back home NMNI HOME
  • explore /
  • engage /
  • enjoy

Hill's Chemist, Strabane

Hill's chemist, Strabane Ulster American Folk Park collectionEstablished in Castle Street, Strabane between 1870 and 1885, the business of J Hill and Co. was listed under “Apothecaries and Druggists” and continued to operate as a chemist shop until the late 1980's.

As well as the shopfront, the shop’s original fittings and furnishings were preserved intact.  They have been used to reinstate the interior of J Hill & Co. as it was around 1900.

Pill machine

On display in Hills Chemist, part of Social History collection at the Ulster American Folk Park.

Why is this pill machine so important?

Hill’s Chemist at the Ulster American Folk Park offers an insight into the day-to-day life of an Ulster pharmacist of the 1900s. With no health service, this important establishment was sometimes the only accessible and affordable source of healthcare for many as doctors cost money!
 
OMAFP-1982-290_800-(1).jpgJames Hill lived and worked in his chemist shop in Strabane, from where he provided much needed advice to customers on their ailments and complaints.

Like other chemists at this time, he made his own pills using a mahogany and brass pill-making machine and cutter.

Medicinal powders had the disadvantage that many of them had an unpleasant taste. So the ingredients were mixed in a pill mortar with liquorice powder and some liquid glucose to form a firm but pliable mass. This was then rolled into lengths and placed on the lower brass grooves of the pill machine. The two-handled cutter was then pushed to and fro making spherical pills. The final shape of the pill was achieved by rolling them on a tile under a boxwood rounder.
 
As a young child Anna Holden, James Hill’s granddaughter, remembers how the trainee chemists in her grandfather’s shop would tell her that they were making ‘hobgoblins’ possibly to stop her thinking the pills they were making were sweets!
 
Some of the cures these pills claimed to treat might be based more often on luck than science, as many of the ingredients found on a Victorian chemist’s shelf would not be prescribed today but looked upon with horror.

What should you look out for when you go to see this?


The mahogany and brass runner and cutter and other pill-making equipment like the mortar and pestle and boxwood rounder.
 
Image caption: Brass and mahogany pill making machine
 

Green fluted ‘shop round’


On display in Hills Chemist, part of Social History collection at the Ulster American Folk Park.

Why is this green fluted ‘shop round’ so important?

green_fluted_shop_round_800.jpgKnown as ‘shop rounds’ these elegantly designed bottles had a functional purpose. They were displayed for all to see on the shelves of the chemist shop and were used to store ingredients.

Green glass bottles with moulded vertical lines were used for poisons; the ribbing was a warning that it contained liquid not to be taken orally. In an era of softer lighting this made these fluted bottles a lot easier to identify at a touch. If the pharmacist or his assistant was in a hurry they were less likely to make a mistake!

What should you look out for when you go to see this?

The ribbed lines on the bottle to warn that the contents are dangerous.

Carboy


On display in Hills Chemist, part of Social History collection at the Ulster American Folk Park.

Why is this carboy so important?


By 1900 larger sheets of plate window glass were available enabling James Hill to make an attractive window display.  His shop window was greatly admired, ‘...brilliantly illuminated at night by gaslight’, the shop window display of bottles were ‘placed there regardless of cost’. Contemporary Strabane newspaper.

Carboy.jpgWhen literacy levels were low the distinct shape of the pear shaped carboy helped people to come to the right place in an emergency. The carboys in the window of Hill’s chemist were probably originally used to store wine or rosewater for medicinal purposes. By 1900s they were filled with coloured water and used as purely decorative items.

What should you look out for when you go to see this?

The elegant shape of the carboy even today is a recognised of the chemist Some historians believe that they became more important during outbreaks of the plague in the 1600s. People needed to reach pharmacists quickly and literacy levels were low, the carboys were used as a guide.