Constantine Cornwall

Pharmacy of Yesteryear

Constantine W.I. Hall was transformed into a pharmacy of yesteryear for the January History Group meeting. There were bottles of varying
shapes, sizes and colours, the tools of the dispenser and a collection of retail items sold by chemists in the past. The sign of the pharmacist,
the well remembered 33lb carboy filled with blue liquid, graced the counter. The comprehensive collection provided illustrations and prompts for speaker Kingsley Rickard. Kingsley was an apprentice pharmacist and worked for Boots for many years. There were few branches in the south of England he had not visited.

Beginning with the world of glass (no plastic in the dispensary) we learned that coloured bottles protected the contents from UV and that ribbed ones contained substances unsuitable in their current concentration for human consumption. The chemist decided on the containers to be used and attractive ones would be purchased for display. Labels on thin strips of glass were waxed onto the bottle and could be removed with a little heat so the bottle could be used for another purpose. Labels normally used abbreviated pharmaceutical Latin. Bottles were marked with the tare weight so that weighing allowed the remaining contents to be measured easily; this made stock-taking a straightforward process. Large containers were sometimes used to store stock mixtures at signs of epidemics. The pharmacist would know the preferences of the local doctors and would ensure their favoured prescriptions were kept in stock.

Dispensing required knowledge and skill, and preparation of prescriptions on site took more time than today, so often clients would need to return the following day. The retail department would perhaps have supplied customers with stone hot water bottles, torches with wooden cases (we were shown a beautifully made 120 year old example) and cameras. There would also have been beauty items such as Toni curlers, and curling tonges. The demands of the farming community in Cornwall meant that the pharmacy often stocked medicine kits to treat animal disorders. Kingsley ended his presentation by writing out a prescription and decoding the abbreviated pharmacists Latin. He explained that doctors did this so that the patient was not aware of what they had been prescribed.

Peter Tatham thanked Kingsley for reminding us of the significant changes in pharmaceutical practice and for entertaining us with his many stories. The Group will meet on February 19th in Constantine WI Hall at 19.15 when Paul Cockerham will talk about the ‘Tombs of Our Ancestors’.