Nelson & His World

Discussion on the life and times of Admiral Lord Nelson
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 Post subject: He was only a Horatio . . .
PostPosted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 12:56 pm 

Joined: Wed Dec 17, 2008 10:40 pm
Posts: 1088
. . . not a Horatio Nelson . . . but he was definitely in awe of the great man.

I picked up this story of a pharmacist from Northern Ireland which makes interesting reading.

Time Machine

Although now retired, Harold Porter remains the longest serving member of the PSNI, having joined the register on 2 July 1943. He has built an awe-inspiring collection of pharmacy related paraphernalia over his career and is now making it available for sale.
Many of his items are from the days when pharmacists prepared treatments within their dispensaries, from hair and scalp formulations to deadly poisons. Laure James visited his home outside Comber for a sneak preview into this breathtaking collection.

In the early part of his career, Harold worked as a pharmacy assistant to Horatio Todd, the very first president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland. “I worked with Horatio during 1941 and 1942 and to a young pharmacy student, he was nothing short of an inspiration,” Harold remembers. “I worked at his pharmacy on the Holywood Road in Belfast a year after leaving.

Horatio’s most famous products were the Victory Powders, which were sold all over Northern Ireland through wholesalers. They were terribly good for female problems I am told, when dissolved in water. Looking back at them now reminds me of how pharmacists from generations past used to have to learn how to fold powder papers! Victory was also available in pill form, demonstrating how flexible and comprehensive pharmacy was in those days. He advertised his many products by issuing hand bills, old style pharmacy leaflets, which made great claims of their efficacy.” Harold added that the Society’s first president was well known throughout his community and the profession for being an extraordinarily approachable and likeable man, and one who always wore a bespoke suit and would discuss his passions for pharmacy, animal care (especially his dogs) and innovation at length. “His suits were handmade by McAfeer, using the best cottons while he was also never without a flower in his button hole,” Harold said. “He was honoured by not only being the first PSNI president, a post which he took up in 1925, but he was also named the Society’s first Fellow. He was also assigned a Justice of Peace accolade and was a recipient of an OBE.”

Harold attended the Regent House School in Newtownards and worked as an apprentice at Davidson and Hard Ltd, Castle Place in Belfast from 1937-41, before working as an assistant to Horatio until 1942. He then worked as a pharmacy assistant to JW Nichol Ltd on High St Belfast until 1947. He opened his own pharmacy in Comber Square, which ran from 1947-69 before he sold the business. Harold then went onto study Economics at Queens University for five years until 1974. While studying for his degree he also worked within the nearby hospitals and also carried out locum work for pharmacies in Northern Ireland, England and Scotland. He took up the responsible post of secretary for the Ulster Chemists’ Association after graduating, where he also undertook the role of secretary of the Pharmaceutical Contractors’ Committee. In 1979, Harold became a stock taker and business transfer agent. Harold returned to retail pharmacy when he acquired Wilson Todd Ltd in Ballyclare, which he owned from 1981-89 and then Hightown Ltd in Glengormley in 1985-91, when he finally retired after a career that spanned five decades.

Ballymena man Horatio Todd was something of a biographical interest for Harold throughout his time as a pharmacist, serving as a mentor and inspiring role model. Horatio served his apprenticeship with Lancashire Medical Hall, Church St, Ballymena and qualified with the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland as a druggist in 1900, before qualifying as a pharmaceutical chemist with the PSI in 1902. “Horatio opened his first shop at 72 Holywood Road in Belfast and paid homage to his namesake Lord Nelson, naming his first premises the Trafalgar Medical Hall.

He had a large model of the HMS Victory in his shop window. He was an extremely erudite gentleman with an innovative and business-focused mine. He was responsible for formulating dozens of treatments and products, all of which were prepared and extemporaneously dispensed on the premises. He epitomised what it meant to be a druggist in the early 20th century and also was an expert perfume maker, who had fans of his scents from across the United Kingdom, including the Queen, who was the current Queen’s grandmother, and various ladies of nobility, especially the wives of politicians.”

Pharmacists in modern day are widely criticised for a lack of self promotion but Horatio was a master of marketing. “He had posters, or hand bills as they were known, with slogans such as ‘5,000 prescriptions with never a single mistake!’ brandished proudly across the top,” Harold said. “He had numerous posters and advertising materials with photographs of him and his medicines, colleagues and often his dogs, particularly when promoting his preparations for pets.” Horatio’s ‘talents’ with animals extended so far as a ‘disposal’ service. “It is quite unbelievable now but for half a crown the pharmacy used to put animals down privately, using a container and a pad of chloroform. Of course such practice would never be permitted now but to prevent families from drowning their poorly pets, or worse, we would arrange for their passing. He even used to sell ludenham, which was essentially opium, over the counter until 1918 when it was limited to prescription only. Mothers used to give it to their children at the Belfast Ropeworks to subdue their offspring while they were at work – a cheap alternative to childcare! It is remarkable how much pharmacy has changed over the years, for the better. I hope it will continue to be a profitable, successful and patient-focused profession for many more generations to come.”

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PostPosted: Thu Apr 02, 2009 1:15 pm 
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Joined: Sun Feb 17, 2008 11:06 am
Posts: 2813
Location: mid-Wales
What a fascinating post, Mark!

It reminded me of the pharmacist who owned the chemist's shop in Burnham Market not all that long a go - well, thirty-odd years ago when I was a regular visitor to all the Burnhams. It had Georgian bow windows, and the small interior was dark and full of mysterious bottles. The pharmacist there also made up medicines of his own devising and spent hours talking to us (and ultimately selling us) little phials of essences of flowers and lemon and cucumber that he had distilled himself. Even then, it had an air of another, far distant world. It has probably gone now. Burnham Market is now a bit like Chelsea in the Fens, full of rich city dwellers at the weekend enjoying their second homes.

Burnham Thorpe, though, remains wonderfully unspoiled: a simple plaque where the parsonage stood, a few pamphlets and postcards at the back of the church, and the pub which Nelson would have known as The Plough is now, appropriately, The Lord Nelson, with some attractive memorabilia and wonderful food, but nothing overblown or ostentatious.

The little stream still runs outside the parsonage and the quiet stillness is so evocative of Rev Nelson's descriptions of the peace at noon...etc. It is still somewhere that Nelson would recognise if he were to return there.

Sorry, off the point again, but I do love North Norfolk..........


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