Victorian Pharmacy – Four Part Television series:
Mondays at 10pm on TVO – Beginning February 28th.
Victorian Pharmacy is a historical documentary TV series in four parts, first shown on BBC Two in July 2010. It was filmed at Blists Hill Victorian Town in Shropshire. It is a historical documentary that looks at life in the 19th Century and how people attempted to cure common ailments.
Since some of the ingredients of Victorian remedies are now either illegal or known to be dangerous, Nick Barber often uses his modern pharmaceutical knowledge to produce similar products without those ingredients.
The other main presenters are Tom Quick, a PhD student, and Ruth Goodman, a domestic historian who also appeared in Tales from the Green Valley, Victorian Farm and Edwardian Farm.
The first episode is set in 1837. It was mentioned that the series would not be using opium that was commonly used by pharmacists during the Victorian era. A world where traditional remedies, such as leeches, oil of earthworm and potions laced with cannabis and opium, held sway.
After sampling some of the old ways, the team ventured into new discoveries, such as the Malvern water cure, the bronchial kettle for curing coughs, and the invention of Indian tonic water.
The team took on the challenges of the 1850s and 60s, a time when overcrowded and unsanitary living conditions had reached their peak, leading to unprecedented outbreaks of disease. ‘Cure all’ medicines that had promised to cure virtually everything, were all the rage and the team make their own out of rhubarb, liquorice, soap and syrup.
They also ventured into the uncertain world of electrotherapy and found out how the discovery of germs made disinfectants a bestseller.
The pharmacy entered a period of new inventions and new laws. In 1868 pharmacies were regulated by law for the very first time – and Ruth, Tom and Nick faced a taste of the tough examinations pharmacists went through to become qualified.
They also explored the world of poisons and hazards that were completely unregulated until this time – from arsenic and opium to explosives. But the lack of restrictions they had enjoyed enabled ‘experimental chemists’ to invent products ranging from matches to fireworks, to custard and jelly.
The team learned the processes involved in each, and laid on a Victorian style firework display for their customers.
The last programme in the series saw Ruth, Tom and Nick continue with Barber and Goodman’s Pharmacy through to the end of the Victorian era.
Tom branched out into photography and dentistry using the latest technology, such as the foot-pedal dental drill. Ruth made condoms out of sheep intestines.
Nick learned how to make the Victorian version of aspirin producing a cure for warts and corns along the way. And for those customers who like a little pampering, the team turn their hands to making their very own brand of perfume.
As they shut up shop for the last time, the team reflected on a revolution in public healthcare that put a chemist’s shop in every town in the country.