Beecham’s Pills – do the Trick!

2nd July 2018 — 23 Comments

The news today ( June 25th 2018 ) that a war-time British chaplain nicknamed ‘Woodbine Willie’ gave troops ‘one final gasper’ to sick and dying soldiers on the frontline grasped my attention. And reminded me of my childhood.

Woodbines, which were strong and unfiltered, were not widely available on the Western Front and were considered as gold dust in the trenches. The cigarette’s classic, intricate green and orange packets featured heavily in my childhood memories. They were primarily aimed at the working man and my father’s tab of choice. And that news report was the catalyst for this post, which has nothing to do with metal detecting.


Beecham’s Pills

A long, long time ago when I was but a lad growing up in a County Durham mining village, I was conscious of the fact that my parents – and it seemed everybody else’s mam and dad – were very concerned about something called ‘inner cleanliness’. As well as taking their Carter’s Little Liver Pills and Dr White’s Compo, they were also ardent supporters of Mr Beecham’s renowned pills.

Can you remember them in the cute round ‘worth a guinea a box?’ Perhaps not. He declared that they cured constipation, headaches, dizziness or swimming in the head, wind, pain, spasms in the stomach, pains in the back, restlessness, insomnia, indigestion, want of appetite, maladies of indiscretion, urinary disorders, menstrual derangements etcetera, etcetera. And I haven’t included everything! Why they are not still available at the chemists I don’t know! We had a parody we used to sing about this ‘quackery’.


The advertising slogan, ‘Worth a guinea a box,’ was taken from an unsolicited testimonial and in 1912 they were sold for just over a shilling per box. The success of the product was greatly assisted by the sheer magnitude of the marketing and the fact that advertising at the time was uncontrolled.

Beecham’s Pills.1890 advert. The Great English Remedy. CLICK to ENLARGE

The British Medical Association analysed the pills and found them to consist of aloes, ginger and soap; the ingredients cost rather less than an old penny. After over 150 years, production finally stopped in 1998. Many other proprietary medicines went the same way.

I’m reminded of the term ‘Snake Oil’ referring to worthless medicine substances and should be familiar to you if, like me, you watched so many Gene Autry, Lone Ranger and Hopalong Cassidy films at the Saturday matinee. There always seemed to be a travelling medicine man rolling into town and putting on a show. In the past I have written about this quackery. ( See A Detectorists Medical Quackery Find,  Dr Scholl’s Foot Eazer,  A Necklace and Sugar Plums,  and Harlene for the Hair )

But it couldn’t happen today, could it? Yes.

Tesco and Snake Oil

I understand that Tesco is no longer selling this product

The giant supermarket Tesco is encouraging its customers to buy snake oil. Well no, not exactly – just ‘snake liquid’. I was looking at the ‘Healthy Living’ section on their website and was directed to a US company called ‘Wild Earth Animal Essences’. And guess what? They are selling not only snake liquid, but also bear, beaver, bison, butterfly and every other animal liquid. I was so worried about the wanton slaughter of so many animals, but was reassured to read that no animal parts were used, not even the reproductive ones that Chinese men seem to prefer. And what do the liquids do? Err … they ‘help people around the world deepen their connection with themselves’. Yup, that’s what I thought too!



The long awaited book by Karen is due to be published soon. Can’t wait. You can check it out and pre-order HERE.

I am really excited about the publication of my latest medieval thriller, A GATHERING OF GHOSTS on September 6th. It’s set in 1316, in the wild landscape of Dartmoor, which few travellers dared to cross for fear of being attacked by outlaws or drowning in the sucking mires … Karen


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23 responses to Beecham’s Pills – do the Trick!

  1. I love the little ditty that went with the pills John But I cannot say that I have ever seen or even heard of the Beecham’s Pills…

    Castor oil or cod live oil was my mothers weapon of choice!!!LOL

    And I am looking forward to reading Karen’s book too.

    thank you



  2. We always had some Beechams Pills in the kitchen drawer,
    but considering they were made in my home town, small wonder, but my mums fix all for inner cleanliness was syrup of figs, yuk, eye of a needle comes to mind.
    Regards Vince.

  3. Good one John maybe similar to Doans Pills here in the states

  4. Maybe.
    I’ve never heard of them.

  5. What a cracking blog John,

    Thank you for bringing back so many memories. I remember all of the products mentioned, you missed out Andrews Liver Salts, which I used to take after a heavy night out on the Cameron’s Strongarm or the Newcastle Brown Ale. It invariably made me sick as well as not getting rid of the hangovers.

    As for the Woody Woodbine, I remember a corner shop near to my Secondary School in Hartlepool where you could by them in singles or my usual was to purchase three at a time, if I was flush.

    As a Plumber, I have found a lot of those Woodbine packets under floorboards, as soon as I see one it brings back the memories.

    We were given Beecham’s Pills every day without fail and I believe that they made me the man I am today and if you believe that, you will believe anything.

    Ok folks, I’m off to take my Snake Oil then I’m off to the park to connect with my inner self or even my dog.

    Thanks for the blog John.

    • Ah yes, Andrew’s Liver Salts. My parents had a some every morning.
      As a kid I liked to lean over the glass and experience the effervescent bobbles exploding up and tickling my nose!

  6. billfromlachine 2nd July 2018 at 8:21 PM

    Enjoyed the post. I don’t recall those pills but remember my father taking the carter liver pills as a kid.

    Regards + HH

  7. I used to do exactly the same John.

  8. John from Ontario (AKA Geobound) 2nd July 2018 at 10:01 PM

    To a lesser extent I think our equivalent here would have been Alka-Setzer pills……or at least used to cure upset stomachs.

    It came with it’s own little jingle……Plop Plop, Fiz Fiz, oh what a relief it is.

    Of course my mom was still big on cod liver oil to “get you moving” in the morning…….ewwww…….

  9. Love to hear about the old stuff never heard of Beecham’s Pills but I seem to recall Beecham’s Powder.

  10. Oh frabjous blog! Gave me such a good laugh! Woodbine Willie: may he rest in peace! You reminded me of a prank from my mother’s childhood wherein a child would enter a tobacconist, enquire whether they had any Wild Woodbine, and on the reply “yes” would retort “well tame it!” then run off. I don’t remember Beecham’s pills but it turns out that that most famous poet from my home town wrote an advertising ditty for them… yes McGonagall himself!

    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.

    What ho! indeed… the rest is here…

    “…deepen their connection with themselves…” absolute belter! Thanks for that alone! Wonderful load of old monkey glands! Cheers John!

  11. J.W. you have done it again. ” Done what”, says he. Woken up one of my oldest memories,
    my mother just about fed us on Beechams Pills. The funny thing is, they were easy enough to take. Thank you John.

  12. only heard of beacham’s powders but woodbines were smokeable if I couldn’t afford Guards (poor school kid)
    molasses was another parental abuse

  13. I hope you’re doing well John. How can I contact you? Thanks.

  14. My Gran always used to slap a kaolin poultice on my chest if ever I coughed!

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