Tag Archives: chemist

Victorian Pharmacy: a look back

13 Aug

Last night saw the final episode of the BBC television series Victorian Pharmacy. Over the last four weeks (actually five because they missed a week) I have found the series both enjoyable and informative. The only difficulty has been trying to relate it to the lives of my "chemist and druggist" ancestors.

It has provided a good general overview of an interesting period of development. I would have liked to have seen a bit more depth, perhaps doubling the number of episodes, but having ancestors "in the trade" would make me say that wouldn’t it.

I must admit I was rather sad to see them leaving the shop and driving off in a horse and cart, I hope we see more of the Victorian Pharmacy in the future, perhaps a Christmas special like the one they did for Victorian Farm last year.

Another good thing about the series is that it has lead to more information on the subject becoming available. For example, there is a book accompanying the series, which has some great pictures and recipes (which are clearly marked so you don’t end up trying something harmful).

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain has a new page about the series including a link to a pdf of articles about the series from their journal Pharmacy Professional.

The other good news is that there does appear to be a DVD of the series in the pipeline, according to the BBC Shop the release date is the 11th October, so plenty of time for it to be added to my Christmas list.

It seems like there never has been a better time for someone interested in the life and work of chemists and druggists!

Victorian Pharmacy

19 Jul

Last Thursday saw the first episode  of a new four part series on BBC 2 entitled Victorian Pharmacy. The series is produced by the same company (Lion Television) who produced Victorian Farm, which was shown last year.

The series looks at the workings of a Victorian pharmacists’ shop. The first episode sees the shows two main stars, Ruth Goodman (also from Victorian Farm) and Nick Barber, along with their apprentice Tom Quick setting up shop in the re-constructed Victorian town at Blists Hill.

We saw quite a wide range of activities in the first episode, from gathering herbs for traditional remedies to the creation of a slightly more scientific remedy in a rather basic (by today’s standards) laboratory.

Like Victorian Farm there were several experts on hand to explain some of the principles, and there was also a stream of ‘customers’ willing to try out their remedies and treatments.

Their shop was quite spectacular to look at with all sorts of bottles, jars, pots, boxes and packages displayed on the counter, in glass cabinets and on shelves. I am not sure how typical this would have been, because the shop is itself is a museum exhibit.

I certainly had trouble reconciling the image that I have in my mind of my GEERING chemists and druggists with what was shown on screen. Admittedly my mental image comes largely from the description provided by Thomas Geering in his book Our Sussex Parish.

I just can’t imagine my GEERINGs mixing remedies or gathering ingredients from the countryside surrounding Hailsham, Sussex. I see them more as shopkeepers buying in ready made preparations for sale to the residents of Hailsham.

Overall the programme was fun and entertaining, there was a small element of education, but the emphasis was more on things that seemed shocking or laughable to our modern eyes, like the use of leeches.

As a glimpse into the possible lives of my ancestors it is invaluable, I just wish I knew more about what was in their shop and whether their business flourished or was avoided like the plague by the residents of Hailsham.

After the Victorian Farm comes the Victorian Pharmacy

11 Jul

This week sees the start of a new four part series on BBC Two, that has captured my attention more than the forthcoming new series of Who Do You Think You Are?

According to the BBC website the series Victorian Pharmacy is a “historical observational documentary series which recreates a Victorian pharmacy”. For someone like me with druggists in my family tree this should be really interesting.

The programme was filmed at Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge, Shropshire (a place that has long been on my list of places to visit) in a reconstructed pharmacy. Even though the series hasn’t started yet there is already a book of the series available.

The first episode is scheduled for Thursday 15th July 2010 at 9pm on BBC 2, and is a “look at the world of the pharmacy at the beginning of Queen Victoria’s reign in 1837.”

My genealogy to-do list for the week ahead (week 17)

25 Apr

I had quite a good week last week, I think most of my paper notes have been sorted out. I didn’t really do any fresh research, but I still have plenty of information in a digital format that needs sorting out.

I have research plans in place for a couple of archive visits, and now need to actually make a decision and decide on an actual date. I have avoided making a decision on going to Carlisle Record Office, there are only a few days left before it’s temporary closure, so it is not going to be possible to visit.

I am going to try not to focus on the fact that I have so much "stuff" to sort out and research that I would like to do, but rather focus on the smaller projects that I want to work on, whether they are researching or organising.

  • This week I want to define an "exit strategy" for my GEERING research, I still have quite a bit of research to do at the East Sussex Record Office, but I think it is time that I was able to draw everything together and move on to something new.
  • One aspect of the GEERINGs I haven’t paid much attention to so far are occupational records. I know they were chemists and druggists, and I need to find out if the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain can provide me with any information on the family business.
  • Create a schedule for actually getting all my digital files in order. I feel I need to set a deadline and get some discipline into my organising, such as sorting one surname folder a day.
  • I also need to decide which projects I am actually working on. I seem to have lots of things on the go at the moment, and I need to get some of them finished before I start exploring new areas and taking on more work.
  • I really must tidy up my computer desk and the spare bedroom in general. There are genealogy books and magazines dotted about everywhere, and an old computer that needs stripping down for spares. I really need to get my workspace sorted out.

Something tells me that this week is going to be a spring cleaning week.

