Imitation bottles of arsenic, tinctures of laudanum, effervescent brain salt, and heroin hydrochloride cough syrup were just some of the old-time remedies on show at Hazelgrove Court Care Home, on Randolph Street.
A travelling Victorian chemist trolley was created by the home’s activities coordinator, Sharon Lewis, and wheeled around the home to spark a reminiscence session with residents.
The idea came from the “Talking Tees Activity Pack” distributed by Tees Valley Museums, with the latest monthly edition titled “The Victorian Chemist”.
Sharon filled bottles with different coloured powders, pink salt, sweets, and dyed liquids to resemble the real medicines, and then attached labels printed from pictures found online.
The session sparked lots of memories among the residents, many of whom can remember their parents talking about medical advancements.
Joyce Baxtrum, 90, can recall the first widespread use of antibiotics in the UK. She said: “When I was a child, about 9 years old, I remember my mam talking about penicillin and how it would change medicine forever. I think someone in my family had been given some at the time.”
Susan Blenkinsop, 73, recalled a laundry product being used on her bee stings. She said: “I used to get lots of bee stings. My mam used to dab them with blue bag, which we used for whitening clothes when washing them. It worked every time.”
Donald Ingledew, 90, said: “In the old days, doctors would make their own medicines.”
Bob Whitely, 78, added: “I remember having hiccups and my dad telling me they used to use chloroform to cure them. Not mine though, thankfully.”
Activities coordinator Sharon said: “Reminiscence activities are one of my favourite things to do with the residents. Getting them to reconnect with their past always encourages communication and the Victorian chemist definitely did this.
“We used a multisensory approach to spark memories, so as well as making all the Victorian era medicine lookalikes, we also smelt TCP, cod liver oil, and witch hazel. One of our residents, Dot, also tried a tea bag for her eyes.
“We all had a lot of fun. But we’re all so pleased medicine has moved on quite considerably in the last 120 years.”