Castle Bromwich

Published on January 26th, 2016 | by admin


When a spoonful of poison helped the swelling go down

We spoke with Joanne Hemlock about her life, career and unusual hobby.

IMG_4199I grew up in Smiths Wood and attended The Archbishop Grimshaw School.  I always had a love of history, influenced by my parents who took part in the excavation of Pimple Hill back in 1970 and are still very energetic metal detectorists now in their retirement!

I am married and have two sons.

I became interested in science due to a brilliant teacher at school who really fired up our enthusiasm and I went on to have a career in chemistry, starting as a chemist at a hazardous waste treatment company. I also continued my studies part time whilst working, firstly at Matthew Boulton College and then later with The Open University gaining my BSc Hons in Molecular and Life Sciences.

I later switched to a career in education, working as a science technician before becoming a chemistry teacher.

For the last 5 years I have also been part of the ‘Friends of Letocetum’- a group of volunteers who help run the Roman museum and open air site at Wall, near Lichfield as well as staging an annual event focusing on the site’s Roman history.

My involvement with Wall and also my studies with the Open University led to an interest in the history of medicine and I began collecting antique medical items as well as conducting further research.

IMG_4352This ’eccentric’ hobby suddenly gained momentum in September when I took part in the Castle Bromwich Heritage festival with a display of Victorian pharmacy, the interest and enthusiasm from visitors to the event about this subject matter and the history was fantastic, there was great feedback from younger people who had been learning about it at school- they really engaged with the display and shared their own thoughts and knowledge as well as wanting to know more.

Many of the treatments and remedies were familiar. Others proved shocking and amusing to the modern taste, in an age where opium and arsenic was freely available over the counter- and highly toxic mercury compounds were routinely administered! Some of the ‘quack’ treatments not only didn’t work but could also prove more fatal than the ailment itself!

I have now teamed up with my friend, Richildis, who is also a volunteer at Wall Roman Site and an archaeologist. We are currently working on setting up our own educational historical interpretation venture called ‘Time Healers’, visiting schools and taking part in events providing hands-on displays of genuine and replica artefacts and activities to suit all ages. We will also present talks, demonstrations and workshops about the history of medicine, public health and the social and moral issues regarding these- especially regarding gender and class during different periods.

We will also be able include displays if requested of some rather peculiar (and often downright nasty!) beauty treatments (for both men and women!) throughout the ages from prehistoric times up until the end of WW1.




















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