I’ve always been a fan of museums who present their artefacts in the style of a town or village mock up but this one had some impressive surprises. For me this will go down as one of the most memorable museum experiences of my life, the main reason being the pharmacy time capsule which I will come to later in this post. Dating back to the Victorian era this museum at Flambards in Cornwall is crammed full of fascinating objects.
Flambards’ combination of amusement rides and a wonderful look into history including a Victorian Village, Britain in the Blitz, War Gallery, Pioneers of Flight, Concorde and Vintage Motorcycles lead us to wonderful a walk down memory lane and memorable family day out. I really wasn’t expecting to find such a wealth of artefacts on the same site as roller coasters and sky rides. Featuring many engrossing displays from the past with one in particular standing out for me. When I got home I couldn’t wait to do more research into this unbelievable story.
The museum at Flambards is packed full of interesting items from World War Two and Victorian times. Amongst all of the wonderful artefacts is this seemingly implausible story ~ The Pharmacy that time forgot.
Hidden from the outside world for 80 years ~ the Victorian pharmacy
While walking around the Victoria village taking in all the charming displays illustrating the past I was enthralled by this one in particular. Looking in through the grubby windows I could see numerous bottles, packages, bowls, jars, books, shelves, etc covered in what looked like years and years worth of dust and cobwebs. At first I was surprised as surely a museum would have dusted fairly regularly, of course artefacts need to be treated extremely carefully but to let the dust collect on them like this was ridiculous. Then it began to dawn on me that this was a conscious decision but why?
It turns out that what I was looking at was a pharmacy dating back to Victorian times, this was no mock up, as is rest of the Flambards Victorian village. This is the result of hours and hours of painstaking work by the curators who moved every last piece from its original home in the Somerset village of South Petherton.
After being concealed from the outside world for 80 years this unintentional time capsule was rescued by Flambards in order to be enjoyed by its visitors. It seems that this glimpse into the past was hidden in plain sight, in the same building that was home for all these years to two spinster women. For years no one was aware of what was behind this locked door, gathering dust, unintentionally preserved for history lovers like me.
Every single apothecary jar, pill dispenser, bottle, box of cigars, book, weighing scale and notably even the cobwebs were charted, numbered and very carefully re-homed.
The shop, actually White’s Chemist Shop, was then recreated exactly as it was found, the only exclusions being dangerous compounds and poisons which were confiscated by the Home Office.
Shelves are lined with dust covered bottles complete with their original contents, well past their sell by dates, though the Victorians weren’t as concerned as we are today I doubt even they would be inclined to use them today!
The History of White’s Pharmacy
William Charles White acquired the shop in 1887 when its original founder retired and practised as a chemist until his death in 1909. His son, Charles inherited the business but as he was a grocer and not qualified to dispense medicines it seems the chemist part was simply boarded up and concealed behind a locked door for the rest of his days. Why it was never cleared and used for another purpose is bewildering and though I’ve done my research I’m afraid its a question still unanswered. Disappointing as I’d love to understand why but it may just simply be that the loss of William was too painful for anyone to set foot in this part of the shop again and ‘stranger things have happened’ as the saying goes. And though this is really hard to fathom I have found that this isn’t the only time something like this has been discovered.
After continuing as a grocer for several decades the business passed to his unmarried daughters, Margaret and Eveline. It wasn’t until the death of the surviving sister in 1987 that this time capsule was opened once by a shocked agent sent to value the property.
I’ve read stories about similar discoveries before but this is the first time I’ve seen anything like it ‘in the flesh’. Maybe it’s the history geek in me but it was fascinating and surreal gazing at all of the artefacts in front of me, as if I had travelled back in time to the original shop back in Victorian times. For the curators it must have been a dream to work with, each piece revealing to them its own hint to the past. After being left untouched, even by daylight, for 80 years it must have been amazing to be the first person handle them again.
There isn’t much information about this discovery online so perhaps I am the only one who is intrigued. I’d love to know if anyone ever found out why the family closed it all up and never even cleared everything out if they weren’t intending on using it. Of course it is understandable initially but for 80 years? And I’d love it know more about the discoveries they made while sifting through it all.
I hope you enjoyed this post, I couldn’t wait to share my trip into the past!
(The South Pertherton Local History Group now owns the archives and accounts from the pharmacy and general store)
Enjoyed this?? Take a look at one of my other History related posts ~ Queen Victoria – Revealed using her own words