I do love the local history talks at the Bury St Edmunds record office. Today's was about apothecaries, of which I knew not a lot until this morning.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, apothecaries occupied the middle ground in the medical hierarchy, below the physician who would diagnose and prescribe, but well above the surgeon. The thought was that anyone could chop a leg off, but it took someone really clever to stop the pain.
A late Stuart/ early Georgian apothecary would make up all the pills and draughts himself from his extensive stock of herbs, spices and opiates. His most valuable book would have been his Herbal (Pat had got out John Gerard's exquisite 1633 and 1636 Herbals for us to read and lust after), followed by his own recipe book for medicines and potions. Frequently these were a 'work-in-progress' with notes as to their efficaciousness. They would also be passed down from master to journeyman or father to son. Apprenticeship lasted seven years, after which you were free to start up on your own.
This print shows a standard apothecary shop interior with a giant pestle and mortar on the left, an alembic (or still) on the right, jars on the shelves and lovely graduated drawers for ingredients and ointments. The pestle&mortar was so useful it was the standard advertising device. The photo at the top shows where an original apothecary's shop stood in BStE - pestle&mortar still there above the door.
Apothecaries didn't only supply medicines, they were also much in demand as a source of food flavourings. Inventories show vast quantities of items such as caraway seeds that would make their potions palatable as well as having a medicinal effect. They also used plenty of sugar (various kinds) and, er, senna. One really weird ingredient was gold-leaf: to coat the pills of the better-off patients. (I can just see that catching on with the NHS)
Blood letting was a favourite remedy, and all apothecaries had a leech jar. One eminent BStE citizen apparently used to fish out a leech and clap it to his forehead whenever he had a headache!
All in all, good apothecaries with a fine client list had high social standing and were able to amass a reasonable degree of wealth. Both the apothecaries, Thomas Macro senior and junior, were members of the Corporation of Bury St Edmunds - a very prestigious position indeed.
One last photo: Pat always makes us authentic Georgian snacks to go with our tea. These are "jumballs" flavoured with cumin and caraway. Delicious. They are also quite, er, firm, so we were given permission to dunk!