Victorian Pharmacy Kill and Cure

Victorian Pharmacy Kill and Cure
20200930T1200Z 20200930T1300Z
Social History
Wed 30 Sep 2020
1 hour
Places remaining:

In this one-hour talk Dr Judy Hill considers how people managed their health during the 19th century when rapid urbanisation led to uncontrolled growth in Victorian cities. The rapid growth led to dirt, disease, overcrowding and noxious, noisy industries – all producing high mortality rates.

In the early 19th century, it was believed that disease was caused by inherited susceptibility and individual intemperance. It was down to ‘lifestyle’, abetted by climate and location. Water or air-borne infections were not generally accepted. At this time, the public simply tried to self-medicate. They had no choice: there was little public health available and most could not afford a doctor or apothecary.

In addition, many medicines were highly toxic. They could contain lead, mercury or antimony. Gradually selling proprietary medicines became a profitable part of any chemist’s business. A proprietary medicine had a registered trade mark. This protected the product’s name and allowed the manufacturer to keep his formula secret. It discouraged imitation and maximised profits from advertising. For example, Beecham’s pills and Thomas Holloway’s pills and ointments were sold cheaply.

During the 19th century illnesses were managed rather than cured. It was not until the end of the century that real advances in understanding the causes of ill health, and managing and treating it as well.

30/09/2020 12:00 - 13:00