Episode 8 Victorian Pharmacy


Episode 8

Documentary series recreating a 19th-century pharmacy. Tom pulls some teeth as he branches out into dentistry. And photography starts to become a popular hobby.


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Transcript


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Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire revives the sights,

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-sounds and smells of the 19th century.

-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, historian Ruth Goodman,

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Professor of Pharmacy Nick Barber and PhD student Tom Quick

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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've brought the pharmacy to life,

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sourcing ingredients, mixing potions and dispensing cures.

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But in an age when skin creams contained arsenic and

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cold medicines were based on opium, the team are being highly selective.

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They're only trying out safe versions of traditional remedies

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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 to 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're discovering an age of social change

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that brought healthcare 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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It's the end of the 19th century and the pharmacy's role in the community

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has changed immeasurably since the beginning of Victoria's reign.

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No longer just making up remedies and cures,

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they sell a wide range of medical and cosmetic goods.

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And offer a more affordable alternative to doctors.

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It was also a time of change for women in society.

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Now we're sort of coming towards the end of this journey through the 19th century pharmacy,

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I really ought to have some clothes that are a bit more appropriate.

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At the end of the century, women in business - and, of course,

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women WERE in business - were wanting to emphasise that sort of quality.

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So they started dressing in a much more man-like way,

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to emphasise their sort of business credentials as such.

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So you get women's suits, for those who wanted to show that they were in

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the world of work, holding their own professionally alongside the blokes.

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Do you know? I think I could run the world of pharmacy dressed like this.

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So here we are at the end of the century.

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Really different picture of pharmacy now.

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A lot of involvement of science,

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and we see the services diversify as well.

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Absolutely and for the first time, albeit discreetly,

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pharmacies are providing things like contraception

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which makes such a huge difference to people's lives.

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Pharmacies sold a number of contraceptives

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and Ruth has gathered the raw ingredients for a product

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that will become a popular under-the-counter item.

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What I'm making are condoms. This is sheep's intestine.

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Of course it's the small, not the large, intestine.

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I can't say this is the pleasantest of jobs.

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It's pretty smelly, pretty dirty.

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So, having pulled it apart from the rest of the stomach contents,

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I'm just squeezing it so that everything inside comes out.

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I mean, this is the intestinal tract, so it's sort of partly digested grass, basically.

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Oh, I've ruptured it, at the side.

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I'm not actually expecting anybody to actually wear this.

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So I could sort of think, "Oh well, it doesn't matter."

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But I sort of want to get it right.

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I quite like the whole experimental thing.

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I want to make one that works.

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So I've got quite a number of processes to go through before this is a finished product.

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It's got to soak for a bit,

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then I've got to turn the whole thing inside out,

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so I can make sure the inside is thoroughly cleaned.

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And it's then got to be macerated - lightly worked and soaked -

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in an alkali substance, to sterilise it.

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Then I've got to dry it out over brimstone, sulphur fumes.

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Again, we're trying to sterilise the whole thing.

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And then I can start shaping it.

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So, alkali overnight, change the alkali in the morning.

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An enterprising pharmacist used his chemical expertise

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and the materials he had on his shelves

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to cater for one of the great growing fashions of the age.

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Right, that's ready. Give me the slide.

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Photographer Terry King has come to demonstrate the latest technology.

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Photography was invented in the early years of Victoria's reign.

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It wasn't until the 1880s that the real boom began.

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Easier to use equipment gave amateur photography popular appeal as a hobby.

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And that meant big profits for pharmacies who could supply

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the chemicals, process pictures and sell cameras.

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OK, I'll just check once more we have the focus right.

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Slide out, are we all ready?

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Watch the birdie, keep still while we do it.

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Thank you very much. We're done now.

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Later, after Terry has set up a dark room,

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Tom will be learning how to develop the photograph.

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Keen to exploit every business opportunity in the 1890s,

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pharmacies began offering another new service to their customers.

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With only one qualified dentist for every 8,500 people,

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there was money to be made from tooth pulling.

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Retired dentist and dental historian,

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Professor Stanley Gelbier has come to train Tom up.

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What I don't understand, Stanley, is as a pharmacist's assistant,

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-why would I be extracting teeth?

