For every illness there is a perfect cure.
Not really. But it’s what the Quacks would have you believe.
For as long as anyone can remember, the quacksalvers have been trying to hawk their wares. It’s a Dutch term from around 1570 according to Wiktionary, quacksalver. It means ‘hawker of salve’.
When you’re really poorly you want to believe that there is something which will put it right, once and for all. And if you’re the sort who has money to spend on quacksalve, you might very well do so, in a desperate attempt to make yourself well.
There is evidence that ‘letters patent’ were issued by royalty to those peddling remedies. according them respectability by association. History records Andersen’s Pills,which were first made in England in the 1630s, allegedly pilfered from Venice by a Scotsman who claimed to be King Charles I’s physician. In 1614 a Leicestershire clergyman, Thomas Daffy, invented Daffy’s Elixir: an elixir of life.
And it used the newspapers of the day to advertise, and guaranteed itself longevity indeed: for Daffy’s elixir was used to treat anything from kidney stones to convulsion and indeed consumption.
How did it endure, when it clearly did absolutely no good whatsoever?
I’ll tell you how: marketing.
Pamphlets spread the preposterous claims far and wide, as did advertising in newspapers as they began to emerge. If it’s written down in the paper, it must surely be true.
With a new century came a new breed of quack. Thomas Holloway’s parents were bakers in Devonport, and later moved to Penzance in Cornwall to manage the local pub, the Turks Head. As for Thomas, he went to France for a while, and dabbled in import/export, as you do. And that brought him into contact with an Italian who made his money-making a general purpose ointment.
Two can play at that game, Thomas thought, and he set up a lab in his mum’s kitchen and began making potions. And once he had ointment and pills, he started spending huge amounts of money on advertising: some £5,000 in five years, a king’s ransom at that time.
He grew rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
But he was a paternalistic quack. His vast wealth must be spent, he resolved, on a gift to the nation.
Actually, two gifts. He enlisted the services of architect William Henry Crossland to create a women only college, dubbed Royal Holloway, and hung on its walls masterpieces of international importance.
And nearby, he had a hospital built by Crossland: Holloway Sanatorium.
Its patients were not just anyone, you understand. The poor had many asylums built already and funded by charities. The rich could afford care; but the middle classes could not. Thus, the hospital was built for “the professional breadwinner whose income ceases when he is unable to work”.
I am still reeling from the fact that the Commissioners in Lunacy ever existed. They did; and they and their architects helped Holloway and Crossland create something very special indeed. “An asylum,” their edicts dictated, “should be placed on elevated ground and should command cheerful prospects, should be surrounded with land sufficient to afford outdoor employment for males, and exercise for all patients, and to protect them from being overlooked or disturbed by strangers.”
And so it was built on Holloway’s own land, high on the hill at St Anne’s Heath, Virginia Water. It was to be visible from another of the century’s miracles, the railway and Virginia Water Station.
It was a very beautiful building, funded by one of the greatest, and indeed, richest quacks the British Isles has ever known.
Who would have predicted that a humble tincture could spawn such a wonder?
And all using the power of advertising.
Featured photo source: thebooktrunk.blogspot.co.uk