27 Feb 2020

Apothecary Anecdotes: Beechams Pills

Ardd Fotaneg · Botanic Garden

Opposite the counter in the Apothecary’s Shop, to the left of the central area, is a display area that I call “The Memory Cabinet”.

It was inspired by the visitors who ask ” Do you remember……….”. Where possible I will try to get the items that they mention, sometimes from sources such as online sales, but often by using a bit of ingenuity!

One of the items is a box that would have contained Beecham’s Pills. They were first made around 1840s by Thomas Beecham ( grandfather of the conductor Sir Thomas Beecham), and discontinued around 1998.

They were advertised as being able to cure many internal ailments and promote good health.

The main ingredients were ginger, aloes, and soap, and at one stage an extract from juniper was used. Ginger is still used today for some stomach upsets, and has been used to ward off sea sickness. It also has anti-inflammatory qualities, and I regularly take fresh ginger as part of my gout prevention diet, although it takes longer to act than the medication that the doctor will prescribe.

Aloes are antioxidant and antibacterial, and will ease constipation. Soap has been used as a powerful purgative and diuretic ie it makes you poo and pee!

Now,  many of the internal ailments were caused by the constrictive clothing that women were obliged to wear,  and the above ingredients would certainly have helped, justifying the slogan ” Worth a Guinea a Box”

The inclusion of Juniper extract surprised me, as I was aware of some of its properties, and then I discovered that Beechams Pills had been used to cause abortions!  This gives me a whole new insight into the term ” Female Ailments”.  It also makes me want to look again at old etchings of woman drinking gin, which has juniper as its main flavouring.

William Topaz McGonagall,  who is considered by many to be the worst poet in the world, wrote a poem extolling the virtues of Beecham’s Pills.  I have tried reading it out loud in the Apothecary’s Hall, but after two lines my audience look at their watches , make an excuse, and leave.


What ho! sickly people of high and low degree

I pray ye all be warned by me;

No matter what may be your bodily ills

The safest and quickest cure is Beecham’s Pills.

They are admitted to be worth a guinea a box

For bilious and nervous disorders, also smallpox,

And dizziness and drowsiness, also cold chills,

And for such diseases nothing else can equal Beecham’s Pills

They have been proved by thousands that have tried them

So that the people cannot them condemn.

Be advised by me one and all

Is the advice of  William  McGonagall