BHAS logoThe Bradford Antiquary

James Warburton, Apothecary of Wibsey: Notebook 1785-1788

Christine Alvin

(First published in 1999 in volume 7, pp. 47-54, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)

In the 1780's Bradford was a growing town of around 4,500 inhabitants, surrounded by the villages which were to be absorbed into it as industrialisation transformed the area. The first directory for Bradford was published in 1792, and among the town's principal inhabitants were listed a physician, eight surgeons, and a druggist.1 However, sources such as the accounts of local Overseers of the Poor for the areas Surrounding Bradford show that there were several other medical practitioners of various kinds treating the poor of these communities as part of their professional duties. Such records are generally sparse and lacking in detail, but the notebook of James Warburton of Wibsey contains a wealth of unique material relating to the health and welfare of the inhabitants of that area.

Joseph Warburton, James' father, had been an apothecary in Wibsey since the 1750's. He had moved there from Low Moor where the family had been established since early in the seventeenth century, apparently marrying into the Threapland family who were also connected with the medical profession.2 James Threapland Warburton (1755 - 1820), the author of the notebook, was the second of five generations of medical practitioners in Wibsey. The surviving notebook, a little leather-bound volume measuring 7" by 3", covers the period from mid-1785 to late 1788, and records his day to day visits and treatments of patients in the area around Wibsey.

An impression of the health of the community in and around Wibsey at this time can be gained from the records of Holy Trinity Church at Wibsey. From January 1787 to December 1788 there were 98 burials recorded, including 43 children. Of these, 17 adults were weavers, 8 of whom were classed as poor; 4 were farmers, and 6 were labourers. Others were from a range of occupations - innkeeper, joiner, butcher, blacksmith, etc., and 20 had no occupation given; of these, 12 were paupers. There were 27 children under 7 years of age buried, and 16 aged over 7; 17 of these were the children of weavers, 6 the children of farmers, and 4 the children of colliers.3

Wibsey is thus shown to have been a mixed settlement of small tenant farmers, weavers working in their own cramped cottages but not always earning an adequate living, and other people supporting the basic needs of the villagers. It was also an area 'dotted with coal and ironstone pits … a progressive spread of mine workings' from much earlier times.4 The large number of deaths of children, especially those under seven, whilst not excessive for the period, suggests that it was not a prosperous and healthy community.

James Warburton was not registered as a member by the Society of Apothecaries in London. This was a common situation for provincial practitioners, who saw no value in membership of an organisation so remote from their place of work. Nor was he listed as a member of any other medical or scientific organisation.5 He was probably apprenticed to his father Joseph, whilst later he taught his own son, also called James, who began practising as an apothecary just before the Apothecaries Act of 1815, which introduced more stringent system of membership and education for the medical profession. The apprenticeship of sons to fathers was a practical and economical way of learning the trade of apothecary, which avoided the need to pay premiums. Although the misuse of apprentices as mere shop-boys and cheap labour was reputedly common, there is no reason to suppose that James Warburton was not as well-trained and competent as any apothecary of his time, treating the majority of the population who could not afford the services of the more highly trained surgeons and physicians. He and his family were well-established in their area; it is impossible to tell what competition he had, from the paucity of records, but his regular employment by the Overseers of the Poor is an indication of his skills, as is the breadth of the area which he covered to treat his private patients. Wyke, Horton, Clayton, and Bankfoot were among the places he visited. On more than one occasion, however, Warburton mentions calling in Dr Mossman, the Bradford physician, to take over or advise on treatment. He was aware of the limitations of his expertise.

Warburton's expertise is shown by his use of a wide range of the remedies available at the time. He also prescribed the Sanle drug selectively in different forms, to suit the patient or the illness. For example Peruvian Bark (quinine, used for fevers or as a tonic) was prescribed in powder form (in 'chartulas' whereby the powder was enclosed in a wafer to make it more palatable and easier to take), as a decoction made with water, or as various alcohol based tinctures mixed with other drugs. He used some drugs in ready-prepared form as supplied by the wholesale druggist, such as Dr James' Fever Powder (Pulv. Jacobus), a popular remedy containing antimony, or Plummers' Pills, which contained mercury. Where the ingredients of a prescription were listed by Warburton they are similar to those found in pharmacopreias in use at the time, such as Lewis's New Dispensatory of 1781. He also appears to have collected new treatments. A 'Pectoral Mixture' for chest complaints, with six ingredients and aniseed flavouring, and 'Less Mixture', which was a stomach remedy composed of caraway, turmeric, cumin, ginger and peppers, are on a page of the notebook facing his list of 'Druggs bought of Mr John Key' beginning 4 Jan 1786, suggesting that the remedies were recommended by the druggist or perhaps by one of Warburton's professional colleagues met whilst on a visit to Bradford.

