Saturday, 14 May 2011

Beecham's Pills, Camberwell

Asking a poet to praise the merits of some medicine may sound strange but that's exactly what Beecham's pharmaceutical company did in 1894, when it paid William Topaz Mc Gonagall (often considered as the worst British poet) an undisclosed sum to write the following lines:
What ho! sickly people of high and low degree
I pray ye all be warned by me;
No matter what may be your bodily ills
The safest and quickest cure is Beecham's Pills.

They are admitted to be worth a guinea a box
For bilious and nervous disorders, also smallpox,
And dizziness and drowsiness, also cold chills,
And for such diseases nothing else can equal Beecham's Pills

They have been proved by thousands that have tried them
So that the people cannot them condemn.
Be advised by me one and all
Is the advice of Poet McGonagall.
By then Beecham was spending almost £100,000 a year to advertise its products, with the lion's share going towards the promotion of its "miracle" medicine: Beecham's Pill. This laxative, made of 40% of aloes, 45% of ginger, 15% of soap and a very tiny proportion of other ingredients, was patented and launched c. 1842 by Thomas Beecham. In 1859 Beecham opened the world's first factory to be built solely for making medicines in St Helens, Lancs. Within a couple of decades, they had been adopted not only throughout Britain and its empire but also in the US and parts of continental Europe, and had the largest sale of any patent medicine in the world.
The production of Beecham's Pills was discontinued in 1998, nine years after The Beecham Group plc and SmithKline Beckman merged to form SmithKline Beecham plc and two years before the new company merged with GlaxoWellcome to form GlaxoSmithKline.
Unfortunately this ghost sign which dominated the southeastern corner of Camberwell Green is now gone too. It was almost completely erased when the gable it was painted on was cleaned a couple of years ago.


Actually Beecham's Pills wasn't the only product advertised on this wall. A close look reveals at least two other sets of letters and a much smaller yellow background. Yet, apart from a few letters, I haven't managed to decipher what was written there.

Location: Denmark Hill / Pictures taken on: 11/04/2008

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