Saturday, January 15, 2011

The Quack Doctor & The Poor Man's Friend...

One of the joys of my regular walks around my home in Kent is the unexpected find. Something different, obtuse, something that you couldn't have envisaged finding!

Today I decided that the water logged fields behind my home would have to do without this walker for one day and so I collected together all the paraphernalia that accompanies me on these jaunts, put the dog into the back of the car and headed for the village of Benenden a short ride away.

As is most times the case I was preoccupied with looking around for signs of invertebrate life when the woodland path I was following took me close to a little stream. Thinking that it'd make a real change to scout around this kind of habitat I diverted from the path ( a la Little Red Riding Hood) and for a while hugged the edge of the stream (not literally you understand) all the time looking downwards for signs of life, either in the water or the undergrowth.

Something caught my eye protruding from the nearside bank just above water level. It was only tiny and on this occasion had nothing at all to do with bugs or insects. I could see it was a vessel of some kind and had printing on the facing side. I got down into the water's edge to investigate and could see it was a very small pot of some description. In the best 'Time Team' manner I carefully extracted it from the muddy bank and was amazed to find it was complete and looked at first sight like a Victorian potion jar.

Having scouted around for any more finds (I did manage a couple more) I wrapped the jar, put it in my camera bag and continued with my planned walk.
On reaching home a couple of hours later I cleaned my bottles and then set about doing some research on them. The little potion jar as expected was my star find and research into this one was relatively easy, there's been quite a lot written on the subject. Reproduced below is a trade advert for the cure-all published in the Exeter Flying Post, 20 July 1826

It seems that this product was first sold to the general public in around 1820 I've seen three examples of this little jar, each one varying a little from the other and it seems that my one is one of the earliest examples making it close to 200 years old.

The Poor Man’s Friend remained available until the mid-20th century, but made the news in 2003 when Bridport Museum bought the secret recipe for £480. Its composition, in the words of the Daily Mail, was ‘nothing more than 95% lard and beeswax’. Nothing, that is, except the other 5% - a fragrant but dangerous concoction of mercurous chloride, sugar of lead, mercuric oxide, zinc oxide, bismuth oxide, red pigments and oils of rose, bergamot and lavender.

Giles Laurence Roberts, proprietor of the Poor Man’s Friend, didn’t have a great start in life. Born in April 1766 in Bridport, Dorset, he contracted smallpox when he was nine months old. Although he recovered, he then got rickets and was unable to walk until the age of five.

His successors describe his physical appearance as follows: He was short in stature, being only about five feet high, dark complexion, a beautiful black eye, and in his younger days long black hair falling on his shoulders. In his dress, and appearance generally, he was singular and original, bearing mostly the character of a Quaker or Friend.

The other bottles I found today beside the little Brook were a stoneware/salt-glazed jar stamped 'Lovett & Lovett Notts Langley Mill'
This one is probably Edwardian as the mill was run under this name between 1900 and the end of the first world war. Quite what it's contents would have been is unknown to me at this stage.

There was also a little Victorian boat shaped ink bottle in glass.
Note in the photo below the indentations into which the old pens were placed. Boat inks occur in a wide range of colours from aqua (common) to cobalt extremely rare .

And so....not what I was expecting from my walk today but a pleasant & interesting find all the same.


  1. A good find never can tell what you will come home with next....

  2. Fantastic finds I love that little pot of poor man's friend that is gorgeous. Would love to go scouting with you one day JJ.

  3. Thank-you Louise.
    Yes, it's a nice little pot! You'd be welcome to come 'hunting' but not sure about the distance and then there's the dirty knees and muddy boots.


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