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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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, historian Ruth Goodman,
Professor of Pharmacy Nick Barber and PhD student Tom Quick
have opened the doors to the Victorian pharmacy,
recreating a High Street institution we take for granted,
but which was once a novel idea.
They've brought the pharmacy to life,
sourcing ingredients, mixing potions and dispensing cures.
But in an age when skin creams contained arsenic and
cold medicines were based on opium, the team are being highly selective.
They're only trying out safe versions of traditional remedies
on carefully selected customers.
The start was like the Wild West - people didn't know what was good and bad.
Try to 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're discovering an age of social change
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.
It's the end of the 19th century and the pharmacy's role in the community
has changed immeasurably since the beginning of Victoria's reign.
No longer just making up remedies and cures,
they sell a wide range of medical and cosmetic goods.
And offer a more affordable alternative to doctors.
It was also a time of change for women in society.
Now we're sort of coming towards the end of this journey through the 19th century pharmacy,
I really ought to have some clothes that are a bit more appropriate.
At the end of the century, women in business - and, of course,
women WERE in business - were wanting to emphasise that sort of quality.
So they started dressing in a much more man-like way,
to emphasise their sort of business credentials as such.
So you get women's suits, for those who wanted to show that they were in
the world of work, holding their own professionally alongside the blokes.
Do you know? I think I could run the world of pharmacy dressed like this.
So here we are at the end of the century.
Really different picture of pharmacy now.
A lot of involvement of science,
and we see the services diversify as well.
Absolutely and for the first time, albeit discreetly,
pharmacies are providing things like contraception
which makes such a huge difference to people's lives.
Pharmacies sold a number of contraceptives
and Ruth has gathered the raw ingredients for a product
that will become a popular under-the-counter item.
What I'm making are condoms. This is sheep's intestine.
Of course it's the small, not the large, intestine.
I can't say this is the pleasantest of jobs.
It's pretty smelly, pretty dirty.
So, having pulled it apart from the rest of the stomach contents,
I'm just squeezing it so that everything inside comes out.
I mean, this is the intestinal tract, so it's sort of partly digested grass, basically.
Oh, I've ruptured it, at the side.
I'm not actually expecting anybody to actually wear this.
So I could sort of think, "Oh well, it doesn't matter."
But I sort of want to get it right.
I quite like the whole experimental thing.
I want to make one that works.
So I've got quite a number of processes to go through before this is a finished product.
It's got to soak for a bit,
then I've got to turn the whole thing inside out,
so I can make sure the inside is thoroughly cleaned.
And it's then got to be macerated - lightly worked and soaked -
in an alkali substance, to sterilise it.
Then I've got to dry it out over brimstone, sulphur fumes.
Again, we're trying to sterilise the whole thing.
And then I can start shaping it.
So, alkali overnight, change the alkali in the morning.
An enterprising pharmacist used his chemical expertise
and the materials he had on his shelves
to cater for one of the great growing fashions of the age.
Right, that's ready. Give me the slide.
Photographer Terry King has come to demonstrate the latest technology.
Photography was invented in the early years of Victoria's reign.
It wasn't until the 1880s that the real boom began.
Easier to use equipment gave amateur photography popular appeal as a hobby.
And that meant big profits for pharmacies who could supply
the chemicals, process pictures and sell cameras.
OK, I'll just check once more we have the focus right.
Slide out, are we all ready?
Watch the birdie, keep still while we do it.
Thank you very much. We're done now.
Later, after Terry has set up a dark room,
Tom will be learning how to develop the photograph.
Keen to exploit every business opportunity in the 1890s,
pharmacies began offering another new service to their customers.
With only one qualified dentist for every 8,500 people,
there was money to be made from tooth pulling.
Retired dentist and dental historian,
Professor Stanley Gelbier has come to train Tom up.
What I don't understand, Stanley, is as a pharmacist's assistant,
-why would I be extracting teeth?
-Well, that's quite simple really,
cos you're going to be one of a number of people
who are extracting teeth at that particular time in the century.
In London, many of them were surgeons
who also did dentistry, almost as a sideline.
As you got outside London, you had a variety of other people.
Blacksmiths could make the tools in their forge
and then they would actually use them.
Some were wigmakers, silversmiths, a whole load of different people.
There must have been quite a market for it.
What state were Victorian people's teeth in at this time?
A lot of people have bad teeth. The problem was sugar, as always.
Their mouths were often full of bad teeth.
They had pus draining into their mouth through gum boils etcetera.
So it's quite horrific and quite smelly.
But the thing is, dentistry was horrific at that time
so people didn't rush to get their teeth treated
until it was absolutely essential.
Right, so shall we just have a go and see how I go about this then?
-What would I be using here?
-Why don't we try one of the keys?
