I’ve recently been loaned a 1930 medical guide to treating ‘everyday complaints’ by the United Chemists Association Limited (UCAL), designed to be given away to customers by dispensing chemists. Those in Charnwood Street in the 1930s – W. Dalby at 165/167 and Wands at 215 – probably handed out similar publications, so it’s interesting to see what sort of advice was given.
A lot of it was based on using patent UCAL products, such as its ‘Nit Ointment’ for head lice or its ‘Magic Toothache Cure’ – though it did also give lots of advice on avoiding toothache in the first place (‘a mere rubbing of the front surfaces with a little pleasantly flavoured paste once a day is next door to useless’). ‘Chilblain Paint’ was ‘sure to give relief’, but plenty of ‘nourishing food was also recommended, including as much fat, butter and cream ‘as can be assimilated’. Lanoline was suggested for chapped hands, and liquid paraffin for ‘Health and Happiness’ – an ‘intestinal lubricant which surpasses all others. Nothing harmful! Nothing habit forming! Just the simple way to good health!’.
Some of the advice may seem amusing or even positively dangerous (like putting flour or bicarbonate of soda on burns ‘to exclude the air from the affected parts’, or treating convulsions in children by putting them in a hot bath and dosing them with castor oil), but there was no National Health Service at this time, and many working class people found it difficult to pay the fees charged by doctors. These publications and the medicines that could be bought much more cheaply from a chemist or corner shop were an important part of day to day healthcare, along with the traditional ‘home remedies’ passed down from older generations.
It’s also interesting to see that obesity was a concern even then, with advice to avoid sweets, pastry, butter, fat, meat, potatoes and ‘above all, sugar’, while indigestion was said to be ‘one of the most common of modern complaints… due in great measure to the high state of civilisation in which we live, and the complicated nature of the occupations which many of us have to perform… Common sense will dictate at once that more regular exercise and a thorough mastication of the amount of food consumed are first essentials’. Failing this, the ‘Sutu Indigestion Cure’ was ‘undoubtedly’ the next best thing.
Cholera, typhoid and dysentery were by then rare in Britain thanks to clean water supplies and improved sanitation, but still featured in the guide – dysentery being ‘most prevalent in malarial districts abroad, and is very prone to occur in military camps’. The guide also had a section on ‘Poisons and their Antidotes’, accompanied by the advice to ‘CALL IN A DOCTOR’. This suggests that some poisons like arsenic, strychnine and lead salts were much more freely available at the time than we might imagine. Acute alcohol poisoning also appears in the list, the symptoms described as ‘leering vacant expression, giddiness, pupils of eyes dilated, pulse strong, skin sweating’. The suggested antidotes were cold douches to the head, ‘rouse patient and keep awake’, giving strong tea or coffee, and ‘when recovered keep warm’.
The absence of sun screens or remedies for sunburn is probably less a reflection on the British weather than the fact that only a minority of people could yet afford to go abroad on holiday. Some of the ‘household hints’ at the end of the booklet may not be so useful in the 21st century, either, when lifestyles have changed so much in other ways. How many of us beat our carpets nowadays, or need to clean our silver or gold embroidery, or rub Vaseline onto the joints of our umbrella on the grounds that it is ‘far too expensive an item to neglect’? – though a tip for getting rid of the smell of paint may still be handy (sprinkle a handful of chopped hay on a bucketful of water and let it stand in the room).
In Charnwood Street itself, Hill’s had taken over as chemists from W. Dalby by the time of the Second World War. If you’d like to visit an earlier blog about Hill’s, see https://cib2.wordpress.com/tag/hills-chemist/.