dried, particularly as a flavouring. What about this one?

0:25:400:25:44

What's that one?

0:25:440:25:46

-Is that black pepper?

-Absolutely right. Spot on! Well done.

0:25:460:25:51

Tom is hoping his botany revision is going to pay off.

0:25:510:25:55

What about starting with that one there, 67A?

0:25:550:26:00

-It's like resin of some sort.

-Yes.

0:26:000:26:03

-I'd say it's some sort of tree gum.

-Yeah.

0:26:030:26:07

No, I can't get much closer than that.

0:26:090:26:11

I'd say...oh, what's a gummy sort of tree?

0:26:110:26:15

-A gum tree!

-A gum tree.

-It's frankincense.

0:26:150:26:20

Oh! That's quite good, though.

0:26:200:26:23

Not bad. What about this section here?

0:26:230:26:25

Oh, I know this one. This is cardamom pods.

0:26:250:26:27

Very good. Straight to it. Known today for cooking.

0:26:270:26:31

And finally...

0:26:310:26:33

Ruth, Eleanor and Mike should be able to identify all of the substances between them.

0:26:330:26:39

Let's start off with this little vial which you can pick out.

0:26:390:26:43

-Oh no!

-Just be careful of the cork.

-Oh no, this does look hard.

0:26:430:26:47

-Oh, I know these. That's cochineal beetles.

-Absolutely it is, yeah!

0:26:470:26:51

Let's have a go at this one.

0:26:510:26:54

-Barberry.

-Barberry?

-Like Berberis.

0:26:560:26:59

-I'm going to go with what she says, barberry.

-Is that your final answer?

0:26:590:27:02

-That's my final answer.

-You're right!

0:27:020:27:04

Briony has an extra test for the budding Victorian chemists.

0:27:040:27:10

So, number one, give the symbolic formulae

0:27:100:27:12

of ammonice carbonas,

0:27:120:27:15

chloroformum, and acidum tartaricum.

0:27:150:27:20

OK, so who's got the answer to question number one?

0:27:200:27:23

Oh yeah, Ruth there in the back row.

0:27:230:27:25

(NH4)2 CO3.

0:27:250:27:29

Very good. And the next one.

0:27:290:27:32

Oh really? Ruth again, OK. Chloroformum.

0:27:330:27:36

CHCIL.

0:27:360:27:40

I think you're there. And the third one, tartaric acid. Oh, Ruth again.

0:27:400:27:44

This is hard.

0:27:440:27:45

CH(OH)(COOH)2.

0:27:450:27:51

Quite remarkable!

0:27:510:27:52

So overall in the exam,

0:27:540:27:57

the back row came first, with Nick coming first in the suppository first round.

0:27:570:28:02

Next time on Victorian Pharmacy... As the 19th century progresses,

0:28:070:28:12

so too do the pharmacy's products.

0:28:120:28:14

-That's lovely.

-Ooh! Ooh!

0:28:140:28:16

Making aspirin to a 2,500-year-old formula.

0:28:160:28:20

In goes the ether.

0:28:200:28:21

-Nick perfects Victorian caches...

-Very chuffed about that.

0:28:210:28:26

..and their own brand perfume gets a mixed response.

0:28:260:28:28

-Mmm.

-Not nice, is it? Not nice. I think it's more for you, than me.

0:28:280:28:33

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:470:28:51

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:510:28:54

Documentary series recreating a 19th-century pharmacy. The pharmacy enters a period of regulation and new laws. 1868 saw pharmacies regulated by law for the very first time and Ruth Goodman, Nick Barber and Tom Quick face a taste of the tough examinations pharmacists now needed to become qualified. They also explore the world of poisons and hazards that were completely unregulated until this time - from arsenic and opium to explosives. One of the hardest tests they face is to make their own suppositories.


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