John Key was the only druggist listed in the 1792 Bradford directory, and was probably the source of drugs for all the local practitioners.6 Records of Warburton's account with him cover only five months; 31 items which he bought can be deciphered, but several are illegible and others are simply under the heading of 'other druggs'. On some occasions his list of purchases is specific and long, at other times he bought only one item, implying that he did not keep large stocks of some drugs, or that some did not have long 'shelf-lives'.

Warburton's education as an apothecary included the use of Latin. He used it both in the traditional itemising of ingredients, where his Latin was neither consistent nor accurate, and in his instructions for the dosages to be taken by patients, where these were included. William Buchan, the author of Domestic Medicine first published in 1769, described his own remedies for home preparation as being 'as effectual and salutary as if they had been written in the jargon of apothecaries' Latin, accompanied with all their barbarous hieroglyphics'.7 But Warburton's use of Latin, in a private notebook not designed to impress his patients but as a working aide-memoire, would seem to be good evidence of his thorough apprenticeship. His only 'barbarous hieroglyphics' are the symbols routinely used by doctors and pharmacists until recent times, but his writing, no doubt done quickly and under awkward conditions, suggests that the notorious illegibility of doctors' handwriting has a firm foundation in history.

Warburton's notebook appears to have been used only for his records of home visits. It is impossible to tell what proportion of his work that involved, but his shop and over-the-counter sales must also have been an important source of income. Strictly speaking an apothecary was only allowed to charge for his medicines, not for visits or advice, but his accounts show that he did in fact charge for these. Had he been seen as a professional threat by a local surgeon or physician he could have been taken to court and fined for making such charges.

Records in the notebook are randomly arranged, other than those for the Workhouse, with sometimes several patients on a page, at other times a chronological series of entries for one patient or family. His accounting methods appear haphazard. Some accounts were paid off in small amounts, reducing the bill until the patient's next illness raised the amount owed again. Smaller accounts appear to have been paid on the apothecary's next visit, but many are not crossed off; perhaps they were carried over into the next notebook (in one case this is specified), or perhaps they were in effect free, a common practice with many practitioners treating poor patients. There is an account from a later date on a separate slip of paper which shows the long delays which could occur between treatment and payment; the bill for David Haley of Horton covered the period from January 1796 to August 1798, by which time he owed Warburton 5s. 8d. Only the payments for his Workhouse patients, mainly listed on eight pages of the book, were calculated and paid quarterly. In the case of one family Warburton accepted hog's lard, the basis for ointments, in payment towards his bill.

Little definite information has been published on the fees and charges of apothecaries. More is available on those of surgeon-apothecaries, such as William Carr, practising in Eiland in 1788. He listed in his diary mostly fees for the surgery he undertook, which was far more complex than James Warburton would have attempted, but comparable procedures included:

William Carr8 James Warburton
Applying a seton or issue 2s.6d. 8d.
Simple fracture of the arm 1 gn. 3s.0d (including spirits etc.)
Bleeding 10s.6d. 2d.
Consultation ½gn. minimum 2d.
Abscess 2s.6d. 6d. (including salve etc.)

A realistic view of Warburton's fees is gained by relating them to wages and costs in the same period; thus woolsorters and combers earned about 12s. per week, weavers 8s. to 9s, a labourer slightly less, and a servant around 6d. per day. The accounts of Allerton/Thornton workhouse in 1779 give the prices of some basic commodities: sugar at 8d. per lb, salt at 1¾d. per lb, soap at 6½d. per lb, and veal at 2½d.-3d. per lb.9

Warburton's fee for a visit or advice could be as low as 2d. or 3d, but these were rarely listed separately from the medicines prescribed at the visit, therefore it is not possible to work out whether he had a scale calculated on distance or patient's income. Many of his fees for treatment, for example bleeding, tooth drawing, or applying dressings, were also as low as 2d. His charges for medicines likewise began as low as 2d; even an expensive item such as 'a large Decoct P. Cort' (peruvian bark or quinine was a new and costly remedy) was only 1s, although to John Peel who had six such decoctions during Apri11788, plus other medicines, such expense must have seemed considerable.

