Can you remember what the chemists' shop used to be like... Row upon row of beautiful, coloured bottles and wooden drawers with fine, gilded labels?
The interior of many modern pharmacy does little to recall this elegance, not the former arft and craft of the pharmacist, but luckily for us Mr C A Park maintained and preserved all these things in his pharmacy in Mutley Plain, Plymouth. In a blend of ancient and modern he still displayed the carboys and coloured bottles which had graced the shop in his father's day -and before.
When Armstrong Park retired on the last day of 1983 this treasure house would have been lost but for the efforts of the Mannamed Conservation Society. In a fortnight of hectic activity the society raised a loan and purchased the pharmacy in its entirety and so saved this marvellous piece of history.
All the fittings in the shop date from 1864 when Mr R A Saunders opened a pharmacy at 1 Mutley Plain, Plymouth. It was a time when materials with such romantic names as dragon's blood would arrive by steamer from Sumatra wrapped in palm leaves, and cloves came from Zanzibar aloes were filled into goat skin, while those from the West Indies came in gourds closed with a piece of cloth.
The wall on the left is occupied the drug run, the set of wooden drawers with their mysterious labels in abbreviated Latin. When the pharmacy first opened many of these have held the "materia medica", that is the raw materials which contained the drugs.
Still reflecting and distorsing the images of the costumers, as they have for the last 120 years, are the carboyds in the windows. There were four in the 1864 shop but only three were used when the shop moved a few doors along Mutley Plain. Remarkably, the fourth carboy was kept in the back of the shop and still survives. The colours in them (they contain no more than coloured water) are authentic and the formulae for them came from an old, personal prescription book beloging to Miss Daphne Yates MPS who worked for fifteen years in this pharmacy. She was the first lady to qualify from the Plymouth School of Pharmacy.
Equally eye-catching are the siphons which contained soda water (clear glass), lemonade (in the blue glass) or gingerade (brown). The uniquely shaped amber bottles on the right of the shop contained cordials, while the fine blue bottles were for the syrups which formed a part of many a prescription; their loose-fitting lids were a precaution against fermentation causing the bottles to explode.
Can you look back to the good old days of Zam-Buk, Thermogene and Dr. J Collis Browne's Chloryne?
Of all the exhibits in the pharmacy these and the other counter proprietaries are likely to be the most familiar. Our collection includes such well known names as gibbs Dentifrice (remember Gibbs Ivory Castle and "fight the Giant Decay": the ivory castle is just above the door but, alas, we have none of the painting books which were given to schoolchildren). Grasshopper Ointment, Brownigen, Iron Jelloids, Beecham;'s Pills (worth a guinea a box) and many others have been given to the pharmacy visitors, some from as far afield as New Zealand and Malasysia. We are always glad to receive and dispaly more of these articles which give so many people pleasure from the memories they evoke.
Then there were the other common medicines. Is there anyone over fifty who has not had camphorated oil rubbed onto their chest? And when Friday night was bath night (and Amami night) how many of us dreaded the thought of the 'tea' made from senna pods?I
In 1885 the Saunders pharmacy was sold to Mr C J Park. Around 1897 he transferred the business to 12 Mutley Plain (later renumbered 23) where it stayed for the next 87 years.
C J Park had qualified MPS in 1880; amongst his apprentices were his son and his daughter. Armstrong qualified in 1927 and Muriel in 1928. Armstrong the treasures of the pharmacy is a yellowing piece of paper on which apprentice J Crang, on the firs of January 1902, had signed his name and written the names of his predecessors. His successors maintained the list and the signatures of both Armstrong and Muriel record their service under apprentice master C J Park, their father.
For a time after their father's death in 1933 brother and sister ran the shop together but later Armstrong become sole owner and continued to run the business as a traditional pharmacy until its doors closed for the last day of 1983. After 60 years of service to the community Armstrong retired (or so its rumoured) when it became 'good pharmaceutical practice' to type, rather than to write, the labels on the prescriptions.
Before the introduction of food and drug legislation and advertising standards, manufacturers tended to advertise their products with quite outragerous claims. Although the Park pharmacy never dealt with such items there are on display a few examples of the victorian ad-mans art. One of the best known patent medicines was Fenning's Fever Curer. This consisted of 1.7% nitric acid, a touch of pepprmint oil and some 'dragon's blood' to give it a good, red colour. Whatever it did for you, it certainly didn't do what it was claimed for it!
Over the years pharmacy has developed hand in hand with the science of organic chemistery. When tinctures and infusions were made in each pharmacy the potency of the extracts would differ greatly, even though everyone used the same method.
Until there were ways of estimating the concentraation of the required drug (or even of knowing what it was in your extract that was supposed to do good) it was impossible to be sure of just how much you were getting. However, the chemists (those practicing the profession of chemistry rather than pharmacy) changed all this by extracting and purifying the active constiuens of medicinal roots, leaves, barks, and berries. The pharmacist could now buy pure chemical substances rather than the raw material and so standardisation of dose became possible.
The organic chemist meanwhile was studying the structure of the active materials and modifying them, eventually producing a wide range of wolly synthetic drugs which were tailored for specific needs.
A consequence of these advances was a shift from prescriptions dispensed as liquids in bottles to solids. This led many pharmacists to put away (or throw away) their elegant displays of bottles and jars and to fill their shelves with easy-to-sell, pre-packaged products.(But, and fortunately for us, not every pharmacist did this...)
Did you know that every day less than six million people visit British pharmacies, and every day no less than one million prescriptions are dispensed for the the National Health Service?
The pharmacist is not an employee of the NHS but an independent contractor. Because of his constant availability he has become a general health adviser on minor ailments; but he can also help in identifying critically ill patinets who are referred to their general practitioner with great haste.
The results of a recent survey by the Community Health Council showed that pharmacy was the most reliable of all health care professions, proving just how successfully pharmacists have fulfilled their role. In fact another survey of all professions showed that pharmacy came second only to the Church in terms of trust and reliability.