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Remedies of the 40s and 50s

Syrup of Figs I remember the remedies my family used in the 1940s and 50s. If we were constipated Mum or Nana brought out the bottle of black Syrup of Figs. This made us go to the toilet alright but it also gave us gripey stomach pains. The trouble was if we were a bit quiet, naughty or out of sorts, out came the syrup of figs. Nana was obsessed with our bowls, she feared if we didnt go every day we would get appendicits.

Another remedy we had was for sore throats, Sandersons Throat Specific. Us kids dreaded it! It stung our throats so much that when it wore off the throat didnt feel as sore. Another rememdy for sore throats was to put a slice of raw streaky bacon across our neck held on by a crepe bandage. This was left on for a few days and would almost fry on our neck, going all hard and scratchy. When it was removed there was a red rash on our neck. This, Mum would say, was the infection coming out. It was really the bacon irritating our neck but we believed this at the time.

Fennings Lung Healers There was also the miracle of Fennings Lung Healers, later changed to Little Healers. They were so tiny we could only swallow them in a teaspoon of jam. The story in the family was that these little healers had saved a distant cousins life. Pnuemonia was a killer in those days and the Doctor would say that you had to wait for the crisis to pass to see if the patient survived or not. Our six year old cousin was at this critical point when his Grandma got lung healers down him and he brought up all the blockage in his lungs and survived. So the first sign of a chesty cough out came the tiny pills.

Woodward's Gripe Water There was a thick white medcine called some kind of emulsion but I cant remember the name and we were given this and it tasted so bad it made me heave. I dont know what it was for either. Cod liver oil and Malt was a favourite Mum would put a desertspoon in the wide topped jar and twist it round and round and our mouths would water waiting for it. Another nice one was Woodward's Gripe Water which was given to babies to relieve their wind. I was lucky when at seven Mum had twins so I was given a spoon of gripe water when the babies had it.

Worm cakes...palatable?? I remember when I was poorly and Granddad would sit me in front of the roaring coal fire and he would put black treacle and butter and some beer in a cup, then he would put the poker in the fire and when the end was bright red he would put it into the treacle, butter and beer and it would bubble and fizz, then when it cooled I drank it and it was very soothing. Worm cakes were horrible. They were bought from the chemist and though they looked like chocolate buttons with hundred and thousands on top they tasted so bitter I used to hide mine then pretend to eat them. I didnt get worms very often thank goodness.

For earache warm olive oil was poured into the ear and a plug of cotton wool was put in the ear to stop the oil running out. This didnt work very well as I suffered a lot with ear infections that turned into abcesses. There was goose grease or camphor for rubbing on our chests, very smelly. Then in my teens I was given Indian Brandy in hot water and a hot water bottle for my stomach when I suffered the pain of so called womans troubles.

Some of these things sound horrible and make us laugh today but we survived and I'm sure many other pensioners will remember these remedies and more.

Submitted by GW. March 2010.


Hi there,
I had to have a laugh when I read the article remedies of the 40s and 50s. My mother, who was very old fashioned, had a box of rubs and potions in the kitchen cupboard. She had oil of juniper, which I think was used for flushing the kidneys. A bottle of lead and opium which was used for rubbing sprains and a bottle of Fennings fever cure which I would go to no end of putting on symptoms to get a dose. I think some of the stuff she had, if the drug squad found out, she would have been in trouble today. Especially the lead and opium. I think the worst thing I ever did was rub a sore back with something called Buxton Rub. As was the custom back then we all had a weekly bath. A week after I had used the rub and completely forgotten about it I got into a steaming hot bath. The hot water reactivated the rub and I shot out of that bath so fast, I thought my back was on fire.
I don't think that Mum knew that penicillin had been invented as she only sent for the doctor after she had tried everything else and she would rub my chest with goose grease. My Grandma was an old farm girl and she used horse liniment when she had a bad back. What a bunch !!!!!!!!!!
Glad to hear that someone else has similar memories............Regards to all your readers, Barbara Burgess. Western Australia.
May 2013

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