It is rarely possible to identify Warburton's private patients' status or occupation; nor is it easy to identify their illnesses. Though he frequently prescribed laxatives and purges, these were not necessarily to cure digestive problems or counteract the effects of a poor diet. They were a method of eliminating what were regarded at the time as bad humors from the body, and were the basis of most treatments, whatever the perceived ills. Often several drugs were combined in one treatment, their relative quantities determining the end result. Many drugs had several different uses, such as the root of Black Hellebore (Rad Hellebore, also referred to as Melampodis), which Warburton prescribed several times. Depending on quantity and mode of preparation this could be either a drastic purgative or a drug to restore menstruation; his purpose in using it is not clear.

One family whose status and illnesses can be identified is that of Squire Tordoff, the Wibsey butcher. The first entry in his account is for Worm Powders, and a later entry is for 'Ind Pink', another vermifuge. Other items suggest that the family was prone to illness and especially stomach complaints, and shortly after the date at which the notebook ended a six year old son of the family died. Otherwise only a small number of entries in the notebook are for named disorders, such as a treatment for piles, for 'the gripes', and for 'a slow fever'. In many other cases 'a febrifuge' was prescribed with no details of the fever which it was intended to cure, nor of the constituents of the medicine. Similarly an 'Anodyne Mixture' or 'Anodyne Drops' gives no indication of the cause of the pain for which they were prescribed, nor again of the ingredients, though on other occasions Warburton did prescribe specifically 'Thebaic Gut' (opium drops), or 'Thebaic Tincture' (opium in alcohol, also known as laudanum), presumably for pain relief.

Generally Warburton's pages are filled with lists of treatments and costs, but not of ingredients or illnesses. The account for Jonathan Wigglesworth is a typical example:

1788 Oct 24th a cordial mixture 1s.2d.,
a bottle of drops 4d. a bolus 2d. 1s.8d.
27th Mixt rep 1s.2d. Bolus 2d. 1s.4d.
29th Mixture and Draught 1s.4d.
Nov 1 Mixture and Draught rep. 1s.4d.
Embrocations 8d.
Draught rep 2d.
Nov 7 Mixture repeated 1s.2d.

This amount of information indicates nothing more definite than a short term acute illness, and is the pattern for many of his entries. Occasional pages are however filled with the ingredients of prescriptions, often without the cost, such as his remedy for 'the Gripes' (stomach pains), for William Tordoff of Low Moor, which also shows the complexity of some of the medicines:

Aq Font 3½ oz [Spring water]
Sp Nitri Dulc Gut 4 drops [Dulcified spirit of Nitre, irritating to the stomach]
Ol Lavend comp 1 drachm[Oil of lavender, a sedative and painkiller]
Vol Aromat ½ drachm [Volatile ammonia compound, an alkali]
TR Thebaic gut 30 drops [Tincture of opium, or Laudanum, a painkiller]
Ol Carui gut 16 drops [Caraway, for colic and griping pains]
Syr Spin Cervi 1½ oz [Buckthorn, a powerful laxative]
Cap coch unam omni hora pro re nata [let him take one (dose) every hour when required].

Apart from the few named illnesses, his patients were troubled with complaints requiring eye washes, skin disorders (including the very common problem of 'the itch' or scabies, requiring sulphur ointments and fumigations), liniments and salves for wounds, bruises and leg ulcers, clysters (an unpleasant, drastic, but effective form of enema) and a multiplicity of un-named decoctions, electuaries, pills and powders. But it is the use of purgatives including rhubarb, senna, jalap, and Red Pills (aloes with myrrh), alone or combined, which stands out from the pages of the notebook.

Warburton does not, however, appear to have been a great believer in the 'heroic' remedies, commonly used by physicians of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, which were characterised by repeated bleeding, and immense quantities of drugs composed of heavy metals. Such drugs included antimony, which was a constituent of Dr James' Fever Powder already mentioned, but this is only named once in his notebook. Another was mercury, which Warburton did use in different forms, although infrequently. Whether it was used by him for venereal disease, with which it is notoriously associated, for serious skin disorders, or purely as yet another drastic purgative cannot be determined. He rarely practised bleeding, but his other surgical procedures included tooth drawing, 'Sewing' (an unspecified part of the body) and 'Sowing knee'. It must also be added that Warburton, like other practitioners, treated animals; he charged for a 'Cow drink' and for a Soap Liniment for a horse. Pharmacopreias routinely included treatments for animals, which were often the same as for humans, but on a larger scale. He also supplied Ink (which was also listed in the pharmacopreias, being made of many of the same ingredients as prescribed drugs), and a large quantity of arsenic, presumably for control of vermin.