The brutally efficient dental key was the weapon of choice
for extracting diseased teeth.
The earlier ones had no handles, just a straight piece of metal.
This is more sophisticated, more comfortable, with a better grip.
-Why don't we try it out on your finger first?
There we are. We won't take your finger off, I'm just hooking it over
so we can see that now. And you'll feel,
as I slowly turn, feel the grip.
-Yeah, it really gets there.
-I won't do any more.
You have a try. Try it on this.
So I need to go round the back here then?
You can't do that, that'd be the back of the head, the throat.
-You need to go in through the mouth.
Get that gripping on the tooth. Right, and then a quick yank.
-That's it, gone.
-Wow! Yeah, you can see how that'd do quite a lot of damage.
That's right. And more often than not, not only the tooth comes out,
sometimes the tooth breaks, sometimes it comes straight out,
but often you damage the gum around the tooth
and the bone around the tooth. But it was really horrific.
Remember, there were no anaesthetics so it really was painful.
-That's not a friendly technique for your mouth.
-Not at all.
To avoid the terror of tooth pulling, wealthier customers
might lavish care on their teeth with a tooth powder or dentifrice,
specially prepared by their pharmacist.
What I've been doing is grinding up some myrrh,
and we're going to use it to make a dentifrice,
which is what they used before they used toothpastes.
It's a powder mixture of various things,
which I'm going to be bringing together.
At this stage, they didn't use toothpaste
because of a practical reason, which is, in particular,
they couldn't get tubes which we're so used to now.
It was only when soft metal tubes were made available
in about the 1890s, that they could put toothpaste
into these tubes and be able to have them sealed
and used in the way which we are so used to now.
First thing I'm going to do is mix some chalk together
with some peppermint oil.
Some of the orris root, this is a plant substance.
Pharmacists would sometimes add ground cuttlefish, brick dust,
and even crushed china to their tooth powders
for extra abrasive effect.
We've got some soap flakes coming in as well.
And soap was used, as you can imagine, to clean the teeth.
But the art of mixing's extremely important.
There's no use having a dilution of something
if you end up with a very concentrated part of it
which is poisonous or dangerous in some ways.
I am worried that it's going to be given to someone.
I'll be rubbing some on my own gums before I'm giving it to anyone else!
Erm, and that sense of responsibility was there all the time.
That's why that whole concept of checking is so important in pharmacy,
because you only have to make the sort of careless error
we all make in other aspects of our life
and you can severely harm someone.
But we're getting close to be ready to try it.
We'll try sieving down a small amount. That's looking good.
-Hello, Helen, how are you?
-So this is what I'll be testing, then?
It is indeed, it is indeed. Very kind of you to volunteer to try this.
Helen Wright is a researcher of dental diseases,
and the perfect customer to assess the quality and appeal
of Nick's concoction.
It would be presented in one of these little pots,
and they'd have a toothbrush.
-I've got a lovely selection of toothbrushes here.
So, are you ready to give this a go?
-Well, pick a toothbrush.
-I'll have this one here, it's nice and small.
-OK. And give it a try.
See how much sticks on.
-Yeah, it seems to stick quite well to the toothbrush.
There we go. Right, here we go.
Let me have a bit of a try as well.
Put some on my finger.
You're still standing, that's a good start. What's it like?
It's got a definite zing to it, hasn't it?
I can feel the inside of my lips and my gums tingling.
That'll be the myrrh doing that.
You can feel it sort of gritting on your teeth as well,
I certainly can with my finger.
-They feel nice and clean using the brush, though.
I think we might have a product here. I've got a pot here for you to take away,
-and a toothbrush as well.
-Thanks very much indeed for coming in. Bye-bye.
Towards the end of the 19th century,
a new alternative to tooth pulling arrived.
For those who could afford it, there was now the option of a filling,
thanks to the dental treadle drill.
So, I think the only thing we haven't talked about is this instrument here.
-And I suppose this must be, is it the treadle drill?
Yes, the treadle drill.
Till about 1870 you didn't even have this sort of drill,
and it works simply on the basis that you're going to put your foot up and down
on the treadle, this revolves, comes right round here,
drives gears in there right down to the handpiece.
-Oh! It's a skill getting it started.
-It is indeed.
Often, if you twist that...
-Ah, so you start that off like that.
-You've got to keep up a motion.
-Yeah, there we go.
-Not easy. You're doing well.
You've got to get your timing right on this.
That's great. You've got to concentrate on that, concentrate on your hand,
concentrate on the patient's mouth.
All the time trying to instil some confidence in the patient, I suppose!
-You've got to think about so many things at once.
The faster you go, the better it is, cos there's less vibration on the tooth.
-There's still quite a lot.
-I'll try and get a bit of speed up.
You've got the speed, that's good.
Keep it up, then slowly get that on to the tooth.
