Penrith Remembers - 8

21st August, 2014

Penrith Remembers 8:   Cures for all ills

Before the Boots Pure Drug Company spread its wings from Nottingham into every large town in the land, the people of Penrith had five local chemists to choose from:

  • Joseph Cowper Ltd. in King Street and Corney Square, still trading in King Street;
  • Francis Crowden in Castlegate;
  • Thomas Edmondson in Cornmarket, now Conlon’s opticians;
  • William Priestman in Middlegate, until recently Lightfoot’s and now the Co-operative Pharmacy; and
  • Banks Swinburn in Devonshire Street, now the Oxfam shop.

Chemists made up linctuses, pills and tinctures for a variety of medicinal, agricultural and household uses. Thomas Edmondson helped farmers control weeds (Victor weedkiller, 2/- per gallon) and to protect their livestock from parasitic insects such as warble fly (mixture from 1/3) and maggot fly, promising ‘NO CATTLE GALLOPING’. They claimed the shop as ‘The Headquarters for Sheep Dips’.

Today, the advertising of medicines is heavily regulated by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency – but back in 1914 chemists could wax lyrical with their marketing. Phil Caton of Joseph Cowper has kindly shared some of the labels and flyers from those days. For Cowper’s Lavender Ammonia (In Bottles at 10½d and 1/6) it was claimed that ‘A little in a sponge bath makes you A New Woman’ adding, on the next line: ‘Use it to clean the windows, crockery, silver, paint, lace, &c.’

Ramsay’s Spice Nuts at a shilling a packet acted ‘as a most agreeable PURGE’, while the Infants’ Restorative tackled ‘Griping and Windy Complaints of the Bowels, Inward Fits, Convulsions, Teeth Fever, Rickets and Want of Thriving’.

The quality of drinking water was poor in those days, which was one of the reasons people drank beer. For teetotallers, the options were mineral waters, lemonade and ginger beer, which they could also buy at their chemist. Francis Crowden offered ‘Aerated waters in syphons’. Soda water was 3d, 1/3 for half a dozen (i.e. six for the price of five) lemonade and ginger ale 4d each or 1/9 for a half dozen.

Ali Turnbull

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