A final example from his private patients shows the effort Warburton made when treating a patient suffering from what must have been an acute illness. Grace Tordoff was the daughter of John Tordoff, who was probably a local farmer [See Appendix]. Warburton had at least three patients with this name, but other evidence, such as payments made with large quantities of hogs' lard, suggests that this was the farming family of that name. They had sufficient money to pay for regular treatment: their accounts, when pieced together, cover two pages and add up to well over £2. Beginning on March 11th, Grace was treated with an unspecified mixture and drops, and three days later with an anodyne, or pain-killing, julep. The following day Warburton went for Dr Mossman in Bradford, charging 9d. for his journey, and Grace received four further remedies: a stomachic mixture, a bottle of carminative drops, a cordial draught, and a box of opening pills. Thereafter she had until April 14th a total of five tinctures, five draughts of various kinds, more pills, and two doses of vitriolic ether, possibly to relieve pain. On April 15th she was given a large tincture of Peruvian Bark in addition to Hellebore Root, a combination which Lewis's Dispensatory recommends,

… particularly where the juices are sluggish and tenacious, the viscera and abdominal glands obstructed, the bark by itself proves unsuccessful, if not injurious; whilst given in conjunction with corroborant stomachics and deobstruents [i.e. Hellebore root], it rarely fails of the due effect.

A week passed before Grace received a further treatment of Bark and Aromatic Tincture, another stomach remedy. There was then a respite until May 13th when she had a cathartic julep to make her vomit, and a cordial mixture. There are no further entries relating to this period of illness, so presumably all was well. The cost of the treatments was £1 9s.3d, in addition to Dr Mossman's unrecorded fees.

James Warburton's Workhouse accounts cover eight pages of the notebook for the period from the end of March 1787 to the end of October 1788. There are also separate accounts for individuals or families headed either 'Workhouse' or 'On the Town's accompt', which mostly pre-date this period, possibly indicating pauper patients who were still in their own dwellings but having rent and other essentials paid for by the Overseers of the Poor. Alternatively there may have been a change in the Overseers method of employing Warburton at this time, but the accounts in the Bowling Township Book (the joint owners of the Workhouse with North Bierley) are not normally sufficiently detailed to show individual payments; North Bierley accounts have not survived.10 During this nineteen month period Warburton's charges amounted to £8 12s.8½d. He visited the workhouse 192 times, and treated 52 people plus over 20 of their wives and children. Seven of the paupers named in the notebook died during this period, according to the Parish registers.11

Warburton rarely listed details of his treatments of paupers: 'A box of Pills' or 'a Julep & Ung't' are the normal type of entry, and it is not always clear for whom they were prescribed. Purgatives were again commonly used; bleeding, extracting teeth, and opening and dressing abscesses are mentioned several times. Frequent liniments and embrocations suggest a high proportion of elderly rheumatic patients. In December 1787 there are several remedies for coughs and bronchitic conditions; three of the burials in the Parish Registers are listed for the middle of that month. One of his patients during that month, Grace Tordoff, was prescribed what appears to be 'Infusion Milipes & Lin Camph'. An infusion of millipedes was a traditional remedy for severe coughs, though by the late eighteenth century was no longer in the pharmacopreias. The camphor liniment was probably more effective, and Grace did not die, but the frequency and diversity of her treatments throughout the Workhouse accounts suggest that she was never very well. Another unusual treatment appears only in the Workhouse records. Warburton refers to setting a 'rowel' for Hannah Priestley and 'Roweling' W.P; a month later 'W.P gave over comeing with his rowel' and later Warburton 'took Hannah Priestley Rowel out'. A routine procedure at this time was the making of an artificial ulcer or 'issue' to form an open drain to carry off noxious humors or pus, or sometimes as an additional drain for the widely-occurring complaint of leg ulcers. A seton was similar, using threads pulled through and left in a fold of skin to cause suppuration. A rowel was a procedure used in farriery for the same purpose, so it can only be assumed that Warburton used this term in error.

Warburton also supplied the Workhouse with 4lbs of white arsenic during a two month period. Whilst arsenic had several medicinal uses, these quantities suggest that a serious problem with vermin was probably the reason for the supply.