-That's good, the faster the better.
Ah, you can really get a... Kind of vicious, isn't it?
Starting to drill it, though. That's it.
Having this done must have been quite expensive, then?
Indeed it was expensive.
So much so that poor people wouldn't have had fillings usually.
They just would have waited until they had awful toothache,
had the tooth taken out, and that was it.
And indeed there were some people who even had,
perhaps a bit later in the century,
had teeth out for their 21st birthday.
The idea was they'd have the teeth taken out before they got married,
and then there'd be no expense for the future husband.
-Yeah. All the teeth gone, that was the end of it.
-Well, thanks very much for your advice.
-I think I might have another go on this.
-So let me just...
-Don't let anyone know!
-I'm getting better at it now.
-You are, yeah.
Outside, Ruth is discovering
making a sheep-gut condom requires patience.
This has definitely changed in the alkali.
It's certainly bleached it.
It's much paler than it was,
and it seems to have loosened all the mucus membrane.
Now, the next thing I've got to do with it...
so it says, is to sterili...
Well, is to smoke it in brimstone smoke. It doesn't say what for.
I think it's to sterilise it.
So if I just...stick this on the line for a minute.
Brimstone, of course, is sulphur.
So I got some of that out of the lab, just plain old sulphur.
And I've got to burn it.
I also found in the lab this sort of Victorian smoke vessel.
So what I've got to do is make the smoke inside there
with all of that hanging in there. SHE LAUGHS
So the fumes that you get off sulphur are quite poisonous.
Which is good, in that it kills the bugs.
You've just got to be careful it doesn't kill the people too.
OK, that's starting to look a bit more active, isn't it?
In it goes.
Quite weird, isn't it, making condoms,
and it looks like some sort of laboratory experiment at school!
The fumes seem to be clearing, so presumably that's that.
Just got to wash 'em out now and cut into lengths.
I don't want to offend my customers
by making them an inappropriate size.
That is just...too weird for words.
Hang it on the line and let it dry.
The finished products would not have been cheap,
so the custom generally was to wash them after use
and keep for next time.
Contraception was probably not on the minds of most of the men
buying sheep-gut condoms like the ones Ruth has made.
Purchased mainly to protect against disease
rather than to guard against pregnancy,
a gentleman customer would expect the pharmacist
to supply them in confidence.
Of course, this would very much be a sort of discretion trade,
one amongst gentlemen.
People really would not appreciate having their private lives
known about and discussed.
It's really about being able to trust the person
you get these products from.
And really, there's two things.
It's one, you don't want anyone to know that you've bought them
in the first place, and secondly, that you want to be able to
trust the actual products themselves and know that they'll work.
Condoms in one form or another had been available for centuries,
whether they were made of sheep gut
or, after the vulcanisation of rubber, made of rubber.
They'd never had an effect whatsoever on the birth rate.
They had been used almost exclusively
to protect men from sexual disease
when they were busily playing around.
Without effective birth control,
in the 19th century, unwanted pregnancies were all too common.
However, pills were becoming available that regulated
And a side effect of these pills was that,
if taken during pregnancy, they could trigger a miscarriage.
The lurid safety warnings on these medicines gave them
an obvious appeal to women desperate to end their pregnancies.
A fact that was not lost on many pharmacists,
who did a roaring trade in female pills.
It wouldn't be particularly hard to go and openly buy female pills,
because they had this perfectly acceptable use.
The knowledge of how to use them to produce an abortion,
that was the dodgy thing.
That was illegal and considered to be immoral
and against the teachings of the church,
and huge social pressure against that sort of knowledge.
It was quite suppressed. It was also, of course, very dangerous,
taking totally unregarded amounts of things that are toxic
in your system. People got into a terrible state.
An awful lot of women died, trying to induce abortion.
In the pharmacy's display case,
Ruth has discovered another disguised attempt at contraception.
This is one of the most exciting things
I think I've found in the pharmacy.
A universal douche.
It may not sound much, but it is in fact one of the first
widely-available forms of contraception.
You'd never know, would you, from the packaging.
It's very, very carefully general.
It says, "Universal douche. For directions, see inside lid."
It's only when you open and read it
that the word "Universal vaginal douche" comes in.
And that's it, this could be openly on the shelves,
because there were medical uses for vaginal douche,
for the hygiene, keeping the vagina clean.
You sort of had to be in the know
that it was also a form of contraception.
For hundreds of years,
douches have been one of the most popular forms of birth control.
In reality, they were unlikely to work,
and might have even increased the chances of conception.
I think the biggest surprise was the social role that the chemists
and druggists had in making healthcare available to the masses.
This was a time when you either had to be rich or pay a lot of your money
to the apothecary or the doctor, but now the honest working man could go
at the end of his day and buy healthcare for his family.
