Posted in History, History of Medicine, TV Programme

The Victorian Pharmacy – Pills, Custard and Plasters!

Pill advert from 1895

I recently discovered, in a London newspaper from 1895,  some fascinating adverts for pharmaceutical products and thought you would be interested to see them.  Also, if you are a fan of the BBC 2 series Victorian Pharmacy,  the Royal Pharmaceutical Society’s website has a really good article available to view from the July/August 2010 issue of Professional Pharmacy.   Jeff Mills discusses the making of the BBC series with one of the participants, Professor Nick Barber.   

Advert for Bird's Custard Powder, 1895.

On Victorian Pharmacy, Ruth Goodman recreates the recipe for Bird’s Custard.  Originally formulated by Chemist Alfred Bird.  His wife had an egg allergy and this prompted Alfred to create a custard powder that would bind without having to use eggs.  He made his first batch in 1837.  The product was so successful that Alfred decided to go into manufacturing, setting-up Alfred Bird & Sons in Birmingham.   In 1895, he had expanded his product range to include blancmange powder and jelly powder.  Bird’s Custard powder is still available and popular today.  We always have a tub of it in our store cupboard, if you add a dash of good quality, organic vanilla essence it makes the most delicious accompaniment to stewed rhubarb and ginger.


Advert for Allcock's plasters, 1895.

Plasters in Victorian times were not exactly the same as they are today.   Plasters were made by the Chemist out of flattened leather, white sheepskin or chamois shaped according to where it was to be placed on the body.  The plasters were partially covered with a thin layer of either melted resin, wool fat or beeswax which contained active ingredients, often essential oils.   When the plaster was placed onto the body part, heat would melt the resin, fat or wax and the oils would penetrate through the skin to ease the symptoms.   The plasters were packed into a box, each layer separated by grease-proof paper.   They sold well in the Victorian Pharmacy.


Social historian, based in the UK.

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