the chemist shop that time forgot

There has been a chemist shop at South Petherton, Somerset since the early 1800s. It belonged to an apothecary and grocer named John Wellington (1774-1845), son of John WELLINGTON (1747-1827), chemist of Chard, and a brother of my great-great-great-grandfather George WELLINGTON (1781-1847), chemist of Yeovil.

John WELLINGTON Jnr married Ann MARTIN in 1807 and had four children. Their three daughters Mary, Sarah Jane and Ann; and a son George William who also became a chemist in Taunton. John was a member of the South Petherton town council and ran a successful business until his death in 1845 at the age of 71.

The business in St. James Street, South Petherton passed to John’s brother George’s son William Edwards WELLINGTON (1813-1850) and then to another son Frederick George Noble WELLINGTON (1824-1887). They were qualified druggists and apothecaries and also sold groceries, tea, wine and spirits in their shop. They had a second business in the nearby town of Martock.

Frederick George Noble WELLINGTON (1824-1887). Chemist of South Petherton, Somerset, England

Frederick George Noble WELLINGTON (1824-1887). Chemist of South Petherton, Somerset, England

When Frederick retired he sold the shop and all its stock to William Charles WHITE in about 1887. W. C. WHITE practiced as a chemist until 1909 and when he died the business passed to his son Charles Edger who was a grocer but not qualified to dispense medicines. The chemist department was abandoned and boarded up behind a locked door, complete with the dispensary and its contents.

Charles WHITE continued as a grocer for several decades, the business then passed to his unmarried daughters Margaret and Eveline who, with the change to decimal currency in 1971, gave up the struggle and upon the death of the surviving sister in 1987 the whole shop came up for sale.

When the door was unlocked an amazing time capsule was discovered. The dispensary, complete with its old balances and scales, medicine jars, bottles and ancient cures, gave a unique glimpse into the life of a Victorian pharmacy.

Mr White's chemist shop as it was found when the door was unlocked in 1987.

White’s chemist shop in South Petherton, as it was found when the door was unlocked in 1987.

The complete contents and fittings of the apothecaries shop was purchased at auction by Flambards Amusement Park in Cornwall and re-assembled in their Victorian Village as close as possible to how it appeared 70 years earlier – with the dust and cobwebs, but without the poisons and more dangerous compounds which were confiscated by the British Home Office.

W. C. Whites Chemist Shop recreated in the Victorian Village at Fambard's Amusement Park in Cornwall.

W. C. White’s chemist shop recreated in the Victorian Village at Flambards Amusement Park in Helston, Cornwall. Photo by John King on http://www.flickr.com

The South Petherton Local History Group owns the archive of accounts and records of White’s pharmacy and general store. I have written to the group asking if they have any documents dating back to when the WELLINGTON family owned the business.

ADDENDUM: I have made contact with the South Petherton Local History Group – you can read more about the life of chemist Frederick George Noble WELLINGTON here.

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Notes: William Edwards WELLINGTON and Frederick George Noble WELLINGTON were the sons of George WELLINGTON, chemist of Yeovil; and brothers to Jane and Susanah WELLINGTON.

Sources: http://www.southpethertoninformation.org.uk, South Petherton Local History Group, Wellingtonia, The History of the Wellington Family, by John Evelyn; GRO Indexes and documents, Pigot’s Directories of Somerset and Dorset 1830 to 1885. Flambards Amusement Park. You can see and listen to the story of apothecary William White’s lost time capsule at Flambards at this Youtube link.

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11 thoughts on “the chemist shop that time forgot

  1. You have given us a great insight to the days of our family and done so in a very interesting way. Thank you for sharing it with us as I would never have found out much about the Wellingtons.

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  5. So it’s been more than a year Susan, have you ever heard back from the SP historical group? We have a similar exhibit here in Indianapolis of a 19th c druggists’ store. It used to be at the State Fair Grounds and operated as a Museum where they actually kept the soda fountain (ice cream store and lunch counter) open to help fund the upkeep. But the neighborhood near the fairgrounds became too unsafe to have lots of visitors. It’s been moved now to a museum proper, which is kind of unfortunate since they don’t use the soda fountain anymore. Visitors just have to imagine having a sundae or malt there 😦

    • Hi Kassie, I have not had a reply from the South Petherton Historical group, thanks for the reminder, I will chase them up again. Very interesting that you have an American 19th century druggists store. A shame the soda fountain is not in operation, seems to me that would be a very interesting exhibit for the kids and oldies alike. I grew up in country Australia and we should go in to town with mum once a month and have lunch at the local cafe, and if we were very well behaved she would buy us a malted milkshake or an ice-cream sundae. Fantastic memories. Sue

      • Woohoo! I followed up with the South Petherton Historical Group and two lovely ladies, both named Liz, got back to me overnight. I will include the new info they provided in a linked post.

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