Their cost to look after their family and their medicaments went down
to one twentieth of what it was beforehand.
A remarkable accessibility to health which wasn't there before.
A Victorian invention that was also becoming popular
and accessible was photography.
Terry King has set up a dark room in the lab,
and has processed the film from the plate camera to make a negative.
-There we go.
-Is this the moment of truth, then?
-The moment of truth.
Let's see if we've got something on it.
There we are.
-I think that's pretty good, don't you?
That's quite good, that.
-I think we should feel fairly pleased with ourselves.
-Right, so do we need to hang this up, then?
-Let's hang it up.
-Shall I hold this here?
-Right on the edge?
-Slide it in.
The negative must now be left to dry before the print can be made.
Tom's photography lesson is about to reveal
a snapshot of Victorian society.
He's mixing up gum arabic,
a glue-like substance sometimes used in food preparation,
with the light-sensitive chemical potassium dichromate
and a coloured pigment.
Together, they create a photographic emulsion that reacts with sunlight,
a technique that was particularly attractive
to the discerning photographer.
-So, this idea of making almost a paint, isn't it?
This is the sort of thing that amateur photographers would be doing
towards the end of the 19th century?
What was happening was that all the amateur photographers had got
Mr Kodak, Mr George Eastman,
and all the posh people thought, "Oh, dear,
"all these nasty lower orders are making photographs,
"and we've got to do something more arty."
This was a way of making photographs look like paintings.
This is essentially a photographic watercolour.
What we need to do now, Tom, is for you to coat the paper. OK?
-Ready. Off you go.
-Continue... Yeah. That's it.
It really is just like painting, isn't it?
-It's amazing how close it is.
-Just like painting your front door.
Right, that's fine. Well done.
Tom and Terry have reached the final stage of the photographic process.
To create the finished picture,
the gum arabic mixture needs to be placed under the negative
and exposed to the sun.
Photography's absolutely central to so many different activities
in the late 19th century, isn't it?
Yeah, right from the beginning, it was everything from military,
spying, taking photographs from balloons,
practically any activity you could think of,
photography was involved in one way or another, just as it is today.
The sunlight hardens the gum arabic mixture,
binding the pigment to the paper
and creating an image which looks rather like a watercolour.
The popularity of this artistic method with wealthier photographers
added to the pharmacy's already lucrative photographic business.
I can now remove the glass and the negative, and there we have an image.
What we want to do now is to wash away the softer parts
so that we get an image with more contrast.
Many of the developments in photography actually came
So pharmacists are involved with the technology
and developing all the chemicals and all these different things?
It's the sort of thing,
if you were really good at this particular side
of the pharmacy business,
do you think you could set up on your own, maybe?
I don't think there's any doubt about that.
-They supplied the professional photographer.
And, of course, millions of amateur photographers throughout the world.
Right, shall we take this and hang it up to dry?
I think that's a good idea. Right.
Tom's finished photograph is ready for hanging.
Just had our photograph framed.
Really proud of it, actually. It was such a long process to make.
Much more involved than I imagined.
It was more like painting a watercolour than anything else.
Very different to the point-and-click photography
we do today.
The idea is, we'll put this on the wall and people will come in
and say, "That looks great, how do I get to make something like that?"
See this shop, and then us in the middle there,
looking a little bit like ghosts!
Nick, Ruth and Tom have traced the evolution of the pharmacy
through more than 60 years of Victoria's reign,
reliving a revolution in public healthcare that put a chemist's shop
in every town in Britain.
Today's modern pharmacy stocks a vast range of consumer goods,
and this is a direct result of the entrepreneurial spirit
of the Victorian pharmacists.
By the death of Queen Victoria in 1901,
the pharmacy was forever established
as the high-street institution we know today.
I'm about finished back here. How are you doing?
Yeah, I think I'm pretty much done here, yeah.
Been a long journey, hasn't it?
I'm never going to go into a pharmacy with the same eyes again.
You take it for granted, it's one of those things that's always there.
I think I value the skills and the experience and the expertise
of pharmacists so much more than I did before we started.
In the 19th century, there's so many different things going on,
it's a place of scientific exploration
and commercial development and all these different things
that you don't think about when you're just going to the pharmacy.
Go on, just for us!
I think I'll take away pride in the fact that
'chemists are retail environments.'
We have some.
'And that's not something to be ashamed of -
'it's something to be proud of.'
It's something which brought health to the masses
in an accessible, effective way.
And it's something we should be proud of and celebrating.
-I suppose we'd better head off.
-Yeah. Leave this lovely place behind.
Right, well, it's sad to see it go, really.
It is. It is, I'll be very sad.
It'll be sad, not being part of this Victorian world anymore.
It is time to go, though, isn't it?
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
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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!