Warburton's treatment of the paupers seems to have been no less conscientious than that of his private patients. There are several names recurring throughout the accounts which suggest elderly patients suffering from chronic illness or repeated episodes of ill health. Others are families who perhaps had been reduced to temporary poverty or who failed to survive on an inadequate wage, and whose health suffered as a result.

An example of the latter was James Wilkinson's family, who had 22 items of medicine and treatments from Warburton, costing a total of 13s.9d. Their name first appears prior to the continuous Workhouse account, but under the heading of 'Workhouse', when in January 1878 they had a 'Fumigation &c', at a cost of 4d, 'Plumber's [sic] Pills', and 'Cinnabar', all of which indicate a severe attack of scabies. Brimstone was used for fumigating clothes and rooms in both scabies and other infections, and mercury preparations (Plummers' Pills and Cinnabar, which was the name for sulphide of mercury) were used for obstinate cases of scabies. In July 1878 James Wilkinson, his wife and child, began to appear regularly amongst the other Workhouse patients for a variety of treatments, including more sulphur, but with nothing to suggest other than minor problems.

There is no evidence that Warburton was expected to prescribe cheaper drugs for his pauper patients, although this was a common method used by Overseers to economise. His use of various forms of Peruvian Bark was as frequent as for his private patients, and on the few occasions he wrote out the ingredients of a prescription, they were as complex as elsewhere. His Workhouse accounts also show that he called on Dr Mossman's help twice, just as he did for his other patients. It is unfortunate that nothing like this notebook appears to have been recorded elsewhere, whereby a comparison between his work, and the liberality of the Overseers, could be made with other townships.

James Warburton died in 1820 at the age of 64, probably still working as an apothecary, with his son to assist and take over from him. By that time the Society of Apothecaries had begun the process of raising the status and training of their members above that of tradesmen. They began to be integrated with the rest of the medical profession, until, with the double qualification of apothecary and surgery, which James Warburton's grandson acquired, they became the nineteenth century's general practitioners - a role which Warburton was already fulfilling in all but title in the 1780's.

James Warburton's notebook is unique as a record of a short period in Bradford's medical history. Much of it cannot with certainty be interpreted: his abbreviations, alterations, scribbled 'barbarous hieroglyphics', and the fact that it was never intended for anything other than his own personal use, all conspire to defy translation, but much remains to give a picture of life, and death, in Wibsey over two hundred years ago.


1. The Universal British Directory,1792, reproduced in the Bradford Library Quarterly Record, July, 1907. (back)

2. Parker, J., Illustrated rambles from Hipperholme to Tong. Bradford, Bradford, 1904. p.148.
Carpenter, S.H., 'A Wibsey medical family', Bradford Antiquary, 3rd Series(4), 1989, pp.53-60, gives much greater information about the Warburton family.
The Notebook is in the Bradford Archives collection, catalogue number MMC 17. (back)

3. Wibsey Holy Trinity Parish records, 1780 - 1812, Baptisms and Burials., Bradford Archives, 18D79/1/1/C. (back)

4. Richardson, C., A geography of Bradford. University of Bradford, 1976. Chapter 5 on the coal and iron industry demonstrates the extent to which these processes affected the area in and around Wibsey. (back)

5. Wallis, P.J. and R.V., Eighteenth century medics (subscriptions, licences, apprenticeships). Newcastle-upon- Tyne (Project for Historical Bibliography), 1988. (back)

6. The general public routinely bought patent medicines from stationers and bookshops, which had an established supply network, at this time. They were widely advertised in the local newspapers. (back)

7. Buchan, W.., Domestic Medicine, or the Family Physician. McGowan and Son, 1826. p.128. (back)

8. Loudon, I., Medical care and the general practitioner. O.U.P,1986. p.83. (back)

9. Ogden, C., The history of Bradford. Bradford & District Newspaper Co., 1935.
Allerton Ledger: Allerton and Thornton Overseers account book, 1768 - 1788. Bradford Archives, 15D74/10/2/3. (back)

10. Bowling Book, 1707 -1840. Bradford Archives, 15D/74/10/2/1. (back)

11. Parker, op. cit.(1904), p.174, states that the Workhouse was a farmstead with land on Rooley Lane, and was first used for that purpose in 1762. It continued in use until 1790 when another farm at Odsal was made into the workhouse. (back)

Christine Alvin spent her working life as a Librarian, mostly in the Bradford area. This included ten years in the Postgraduate Medical Library at the Bradford Royal Infirmary. Since taking early retirement she has undertaken a PhD thesis at Bradford University on the subject of Medical Treatment and Care in Nineteenth Century Bradford.