On Pharmacists, their children, and upset tummies

Barnes Archive, Rossendale Museum

Picking up on the Richard Comstive theme — and more on the role of  botanical knowledge in Rossendale during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries — the museum’s curator Sandra Cruise dug out the archive of local pharmacist/chemist Paulinus Barnes, which Rossendale Museum now owns.

It seems that the Barnes family pharmacy was established at the end of the nineteenth century in Waterfoot, just down the road from Rawtenstall, and operated there until the 1ate 1970s. This provides evidence at the other end of the nineteenth century, in comparison to Comstive’s activities at the start of the century. Of course none of this would be relevant unless there was evidence of the importance of botany to a local pharmacist like Paulinus Barnes.

To begin with, in a his Sale of Poisons Register I found an advert for courses held by the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain through which an individual like Paulinus would become a qualified pharmacist. The first three courses undertaken by students were in chemistry, practical chemistry and botany. Moreover, each of the chemistry courses emphasised organic chemistry, using as it did a great deal of botanical material. This provides yet more evidence to suggest that while a relatively small industrial valley like Rossendale seemed to have no outward signs of professional natural science activity, it was still present.

But what role did botany have for the late nineteenth and early twentieth century pharmacists? I would suggest a great deal — although perhaps harder to detect as pharmacy developed its professional status throughout the nineteenth century and what had previously been botanical became officinal. Nonetheless, botany remained a central component to professional training. Established in 1842 (so just after Comstive’s time in Rossendale) the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain used the Royal Botanical Society’s gardens in Regents Park to teach their botany module to young would-be professional pharmacists.

Barnes Archive, Rossendale Museum

Also in the Barnes archive is preserved a very early copy of John Hill’s 1812 A Family Herbal. This is a beautiful book, as you can see from the few images I have posted here, but one as much embedded in Barnes family life as it was their professional life for having received the artistic attentions of a younger member of the Barnes family.

This was possibly Paulinus’s son, who incidentally took over the practice and would eventually donate the families archive to the Museum (seemingly having a hand in the business from an early age). The young artist left us with an endearing impression of how the book was as useful to the younger members of the Barnes family as it was to its more senior members — even though perhaps their motives were different!

Barnes Archive, Rossendale Museum

However, Paulinus also left his impression on the book — as marginalia. Even though John Hills A Family Herbal was not recognised by British Pharmacopoeia it does reveal how early nineteenth century botanical knowledge remained useful to pharmacists like Paulinus.

“Purgings to stop”. Barnes Archive, Rossendale Museum

A wonderful link I think, between the everyday activities of a growing township (including upset tummies) and botanical expertise. Yet more evidence of how natural science was intimately woven around the lives of everyday residents. It seems that recovering the points of reference to natural science is an endeavour that throws as much light on everyday life in an industrialising township.

Mark Steadman



Filed under Museums

6 responses to “On Pharmacists, their children, and upset tummies

  1. David Craven

    I love the annotations you can find in books.

    In Bolton Museum, there’s a geology book given from the first curator William Midgely, to the second curator (his son) Thomas Midgely. Midgely Senior has written a very formal dedication inside the front cover. I seem to recall that the date of the presentation is from the day William retired, and Thomas took over.

    You can read more about the Midgelys on Bolton’s website.

  2. Patricia Francis

    I love these old herbals and this one of John Hill’s is particularly beautifully illustrated. This volume’s intimate connection with the Barnes Family makes it especially interesting.

  3. We’ve been looking at an old herbarium (1790s) and loving reading the medicinal uses… like white willow bark as “efficacious in treating intermitting fevers” …. i.e. asprin!
    Also a number of slightly dodgier ones as treatments for venereal diseases…. hmmm…

  4. What exactly was the ‘Sale of Poisons Register’?

  5. Mark Steadman

    The Sale of Poisons Register was quite simply a ledger that the pharmacist was obliged by law to keep documenting every poison they prescribed, to whom, when, and why. This included potentially dangerous sedatives, narcotics and painkillers like opiates. They are potentially fascinating sources but that also come with a number of ethical considerations.

  6. We like how different jobs/processes/practices, which are now viewed as distinct from one another, crossed over into one another , such as the chemist+botanist+scientist+artist (or the dentist+butcher, etc). It somehow makes you think about how distanced we have become from seeing the connections and consequences between things. Regarding current trends and concerns within the arts world, direct links between the arts and the sciences seem to have experienced something of a revival in recent years. Maybe this is part of trying to reconnect the pieces together.

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