Directory Enquiries: The GEERINGs at Hailsham, Sussex

7 Apr

I have found five entries for the GEERING shop in Hailsham, Sussex in early county directories, however the caveat exists that the evidence provided is not entirely reliable.

1823/4 Geering M. druggist & linen draper (Pigot’s Directory of Sussex)
1828 Geering M. chemist & druggist (Pigot’s Directory of Sussex)
1832/4 Geering Mary, chymist and druggist (Pigot’s Directory of Sussex)
1840 Geering Mary, chymist and druggist (Pigot’s Directory of Sussex)
1845 Geering M. chemist & druggist (Kelly’s Directory of Sussex)

The first entry is quite interesting because it tells us that there was also linen available at the shop at one time. This, along with the description given by Thomas Geering in his book Our Sussex Parish suggests that the shop was more than just a chemist and druggist shop.

The other thing of note is that the name of Mary GEERING still appears in the entry even after her death in 1825. This might indicate the failings of the compiler, but it might also suggest that the shop still traded under the name of Mary GEERING, even after her daughter Ann had taken over the business.

The chemist shop at Horsham Museum

18 Mar

My current obsession with chemists and druggists reminded me of a display in Horsham Museum. Amongst their many wonderful exhibits and displays they have a recreation of a local chemist’s shop.

The chemist shop in Horsham Museum

I took the opportunity this week to pop into the museum and have a quick look at the ‘shop’ and try and imagine my 6x great-grandmother standing behind a similar counter in Hailsham, Sussex.

In my imagination the GEERING’s shop in Hailsham had once looked like this, neat and tidy, clean and with a highly polished counter, but I imagine it didn’t last long and over the years it became more and more neglected. I might be doing my ancestors an injustice but the situation described by Thomas Geering in his book was not one of a pristine, well maintained shop.

Is “The Old Druggist” my 6x great-grandmother (Part 2: What Thomas Geering wrote about the druggist)

26 Feb

Having previously described my knowledge of Mary GEERING the druggist of Hailsham, Sussex, who I believe to be my 6x great-grandmother, I now turn my attention to what Thomas Geering wrote about “the old druggist” in his book Our Sussex Parish.

The story mainly focuses on the famous Captain Barclay, but does include a few snippets of information about the druggist and her family, none of which conclusive, it is sadly very short on hard facts, but makes up for it with some wonderful descriptions of the people and the shop (more about that in another post).

Firstly we begin with the lodger:

CAPTAIN BARCLAY, the celebrated pedestrian, with the 23rd Foot, in which regiment he held his commission, was, about the year 1804-5, stationed, if not in our barracks, in the neighbourhood, he having apartments in the house of Mrs. Gearing, druggist.

Then we have mention of the druggist’s son:

The druggist’s son, James, who had been barrack-sergeant, in after-life delighted to gossip away an hour detailing many of the doughty Captain’s habits while in quarters here…

We then return to the druggist again and her daughter:

Let me give a parting word or two to our old-fashioned maiden druggist, Miss Nancy Gearing. I remember her mother, a little dark-eyed, precise, shrivelled-up old dame. Her fame rested chiefly upon salves and ointments, and to the daughter, Nancy, devolved the honour of continuing to our town and neighbourhood these two blessings.

Then we hear more about the druggist who like her son enjoyed gossiping about their famous lodger:

She, her shop and the contents had all grown old together. Where she drew her first breath, there in the same chamber she breathed her last, and like her creaking old door, she hung on for many a year, always attending to her business duties, and glad to the last to take a shilling over the counter. This was her great delight, and if ever gratification and satisfaction could be seen dominant in one’s features, then these were in hers when a customer had entered the shop and she had fingered the money. But the joy could be intensified by a gossip about her celebrated lodger; it was then her dark eyes sparkled as she recounted her recollections of his manly presence, and his kind, gentlemanly demeanour.

Finally Thomas Geering leaves us with a clue, the age of death of the old druggist:

Our old druggist lived on to be eighty-one, and a very short period of her long life became subject to decrepitude and mortal decay.

So pulling out the hard facts from this selection of quotes we have:

  • Mrs Gearing was a druggist, but as well as running a shop, also let  out an apartment or room, but we don’t know whether this was just a one off for the celebrated pedestrian or whether she had other paying guests.
  • Mrs Gearing had a son, James, who had been a barrack sergeant.
  • Mrs Gearing had a daughter, Nancy, who took over the shop.
  • Mrs Gearing lived to be eighty one years old.

There are some similarities between these ‘facts’ and the GEERING family I have previously described.

  • Mary GEERING was listed as a chymist and druggist in 1832-4 and 1839 in Hailsham.
  • Richard and Mary GEERING had a son named James (my 5x great-grandfather).
  • Richard and Mary GEERING probably had a daughter called Ann, who may have been Nancy in Thomas Gearing’s story.
  • According to the census Ann/Nancy appears to have run the shop after Mary’s death.

There is a discrepancy in the age of Mrs Gearing when she died, or maybe my confusion in the interpretation of the story. I think Mary GEERING was 78 when she died, and it was Ann who died aged 81 years.

Allowing for some artistic licence or failing memory on the part of Thomas Geering, these two families (the one in the book and the other revealed by census returns and parish registers) are a pretty good match. I have no doubt they are one and the same.

My challenge is to prove that this family is my family, that Mary GEERING/Mrs Gearing was my 6x great-grandmother.

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