-Well, that's quite simple really,

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cos you're going to be one of a number of people

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who are extracting teeth at that particular time in the century.

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In London, many of them were surgeons

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who also did dentistry, almost as a sideline.

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As you got outside London, you had a variety of other people.

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Blacksmiths could make the tools in their forge

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and then they would actually use them.

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Some were wigmakers, silversmiths, a whole load of different people.

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There must have been quite a market for it.

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What state were Victorian people's teeth in at this time?

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A lot of people have bad teeth. The problem was sugar, as always.

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Their mouths were often full of bad teeth.

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They had pus draining into their mouth through gum boils etcetera.

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So it's quite horrific and quite smelly.

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But the thing is, dentistry was horrific at that time

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so people didn't rush to get their teeth treated

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until it was absolutely essential.

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Right, so shall we just have a go and see how I go about this then?

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-What would I be using here?

-Why don't we try one of the keys?

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The brutally efficient dental key was the weapon of choice

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for extracting diseased teeth.

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The earlier ones had no handles, just a straight piece of metal.

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This is more sophisticated, more comfortable, with a better grip.

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-Why don't we try it out on your finger first?

-Um...OK.

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There we are. We won't take your finger off, I'm just hooking it over

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so we can see that now. And you'll feel,

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as I slowly turn, feel the grip.

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-Yeah, it really gets there.

-I won't do any more.

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You have a try. Try it on this.

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So I need to go round the back here then?

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You can't do that, that'd be the back of the head, the throat.

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-You need to go in through the mouth.

-Right, OK.

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Get that gripping on the tooth. Right, and then a quick yank.

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-That's it, gone.

-Wow! Yeah, you can see how that'd do quite a lot of damage.

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That's right. And more often than not, not only the tooth comes out,

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sometimes the tooth breaks, sometimes it comes straight out,

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but often you damage the gum around the tooth

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and the bone around the tooth. But it was really horrific.

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Remember, there were no anaesthetics so it really was painful.

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-That's not a friendly technique for your mouth.

-Not at all.

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To avoid the terror of tooth pulling, wealthier customers

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might lavish care on their teeth with a tooth powder or dentifrice,

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specially prepared by their pharmacist.

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What I've been doing is grinding up some myrrh,

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and we're going to use it to make a dentifrice,

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which is what they used before they used toothpastes.

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It's a powder mixture of various things,

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which I'm going to be bringing together.

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At this stage, they didn't use toothpaste

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because of a practical reason, which is, in particular,

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they couldn't get tubes which we're so used to now.

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It was only when soft metal tubes were made available

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in about the 1890s, that they could put toothpaste

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into these tubes and be able to have them sealed

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and used in the way which we are so used to now.

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First thing I'm going to do is mix some chalk together

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with some peppermint oil.

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Some of the orris root, this is a plant substance.

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Pharmacists would sometimes add ground cuttlefish, brick dust,

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and even crushed china to their tooth powders

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for extra abrasive effect.

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We've got some soap flakes coming in as well.

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And soap was used, as you can imagine, to clean the teeth.

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But the art of mixing's extremely important.

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There's no use having a dilution of something

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if you end up with a very concentrated part of it

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which is poisonous or dangerous in some ways.

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I am worried that it's going to be given to someone.

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I'll be rubbing some on my own gums before I'm giving it to anyone else!

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Erm, and that sense of responsibility was there all the time.

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That's why that whole concept of checking is so important in pharmacy,

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because you only have to make the sort of careless error

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we all make in other aspects of our life

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and you can severely harm someone.

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But we're getting close to be ready to try it.

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We'll try sieving down a small amount. That's looking good.

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-Hello, Helen, how are you?

-So this is what I'll be testing, then?

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It is indeed, it is indeed. Very kind of you to volunteer to try this.

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Helen Wright is a researcher of dental diseases,

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and the perfect customer to assess the quality and appeal

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of Nick's concoction.

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It would be presented in one of these little pots,

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and they'd have a toothbrush.

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-I've got a lovely selection of toothbrushes here.

-Lovely!

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So, are you ready to give this a go?

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-Yep.

