Victorian Pharmacy

The Victorian Pharmacy was aired last night on BBC2 and gave a fascinating insight into the workings of a replica Victorian Pharmacy.The Pharmacy is based in the recreated Victorian town of Blists Hill in Ironbridge, Shropshire. The team were looking at the remedies that were made and used in early Victorian Britain. 

My interest was drawn obviously toward the Herbal Medicine side of the Victorian Pharmacy and it was interesting to watch Eleanor Gallia the herbalist and Ruth Goodman searching the countryside for medicinal herbs to treat a cough.  They found both cleavers, which is traditionally used to treat the immune system by effecting the lymphatics and also Ribwort or Plantago lanceolata which is useful to help tone mucous membranes.  They also mentioned a couple of other herbs which they used in a cough medicine they made up these were Horehound and Elecampane, Elecampane is a very useful remedy for chest infections and I use it in my own herbal cough medicine, they both have expectorant activity which helps to loosen and bring up phlegm from the lungs.  Later a chap came into the Victorian Pharmacy with a chest complaint and Ruth made up a chest plaster consisting of beeswax, olive oil and Frankincense essential oil all spread on a piece of shammy leather and stuck to his chest.

The entrepreneurial spirit of the Victorian Pharmacy came through as each Pharmacist was able to make up his own concoctions and tonics.  Thomas Holloway was a Victorian entrepreneur who came up with his Holloways Ointment and Pills which were medicines to cure all kinds of ailments and disease.  Holloways ointment consisted of butter, beeswax, yellow resin, vinegar of cantharides, Canada Balsam, oil of Mace and Balsam of Peru.  Another ointment that has been used since Victorian times and still in use today for drawing splinters and thorns is Yellow Basilicon Ointment.  Many people using it today consider it to have no equal in its ability to draw foreign objects from the skin. Holloway’s pills and ointment were sold for many years making Thomas Holloway very rich, he used his wealth in very positive ways building both Holloway College and The Holloway Sanatorium with the proceeds from his ointment and pill empire, he was also very generous and loyal to his staff. 

The Victorian Pharmacy is a four part series and I will watch with interest for any other herbal snippets that may appear, I suspect Sarsaparilla and Soda fountains may feature at some point. It will also be interesting to see if Echinacea features as it was one of the best selling herbal remedies before the advent of antibiotics, see my article on the Modern History of Echinacea.