The third blog in our series from the work of University of the Third Age members participating in the Shared Learning Project with the British Academy Hearth Tax Project, Centre for Hearth Tax Research, is by Peter Cox. Using the hearth tax returns from the City of London and Middlesex as a starting point, Peter investigated the ‘druggists’ of Bucklersbury Street in the City parishes of St Stephen Walbrook and St Benet Sherehog.
A notable feature of the 1666 Hearth Tax returns for the contiguous parishes of St. Benet Sherehog and St. Stephen Walbrook is that one sixth of the residents are described as ‘druggist’. The parishes share the street of Bucklersbury between them, SSW also listing The Strete and Barge Yard which were offshoots of the main thoroughfare. This area was the locus of the trade with fifty percent of residents involved.
Originally, Bucklersbury marked the boundary for navigation of the River Walbrook to The Thames. Barges brought cargo from the docks up to Bucklesbury which is noted by Stow as being a place for pepperers and grocers. When the Apothecaries Guild split from the Grocers Guild in 1617, stressing that their knowledge and skill set them apart from simple traders, a number of ‘spicer-apothecaries’, later known as druggists, remained in the Grocers Guild. The main function of apothecaries was to dispense the complicated prescriptions issued by doctors and to compound preparations of various substances for use in common ailments. The censors of the Apothecaries Guild inspected their members premises regularly and expected them to have a full range of all drugs available. It was to the druggists that the apothecaries turned for this supply. Bucklersbury was the centre where herbs and drugs were stored and sold together with spices, confectionery, perfumes and spiced wines. Though they interacted directly with the public, it seems druggists acted mainly as wholesalers, supplying drugs to apothecaries nationwide. In the 1600s, nearly all drugs were imported to London and apothecaries from hundreds of miles away would send their orders in by carrier to be delivered back to them in the same way. For example, in 1623, Henry Elliott apothecary of Exeter sent monthly orders to London for his supplies. Even later in the next century, the account books of a Coventry apothecary, Thomas Bott, show that he procured his drugs from London druggists.
Though imported substances had been known and used since Tudor times, they had, at first, been treated with suspicion by the public who tended to favour simple cures based on local herbs or simples. The second half of the seventeenth century was a period of stabilised population and falling farm produce prices so that there was an increasing amount of income available to many people and this coincided with the increase in available imports. Use of more exotic ingredients in prescriptions began to be fashionable and the number of different drugs known proliferated. In 1588 only 14% of drugs imported came from outside Europe but by 1669 this had increased to 70%, most originating in India and the East Indies though some came from the New World. The actual quantity of imported drugs increased by twenty-five times during the seventeenth century and hundreds of different substances became available. Some were particularly effective – notably, ipecacuanha (used as an emetic and an expectorant) and Jesuits’ bark (a source of quinine for the treatment of malaria.). Rhubarb and senna were among the most important drug imports.
At this time, all drug came into the country through London and so the Bucklersbury druggists were enjoying a position of monopolised supply to meet a soaring demand. Drugs, in general, were not bulky and usually only made up about one or two percent of a ship’s cargo but they were valuable and sought after so that merchants were happy to search them out as imports. It is likely that the fourteen merchants listed in the two parishes (again a significant proportion of the population) would, among other merchandise, have been involved in the import of drugs to supply the druggists. It should be remembered that the term ‘drug’ was not limited to substances of a purely medicinal nature. John Dandy of Sise Lane, the tobacconist, would also have been purchasing from the druggists and documents have survived showing that John Lilburne was interested in madder (a red dye stuff) as a commodity. Bucklersbury was noted even in Shakespeare’s day as a place of perfumery and cosmetics.
John Lilburne (1629 – 1678), Citizen and Grocer, was one of the largest druggists holding (with his partner) a property of 11 hearths on the north side of Bucklersbury. His memorial in St. Stephen’s Walbrook was erected by George, his first-born and only surviving child of five. It mentions his family connections with Sunderland and the Bishopric of Durham but he does not appear to be closely related to the famous Leveller of the same name. The memorial shows John and his wife Isabella though it cannot be judged whether the representation is lifelike.
The druggists were probably comfortable financially though their properties have, on average, just five hearths. The three largest businesses of Joseph Lilburne (11 hearths, see above), Henry Lascoe (10 hearths) and John Sadler (10 hearths) all ran their businesses in conjunction with a partner. Unfortunately, only one will, that of John Brisco, has been found during this research. He lived two doors away from John Lilburne in a property that had just five hearths. However, in 1689, he left over £5000 to his children and grandchildren while his wife, Beatrix,received £1000 and all his properties and appurtenancies which consisted of the house of the late Sir Richard Hawkins(d.1687) which was in the Old Bayley area near Ludgate Hill and three other properties adjoining it.
By Peter Cox
Prerogative Court of Canterbury and Related Probate Jurisdictions: Will Registers; Class: PROB 11; Piece: 396, John Brisco
The National Archive, E 134/31and32Chas2/Hil6, Edward Brooke, clerk v. Wm. Hills, John Hill, Fras. Hacker, Geo. Lilburne, administrator…
Burnby J.G., ‘A study of the English apothecary from 1660 to 1760’. Med Hist Suppl. 1983;(3): pp.1–128
Porter, R. & D. ‘The rise of the early drugs industry: the role of Thomas Corbyn’
Medical History 1989 33(3) pp. 277-295
Roberts, R.S. ‘The Early history of the import of drugs into Britain’ in F.N.L. Poynter (ed.)
‘The evolution of pharmacy in London’, Pitman 1965
Photo of Lilburne monument courtesy of Bob Speel, http://www.speel.me.uk/chlondon/ststephenwalbrook.htm