-Well, pick a toothbrush.

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-I'll have this one here, it's nice and small.

-OK. And give it a try.

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See how much sticks on.

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-Yeah, it seems to stick quite well to the toothbrush.

-Good!

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There we go. Right, here we go.

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Let me have a bit of a try as well.

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Put some on my finger.

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You're still standing, that's a good start. What's it like?

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It's got a definite zing to it, hasn't it?

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I can feel the inside of my lips and my gums tingling.

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That'll be the myrrh doing that.

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You can feel it sort of gritting on your teeth as well,

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I certainly can with my finger.

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-They feel nice and clean using the brush, though.

-Yeah.

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I think we might have a product here. I've got a pot here for you to take away,

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-and a toothbrush as well.

-Thank you.

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-Thanks very much indeed for coming in. Bye-bye.

-Bye-bye.

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Towards the end of the 19th century,

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a new alternative to tooth pulling arrived.

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For those who could afford it, there was now the option of a filling,

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thanks to the dental treadle drill.

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So, I think the only thing we haven't talked about is this instrument here.

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-Right.

-And I suppose this must be, is it the treadle drill?

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Yes, the treadle drill.

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Till about 1870 you didn't even have this sort of drill,

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and it works simply on the basis that you're going to put your foot up and down

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on the treadle, this revolves, comes right round here,

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drives gears in there right down to the handpiece.

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-Oh! It's a skill getting it started.

-It is indeed.

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Often, if you twist that...

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-Ah, so you start that off like that.

-You've got to keep up a motion.

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Oh!

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-Yeah, there we go.

-Not easy. You're doing well.

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You've got to get your timing right on this.

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That's great. You've got to concentrate on that, concentrate on your hand,

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concentrate on the patient's mouth.

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All the time trying to instil some confidence in the patient, I suppose!

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-You've got to think about so many things at once.

-Absolutely right.

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The faster you go, the better it is, cos there's less vibration on the tooth.

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-There's still quite a lot.

-I'll try and get a bit of speed up.

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You've got the speed, that's good.

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Keep it up, then slowly get that on to the tooth.

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-That's good, the faster the better.

-DRILL WHIRS

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Ah, you can really get a... Kind of vicious, isn't it?

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Starting to drill it, though. That's it.

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Having this done must have been quite expensive, then?

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Indeed it was expensive.

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So much so that poor people wouldn't have had fillings usually.

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They just would have waited until they had awful toothache,

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had the tooth taken out, and that was it.

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And indeed there were some people who even had,

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perhaps a bit later in the century,

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had teeth out for their 21st birthday.

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Particularly females.

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The idea was they'd have the teeth taken out before they got married,

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and then there'd be no expense for the future husband.

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-Really?

-Yeah. All the teeth gone, that was the end of it.

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-Well, thanks very much for your advice.

-My pleasure.

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-I think I might have another go on this.

-You do.

-So let me just...

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-Don't let anyone know!

-THEY LAUGH

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DRILL WHIRRS

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-I'm getting better at it now.

-You are, yeah.

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Outside, Ruth is discovering

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making a sheep-gut condom requires patience.

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This has definitely changed in the alkali.

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It's certainly bleached it.

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It's much paler than it was,

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and it seems to have loosened all the mucus membrane.

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Now, the next thing I've got to do with it...

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so it says, is to sterili...

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Well, is to smoke it in brimstone smoke. It doesn't say what for.

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I think it's to sterilise it.

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So if I just...stick this on the line for a minute.

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Urgh!

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SHE LAUGHS

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Brimstone, of course, is sulphur.

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So I got some of that out of the lab, just plain old sulphur.

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And I've got to burn it.

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I also found in the lab this sort of Victorian smoke vessel.

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So what I've got to do is make the smoke inside there

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with all of that hanging in there. SHE LAUGHS

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So the fumes that you get off sulphur are quite poisonous.

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Which is good, in that it kills the bugs.

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You've just got to be careful it doesn't kill the people too.

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OK, that's starting to look a bit more active, isn't it?

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In it goes.

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Lid on.

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Quite weird, isn't it, making condoms,

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and it looks like some sort of laboratory experiment at school!

