I just finished watching the Victorian Pharmacy on BBC2 it was really informative and interesting. The programme follows historian Ruth Goodman, Professor Nick Barber and PhD student Tom Quick as they recreate an authentic 19th Century pharmacy. Whilst watching I felt as though I had been transported back in time, you can see that researchers have paid meticulous attention to detail and there is no aspect of the programme that does not feel authentic.
The most amazing part for me was when we are shown the back of the pharmacy, where all the drugs were created. It looked more like a kitchen with the bottles, herbs, oils, and mortar and pestles. It really shows how much medicine and its manufacturing has come along. One thing that struck me was the fact that their medicine contained mostly natural ingredients.
The Victorians would request that popular medicines or remedies be mixed up for them on the spot. Some of the more popular remedies dated as far back as medieval times. Earthworms boiled with olive oil and wine to be put on bruises is an example of this. It was mentioned that there is an interesting link between people believing that medicines work and them actually working and having any effect. It is unlikely that the earthworm concoction would have any effect on a bruise yet people continued to use it and believe that it made a difference because of its reputation. This is called the placebo effect which still exists today.
An interesting point was that the Victorians had to display potions and medicines in shop windows as the vast majority of the population could not read. They had to get the medicines to specific colours so that passers-by would recognize what it was.
A rather disturbing fact was that leeches were regularly used to extract blood from patients; they were a regular pharmaceutical tool. The wound could bleed for up to 10 hours after the leech had stopped sucking which is extremely unhygienic, this is due to the chemicals contained in a leeches saliva. Even modern-day medicines have difficulty stopping the bleeding much before 9 hours. The cloths that were used to stop the bleeding were washed and then re-used, the leeches were also placed in a jar and used on the following patient. As you can imagine this caused disease to spread like wild-fire. It was not until the 19th century that the dangers of cross infection were understood.
This programme is interesting and well worth watching. It shows that the pharmaceutical world is constantly evolving. The Victorians had some excellent remedies and methods, and whilst cannabis and opium are no longer prescribed and added to medicines there are elements of both substances that scientists have recreated and we continue to use today.
If you missed this weeks episode you can watch it here http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00ylywg/Victorian_Pharmacy_Series_1_(30_minutes)_Episode_1/
I will definitely be tuning into the next series which is on Thursday 17th February 2011 at 10pm on BBC2 I hope that you will also.