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Mr William Thomas Williams (WW) was born around 1886 in Newport, Wales. His twin sister died of diphtheria when they were 5 years old. His father was a herbalist, and as a child Tom Williams used to accompany his father on herb gathering forages into the welsh countryside and woods near his home. After having cut his hand badly one day, Tom's father mixed a herbal concoction for him to drink. This caused considerable concern to his mother as the young Tom slept soundly for three whole days and night! His hand was completely healed though.

He was apprenticed as an apothecary at the time when the 1914-18 war broke out, but was not compelled to join up because of the nature of his work. However, he became the subject of hearing all kinds of jibes and unnecessary remarks made for his benefit. This was kept up for several days and as a result he turned up late one morning because he had gone to volunteer to join the army. Whilst out there doing his bit in the trenches his eyes were badly damaged by Chlorine Gas, the fact that he already wore glasses had delayed him getting into his respirator. He was eventually returned home, and was left wondering how he was to finish his apprenticeship and qualify as an apothecary.

Somewhere around this time, Miss Emily Palfreman from Ebrington's Row was working for a family who moved away, and, as she was a valuable employee, they persuaded her to go with them to Newport, South Wales. Before too long, Emily Palfreman and Tom Williams met, and became great friends. Apart from his poor eyesight, Tom was a very fit and healthy man, and walked many miles in his spare time. He also discovered that the colour green was very restful for his eyes, and he used to go up on the Brecon Beacons whenever possible, and just sit and look straight at green grass. Emily accompanied him whenever possible, and helped him with his Pharmaceutical studies. Tom always maintained that her way of pronouncing some of those Latin names fixed them firmly in his memory and helped him to retain the necessary knowledge.

William Thomas Williams qualified as a member of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1929, and the splendid certificate hung on the wall of the shop known as Highfield Pharmacy, West Street, Witheridge. Although this was probably the year in which they married, it is possible that they had in fact married earlier.

The shop itself had beautifully well-made fitted shelves and drawers constructed by Mrs Williams brother, Mr Bert Palfreman from Burrington, and which had been made to Tom Williams specifications. They almost filled the entire length of the main wall opposite the window. On the wall behind the shop-room door was another set of drawers and shelves, again made by Bert Palfreman, but of a coarser type of wood. These fittings were bigger and heavier. They were used for Cattle Epsom Salts, Copper Sulphate, [Bluestone] Derris Powder, Moth Balls, Yellow Ochre, etc. The shelves above held various disinfectants, including good old Jeyes Fluid at 1/6d and 2/6d a bottle! Poultry products, Louse Powder, Dysentery Serum, Warblefly Remedy, and various other products which the younger farmers of today would not have heard of, were stored on those dark heavy duty shelves. The L-shaped counter was sturdy and well made to, with draws and cupboards all along. Cottonwool B.P.C. and Hospital Quality] in various sized rolls from 1oz, up to 2lb, were always in demand, along with gauzes, lints [pink and white] and numerous bandages.

There were three glass display units, bought at different times later on and placed on top of the counter. A glass fronted cupboard which opened outwards was nearest to the window. It contained many tubes of ointment, hand creams, shampoo and setting lotions amongst other things. A fine quality glass cabinet was placed centrally on the counter. It contained all kinds of perfume, 4711, Evening in Paris, Californian Poppy, Night- scented Bean perfume, etc. Pond's Vanishing Cream, Cold Cream, Face Powders and lipsticks all had pride of place in this little cabinet. However, amongst all the items of vanity, there was never to be found any eye shadow or mascara. No way would Mr Williams consider encouraging anyone to "mess about with their eyes." The third display cabinet sat diagonally on top the right-angled corner section of the counter with room for shop scales behind it. Containing a range of adhesive plasters, thumb and finger stalls, eyeshades and the like, it also was sturdy enough to have portable shelving placed on the top.

Tucked in the corner was the dispensary counter with its old, but perfect, dispensary balance. The "Weights and Measures" men used to come annually to the Church Rooms and shopkeepers took along their measures, scales and balances for testing. The apothecary balance was always the very last one to come back to the shop, and the "Weight's and Measures" man used to bring it back himself personally. He was fascinated both by its age, and its accuracy.

On the subject of scales then, there was the big red Avery Personal Weigher. This was operated by putting a penny in the slot at the top, after standing perfectly still on the platform first of course! It would weigh as far as 20 stone if required. The Avery Rep used to come and maintain it annually, and free of charge, and he always asked if he could buy it. Next to those scales was another coloured wooden display unit with a picture of Miss Pears. At sometime, in the 1950s perhaps, Bill Rowcliffe made the tall glass-fronted cabinet with sliding doors. This was fixed on the mantelpiece above the fireplace. Yes! There was a fireplace behind the counter, and also, when the temperature called for it, an oil heater as well. Needless to say, this used to affect the otherwise O.K. sliding doors!

The dispensary contained all manner of stuff, from Pil.Rhei.Co [head and stomach pills] to Sacch. Ust [burnt sugar, used as well for gravy browning] to Surgical Spirit, and of course, Aqua Dest. [distilled water] One of the products Mr Williams was famous for was what he simply called Burn Ointment, which had splendid healing properties. It was entirely his own prescription and it was sold at 4d an ounce. However, he always insisted that the so-called one ounce box was filled right up, and then a blade of a knife was used to form a decorative fancy dip. Each ounce was in reality nearer an ounce and a half. It was a popular and effective remedy and you dare not run out of it.

Another prescription of his own invention was his well-known influenza Mixture, sold in six-ounce bottles for 1/6d. [And please return the empty bottle] Both his Burn Ointment and Influenza Mixture ought to have been patented. On the subject of returning bottles, a teenager Raymond Reed came into the shop one day with a bad cough. He bought a bottle of Veno's Lightning Cough Cure, went outside, took of the cork and drank the lot, and came back in and said "There's your empty bottle!"

All the labels for dispensing were kept in a "Materia Medica" cabinet, I think it was mahogany, with many divided draws with tiny knobs. The draws ran as smooth as silk. The original use for the cabinet was for various herbs which, way back, apothecaries did make use of. Whilst on the subject of herbs again, after taking the various exams to qualify as a chemist, he was told that he was the only candidate who ever achieved 99% on the Materia Medica Paper. He attributed this to having to learnt about herbs and how to recognize them when he was a boy.

In 1949, Tom Williams had a stroke. A locum worked the shop for a few months, lodging at the Angel. In due course Tom recovered and resumed his post as village chemist once again. During the fifties he was persuaded to take a holiday. For a fortnight they went back to Newport and stayed with a friend. Enjoyable though that holiday was, both of them were emotionally overjoyed to come back to the shop.

National Health Dispensing was taken over totally by the doctor in the late fifties or early sixties. Up to that point, people living within a one mile radius were able to get their prescriptions dispensed at the shop. Those living outside that area were supplied by the Doctor himself, unless a specifically urgent medical supply was needed and not immediately available at the surgery. Incidentally, chemists were paid by the National Health at the end of each quarter, having to provide the necessary drugs and do the necessary dispensing work beforehand.

Four or five years later, Mr Williams died. Mrs Williams ran the shop for a while after that as a drugs store. After closing down the shop, and selling the house in the late seventies/early eighties, she moved to the Channel Islands where her great niece, Veronica [Osborne] lived. There is no doubt that for 40 years or so that little Chemist Shop was a great asset to Witheridge and its surrounding area.

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Last Edited 03/07/2006    Copyright © 2000-2006 Witheridge

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