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SHE LAUGHS

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The fumes seem to be clearing, so presumably that's that.

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Just got to wash 'em out now and cut into lengths.

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I don't want to offend my customers

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by making them an inappropriate size.

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SHE LAUGHS

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OK.

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Tied.

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That is just...too weird for words.

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Hang it on the line and let it dry.

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The finished products would not have been cheap,

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so the custom generally was to wash them after use

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and keep for next time.

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Contraception was probably not on the minds of most of the men

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buying sheep-gut condoms like the ones Ruth has made.

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Purchased mainly to protect against disease

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rather than to guard against pregnancy,

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a gentleman customer would expect the pharmacist

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to supply them in confidence.

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Of course, this would very much be a sort of discretion trade,

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one amongst gentlemen.

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People really would not appreciate having their private lives

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known about and discussed.

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It's really about being able to trust the person

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you get these products from.

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And really, there's two things.

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It's one, you don't want anyone to know that you've bought them

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in the first place, and secondly, that you want to be able to

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trust the actual products themselves and know that they'll work.

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Condoms in one form or another had been available for centuries,

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whether they were made of sheep gut

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or, after the vulcanisation of rubber, made of rubber.

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They'd never had an effect whatsoever on the birth rate.

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They had been used almost exclusively

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to protect men from sexual disease

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when they were busily playing around.

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Without effective birth control,

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in the 19th century, unwanted pregnancies were all too common.

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However, pills were becoming available that regulated

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women's periods.

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And a side effect of these pills was that,

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if taken during pregnancy, they could trigger a miscarriage.

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The lurid safety warnings on these medicines gave them

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an obvious appeal to women desperate to end their pregnancies.

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A fact that was not lost on many pharmacists,

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who did a roaring trade in female pills.

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It wouldn't be particularly hard to go and openly buy female pills,

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because they had this perfectly acceptable use.

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The knowledge of how to use them to produce an abortion,

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that was the dodgy thing.

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That was illegal and considered to be immoral

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and against the teachings of the church,

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and huge social pressure against that sort of knowledge.

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It was quite suppressed. It was also, of course, very dangerous,

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taking totally unregarded amounts of things that are toxic

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in your system. People got into a terrible state.

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An awful lot of women died, trying to induce abortion.

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In the pharmacy's display case,

0:19:180:19:20

Ruth has discovered another disguised attempt at contraception.

0:19:200:19:24

This is one of the most exciting things

0:19:240:19:26

I think I've found in the pharmacy.

0:19:260:19:28

A universal douche.

0:19:300:19:31

It may not sound much, but it is in fact one of the first

0:19:310:19:37

widely-available forms of contraception.

0:19:370:19:39

You'd never know, would you, from the packaging.

0:19:390:19:43

It's very, very carefully general.

0:19:430:19:46

It says, "Universal douche. For directions, see inside lid."

0:19:460:19:51

It's only when you open and read it

0:19:510:19:53

that the word "Universal vaginal douche" comes in.

0:19:530:19:57

And that's it, this could be openly on the shelves,

0:19:570:20:02

because there were medical uses for vaginal douche,

0:20:020:20:05

for the hygiene, keeping the vagina clean.

0:20:050:20:07

You sort of had to be in the know

0:20:090:20:12

that it was also a form of contraception.

0:20:120:20:14

For hundreds of years,

0:20:150:20:17

douches have been one of the most popular forms of birth control.

0:20:170:20:21

In reality, they were unlikely to work,

0:20:210:20:23

and might have even increased the chances of conception.

0:20:230:20:27

I think the biggest surprise was the social role that the chemists

0:20:290:20:34

and druggists had in making healthcare available to the masses.

0:20:340:20:39

This was a time when you either had to be rich or pay a lot of your money

0:20:390:20:44

to the apothecary or the doctor, but now the honest working man could go

0:20:440:20:48

at the end of his day and buy healthcare for his family.

0:20:480:20:53

Their cost to look after their family and their medicaments went down

0:20:530:20:58

to one twentieth of what it was beforehand.

0:20:580:21:00

A remarkable accessibility to health which wasn't there before.

