Saturday, September 22, 2012

Apothecaries, memorials and words

click photo to enlarge
I've long been fascinated by the way that a word can fall out of use. In a blog post of  2009 I reflected on the demise during my lifetime of "aerodrome", "palings" and "petticoat". Today I've been thinking about another word that is much less used than formerly - "apothecary".

Walk down a high street today and you are very unlikely to see a shop sign advertising the services of an apothecary. However, had you trod the same route in the 1700s or 1800s such a business could well have been present. The nearest we get today to the apothecary of those centuries is the dispensing chemist or pharmacist. The first apothecaries in Britain were grocers specialising in non-perishable commodities such as preserves, wine, spices, herbs, medicinal drugs etc. In 1617 the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was established in London following a split from the Grocers. They established a hall in Blackfriars, and until 1922 manufactured and sold pharmaceutical products there. In 1704 the Society won an important legal decision against the Royal College of Physicians which allowed them to prescribe and dispense medicines, an action that led to apothecaries evolving into practitioners of medicine as we know them today. And yet, despite this complicated background history, today most people who know the term "apothecary" associate it with the dispensing of medicine rather than the deployment of general medical skills.

Today's photograph commemorates the death in 1780, at the young age of thirty one years, of John Rugeley, an apothecary of Folkingham, Lincolnshire. Apparently he died of "the fever" - which one I don't know. His attractive slate tablet displays the florid script, flourishes and motifs that can be seen on many such memorials in this part of the county, here the work of "Casswell, Sculpt." It can be found in the village on the wall of the south aisle of St Andrew's church.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 65mm
F No: f7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/15
ISO: 3200
Exposure Compensation:  0 EV
Image Stabilisation: On