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Florence Cole as a child

Home remedies and cures
early 20th century

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When I was a child growing up in the early 1900s, chemists did a roaring trade because they gave good advice free and doctors cost money.

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Old remedies for coughs and colds

Venos-cough-mixture, early 30th century     Camphorated oil, a Victorian / Edwardian remedy for a blocked nose due to a common cold     Castor oil, a Victorian / Edwardian laxative, particularly given to children     iodine bottle - about 10 cm high in dark green ridged poison bottle, early to mid 20th century     Beechams Pills, a Victorian / Edwardian laxative for adults     Epsom salts, a Victorian / Edwardian laxative for adults

Some of the Victorian / Edwardian remedies and cures mentioned on this page. Photographed in various museums.

There was a demand for Venos cough cure, Owbridges lung tonic and cherry lincture, particularly in the winter, the season of coughs and colds.

For a blocked nose

To clear a blocked up nose, Camphor oil (also known as camphorated oil) was rubbed onto our chests. Sometimes it was put onto a piece of flannel which was placed onto our chests.

For sore throats

For sore throats most people gargled with salt water. We had to be careful not to swallow it, though, as it could make people sick.

For coughs

The cough sweets were rectangular linseed lozenges with their name imprinted on them. There were also eucalyptus gums. Both were rather hot but very pleasant.

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Old remedies for cuts and bruises

Iodine was widely used as an antiseptic. When my father put this on our cuts and bruises, he would say, "Shout", because he knew it would sting, and shouting would release the tension. Iodine came in a small ridged bottle to indicate that it was poison and there was a dropper in the top.

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Old remedies for chapped hands and faces

For chapped hands, glycerine, cold cream or Vaseline were used. Children would often have scurf on their chins during winter, which I think was probably because we always washed ourselves in cold water and, as there was no toilet soap, we used houseful soap, like Sunlight.

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Old remedies for chilblains

For chilblains, there was Melrose, a cream with a very strong smell. Chilblains were very common in winter because there was no central heating.

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Old-style laxatives

When my parents wanted a laxative, they would take a dose of Glauber salts, Epsom salts or Beecham Pills.

General purpose pick-me-ups/tonics

It was fairly common practice just to go to a chemist saying that one was under the weather and needed a 'tonic'. Of course the reason could have been anything, but one was invariably given what turned out to be just to be a laxative. Years later it was accepted that there was no such thing as a 'tonic'.

Len Clarke

In the Spring all the family would have have sulphur tablets which was said to be good for our blood. It was certainly a laxative as well, and the smells that it caused were most offensive.

We children would be given a dose of castor oil or syrup of figs once a week for our tummies. These too were laxatives and we were given them whether we needed them or not. For some reason, my mother always gave us the castor oil on Saturday bath night. Then on would go our clean night clothes. To see the castor oil slowly making its way down the bottle would make my tummy revolt, and my mother would give me a fixed look as much as to say, "Don't be sick". I have thought since, how stupid it was to put clean clothes on before the dose of castor oil.

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer

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This website Join me in the 1900s is a contribution to the social history of everyday life in 20th century Britain from the early 1900s to about 1960, seen through personal recollections and illustrations, with the emphasis on what it was like to live in those times.