0:21:000:21:05

A Victorian invention that was also becoming popular

0:21:050:21:08

and accessible was photography.

0:21:080:21:11

Terry King has set up a dark room in the lab,

0:21:110:21:13

and has processed the film from the plate camera to make a negative.

0:21:130:21:18

-There we go.

-Is this the moment of truth, then?

-The moment of truth.

0:21:180:21:22

Let's see if we've got something on it.

0:21:220:21:25

There we are.

0:21:270:21:28

-Wow.

-I think that's pretty good, don't you?

-Great.

0:21:300:21:33

That's quite good, that.

0:21:330:21:35

-Wow.

-I think we should feel fairly pleased with ourselves.

0:21:350:21:39

-Right, so do we need to hang this up, then?

-Let's hang it up.

0:21:390:21:42

-Shall I hold this here?

-OK.

0:21:420:21:45

-Right on the edge?

-Slide it in.

-OK. Brilliant.

0:21:460:21:50

-Lovely.

-Brilliant.

0:21:500:21:53

The negative must now be left to dry before the print can be made.

0:21:530:21:57

Tom's photography lesson is about to reveal

0:22:010:22:03

a snapshot of Victorian society.

0:22:030:22:05

He's mixing up gum arabic,

0:22:050:22:08

a glue-like substance sometimes used in food preparation,

0:22:080:22:11

with the light-sensitive chemical potassium dichromate

0:22:110:22:14

and a coloured pigment.

0:22:140:22:16

Together, they create a photographic emulsion that reacts with sunlight,

0:22:160:22:21

a technique that was particularly attractive

0:22:210:22:23

to the discerning photographer.

0:22:230:22:25

-So, this idea of making almost a paint, isn't it?

-That's right.

0:22:260:22:31

This is the sort of thing that amateur photographers would be doing

0:22:310:22:35

towards the end of the 19th century?

0:22:350:22:37

What was happening was that all the amateur photographers had got

0:22:370:22:40

Mr Kodak, Mr George Eastman,

0:22:400:22:44

and all the posh people thought, "Oh, dear,

0:22:440:22:47

"all these nasty lower orders are making photographs,

0:22:470:22:50

"and we've got to do something more arty."

0:22:500:22:53

This was a way of making photographs look like paintings.

0:22:530:22:57

This is essentially a photographic watercolour.

0:22:570:22:59

What we need to do now, Tom, is for you to coat the paper. OK?

0:22:590:23:04

-Ready?

-Ready. Off you go.

0:23:040:23:05

-That's it.

-One more?

-Continue... Yeah. That's it.

0:23:070:23:13

It really is just like painting, isn't it?

0:23:130:23:15

-It's amazing how close it is.

-Just like painting your front door.

0:23:150:23:19

Right, that's fine. Well done.

0:23:190:23:22

Tom and Terry have reached the final stage of the photographic process.

0:23:250:23:29

To create the finished picture,

0:23:290:23:31

the gum arabic mixture needs to be placed under the negative

0:23:310:23:35

and exposed to the sun.

0:23:350:23:36

Photography's absolutely central to so many different activities

0:23:360:23:41

in the late 19th century, isn't it?

0:23:410:23:44

Yeah, right from the beginning, it was everything from military,

0:23:440:23:48

spying, taking photographs from balloons,

0:23:480:23:51

practically any activity you could think of,

0:23:510:23:55

photography was involved in one way or another, just as it is today.

0:23:550:24:00

The sunlight hardens the gum arabic mixture,

0:24:030:24:06

binding the pigment to the paper

0:24:060:24:08

and creating an image which looks rather like a watercolour.

0:24:080:24:12

The popularity of this artistic method with wealthier photographers

0:24:120:24:16

added to the pharmacy's already lucrative photographic business.

0:24:160:24:19

I can now remove the glass and the negative, and there we have an image.

0:24:210:24:25

What we want to do now is to wash away the softer parts

0:24:250:24:29

so that we get an image with more contrast.

0:24:290:24:33

Many of the developments in photography actually came

0:24:330:24:37

from pharmacists.

0:24:370:24:38

So pharmacists are involved with the technology

0:24:380:24:41

and developing all the chemicals and all these different things?

