Before the National Health Service and free prescriptions, healthcare wasn’t affordable by everyone so the local chemist was an invaluable source of advice and medicines.
James Hill, the owner of this shop, was a ‘dispensing chemist’. The Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland certified James to sell medicine and dispense prescriptions. However, it was not unusual for chemists to trade in a wide variety of other products including oil, paint and sheep dip.
He traded in an era of poverty, poor diets, no antibiotics, little sanitation and poor housing. The Strabane Fever Hospital had serious cases of scarlet fever, diphtheria, polio and tuberculosis. Coughs, colds and bronchitis were common. A chemist’s shop like James Hill’s was often the only accessible and affordable source of healthcare.
James lived above the shop in Castle Street, Strabane, County Tyrone with his wife Rebecca Ann. Also living here were his three children, John McAdam, James Rowland, Margaret Ann and a general servant called Mary Kearney.
Around 5,500 people lived in Strabane in the early 1900s. It was ‘an enterprising market town’ with a flax, pork, butter and grain market and regular fairs. It also had a shirt factory, railway links with Derry, Belfast, Dublin and Donegal. Goods also travelled by canal to Derry.
A firm from Liverpool called Messrs Evans, Sons & Company supplied the rosewood mahogany fittings and English plate mirrors for the interior of the shop.
Glass bottles called shop rounds contain different liquids. Stored in the drug run behind the counter, with its painted and gilded glass labels are roots and powdered chemicals.