In our last post, Jeremy talked about the site of H. F. Stevens, wholesale druggist, on Worcester Street near Cathedral Square. We excavated the site in 2011 and found a number of artefacts, including the Udolpho Wolfe’s bottles featured last week. We also found a range of other pharmaceutical remedies, local and international in origin, and a few household artefacts. These artefacts let us catch a glimpse of what went on inside a successful wholesale pharmaceutical company in Edwardian Christchurch.
One of the artefact deposits exposed during our excavation of the H. F. Stevens site on Worcester Street. Image: Matt Carter
H. F. Stevens. Image: Jeremy Moyle.
Henry Francis Stevens established himself as a wholesale druggist in 1887. It’s not clear whether he had any official medical or pharmaceutical training before he began his business , but his father, George, had been a dispensing apothecary in England. It’s quite likely that Henry gained some experience with the distribution and retail of pharmaceutical products as a result of his father’s occupation and applied it to his fledgling business in Christchurch.
Initially, Stevens operated out of a building at 112 Manchester Street, but shifted to premises at 138 Cashel Street in the early 1890s. Finally, in 1906, he moved again, this time to a large custom-built building in Worcester Street, a prime location in the heart of the Christchurch’s central business district. The new building was designed by local architect Alfred Henry Hart, who died fairly soon after its construction, in 1908. Described as having an “elaborate Edwardian façade” (Christchurch City Libraries), the building was laid out with a warehouse and yard to the rear and offices and a service counter at the front of the building. Stevens employed a number of clerks and assistants in the business, who would have filled these offices and manned the counter every day.
Stevens was a successful businessman, something we can see in the numerous advertisements for his products in the newspapers of the time. These ads tell us that he sold and distributed all kinds of things, from culinary essences, scented oils and shampoo to cures for dyspepsia, coughs, headaches and various other ailments. Products like Golden Valley Ointment, Wilson’s Pepsin and Cascara, Hendy’s Celebrated Juleptia for the Hair and Loasby’s Mighty Cough Cure were all available ‘wholesale from H. F. Stevens’.
Advertisement for Golden Valley Ointment, a skin remedy stocked by H. F. Stevens. Image: Press, 1916.
During our archaeological investigation of the site, a range of domestic and commercial artefacts were found, including a toothpaste pot, food-related objects, animal bones and soda water and alcohol bottles, as well as a large number of pharmaceutical and cosmetic containers. This is typical of the range of artefacts found during the archaeological excavation of late 19th and early 20th century businesses in Christchurch.
Some of the artefacts found at the H. F. Stevens site. From left to right are three Symington’s Coffee and Chicory bottles, an Udolpho Wolfe’s Aromatic Schnapps bottle and a small ceramic bottle of Stephen’s Ink. Image: Jeremy Moyle.
The pharmaceutical bottles and cosmetic products found would have been stocked in the H. F. Stevens warehouse and sold, along with items like the toothpaste pot. A number of different ink brands were excavated, including Stephens Ink, Fields Ink and Antoine’s ‘Encre Japonaise’. These were almost certainly used by the clerks employed by Stevens, as they recorded incoming and outgoing goods and kept the accounts of his thriving business. It’s possible that the soda water bottles (sometimes known as aerated water) were also being sold on the premises, but it’s equally possible that they were being drunk by Stevens or his employees during their working day.
Anchovy paste jar found at the H. F. Stevens site. The label reads “ANCHOVY PASTE / For SANDWICHES. / BY APPOINTMENT / PURVEYORS to / Her MAJESTY. / PREPARED BY/ CROSSE & BLACKWELL / ESTABLISHED / IN 1706 / 21.SOHO SQUARE. / LONDON”. Image: Jeremy Moyle.
And what about the food-related artefacts found at the site? These included a platter, a tureen and an egg cup, as well as the bones from several meals, a jar of anchovy paste and salad oil and Worcestershire sauce bottles. While the last three products may have been sold by H. F. Stevens, the presence of the other meal debris suggests that meals may have been served at the building. Not enough is known about the company to know whether they may have served their employees meals, or whether they may have had functions for the directors on the premises.
Although we found numerous pharmaceutical bottles at the site, only a few were labelled with a product name. These included cosmetic and so-called medicinal products such as Bonnington’s Irish Moss, Eno’s Fruit Salts, Barry’s Pearl Cream and Resinol. Both Bonnington’s Irish Moss and Eno’s Fruit Salts may be a familiar names to many, as they’re still made today.
Bonnington’s was created by George Bonnington in Christchurch in the 1870s and sold throughout the following decades for the relief of coughs, colds and other respiratory illnesses, while Eno’s Fruit Salts were marketed as an antacid or remedy for gastrointestinal complaints. Resinol and Barry’s Pearl Cream, on the other hand, were both cosmetic products. Resinol (“for a fresh and velvety complexion!”) was created in Baltimore, Maryland, by Dr Merville Hamilton Carter, while Barry’s Pearl Cream (“for an alabaster complexion!”) was first made by an American named Alexander Barry, in New York.
One of the most interesting things about the pharmaceutical bottles from the site is that no advertisements were found in newspapers of the time connecting H. F. Stevens with these products. This is despite the many, many, advertisements found in contemporary newspapers for products sold by Stevens. This contrast between the archaeological and historical record highlights the power of archaeology to provide us with information about a site or a business that might be missing from the historical record.
Although we didn’t find many artefacts from this site, they did tell us some things about H. F. Stevens’s business that we weren’t aware of. From products we didn’t know he stocked to information about the daily activities of the people he employed, the archaeology revealed some of the little pieces of history that had been lost from our records and, in doing so, enriched our understanding of this site and its place in Edwardian Christchurch.
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