0:24:410:24:45

It's the sort of thing,

0:24:450:24:46

if you were really good at this particular side

0:24:460:24:49

of the pharmacy business,

0:24:490:24:51

do you think you could set up on your own, maybe?

0:24:510:24:53

I don't think there's any doubt about that.

0:24:530:24:56

-They supplied the professional photographer.

-Oh, yeah!

0:24:560:25:02

And, of course, millions of amateur photographers throughout the world.

0:25:020:25:08

Right, shall we take this and hang it up to dry?

0:25:080:25:11

I think that's a good idea. Right.

0:25:110:25:13

Tom's finished photograph is ready for hanging.

0:25:200:25:23

Just had our photograph framed.

0:25:260:25:28

Really proud of it, actually. It was such a long process to make.

0:25:280:25:34

Much more involved than I imagined.

0:25:340:25:36

It was more like painting a watercolour than anything else.

0:25:360:25:39

Very different to the point-and-click photography

0:25:390:25:42

we do today.

0:25:420:25:44

The idea is, we'll put this on the wall and people will come in

0:25:440:25:49

and say, "That looks great, how do I get to make something like that?"

0:25:490:25:53

See this shop, and then us in the middle there,

0:25:570:26:01

looking a little bit like ghosts!

0:26:010:26:03

Nick, Ruth and Tom have traced the evolution of the pharmacy

0:26:080:26:11

through more than 60 years of Victoria's reign,

0:26:110:26:14

reliving a revolution in public healthcare that put a chemist's shop

0:26:140:26:19

in every town in Britain.

0:26:190:26:20

Today's modern pharmacy stocks a vast range of consumer goods,

0:26:220:26:26

and this is a direct result of the entrepreneurial spirit

0:26:260:26:31

of the Victorian pharmacists.

0:26:310:26:32

By the death of Queen Victoria in 1901,

0:26:320:26:35

the pharmacy was forever established

0:26:350:26:38

as the high-street institution we know today.

0:26:380:26:41

I'm about finished back here. How are you doing?

0:26:440:26:47

Yeah, I think I'm pretty much done here, yeah.

0:26:470:26:50

Been a long journey, hasn't it?

0:26:500:26:52

I'm never going to go into a pharmacy with the same eyes again.

0:26:540:26:58

Never.

0:26:580:26:59

You take it for granted, it's one of those things that's always there.

0:26:590:27:03

Agh!

0:27:030:27:05

I think I value the skills and the experience and the expertise

0:27:050:27:11

of pharmacists so much more than I did before we started.

0:27:110:27:14

In the 19th century, there's so many different things going on,

0:27:160:27:20

it's a place of scientific exploration

0:27:200:27:22

and commercial development and all these different things

0:27:220:27:25

that you don't think about when you're just going to the pharmacy.

0:27:250:27:29

Go on, just for us!

0:27:290:27:31

I think I'll take away pride in the fact that

0:27:310:27:35

'chemists are retail environments.'

0:27:350:27:37

We have some.

0:27:370:27:38

'And that's not something to be ashamed of -

0:27:380:27:40

'it's something to be proud of.'

0:27:400:27:42

It's something which brought health to the masses

0:27:420:27:45

in an accessible, effective way.

0:27:450:27:48

And it's something we should be proud of and celebrating.

0:27:480:27:52

-I suppose we'd better head off.

-Yeah. Leave this lovely place behind.

0:27:590:28:03

Right, well, it's sad to see it go, really.

0:28:030:28:05

It is. It is, I'll be very sad.

0:28:050:28:07

It'll be sad, not being part of this Victorian world anymore.

0:28:090:28:12

It is time to go, though, isn't it?

0:28:130:28:16

Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd

0:28:380:28:40

E-mail [email protected]

0:28:400:28:42

The last programme in the series sees Ruth, Nick and Tom carrying Barber & Goodman's Pharmacy through to the end of the Victorian era. Tom pulls some teeth as he branches out into dentistry. Photography starts to become a popular hobby. Ruth investiages the changing times for women at the end of the 19th century and explores Victorian contraception. She even makes some condoms out of sheep's intestines!


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