Many local people will have fond memories of Pridmores, the chemists which stood at the bottom of Castle Street for over one hundred and fifty years. David Stephenson, once a director of the firm, has conducted considerable research into the history of the business and wrote of his findings in the late 1960s, including an article in the Hinckley Times. The property, now largely occupied by Thomas Cooks Ltd., is built above cellars that are at least three centuries old. There is a record of an apothecary's premises on the site as early as 1703, occupied by William Clough who came from Stockport. A little before this William Iliffe, who introduced the stocking frame to Hinckley in 1640, is recorded as occupying a dyer's shop on the site.
Hinckley has had a number of notable medical men in the last three centuries and whilst some local people sought cures at the apothecary's where Pridmores was later to be in business others may have resorted to Dr. Nutt, an apothecary who practised for much of the eighteenth century in the town and who is remembered in Nutts Lane. It was Nutt who left a will giving several trees to the town to be used in the construction of the New Town Hall, the building near to Pridmores and today occupied by Barclays Bank.
In the intervening years the exact use of the building is largely unknown but between 1790 and 1802 extensive rebuilding took place. In 1802 Richard Hulse bought the property for £431 and carried on the business of a druggist and grocer. Thomas Pridmore was a young man who was involved in the business and at some stage during the Napoleonic Wars became the apothecary dispensing medicines to the people of Hinckley. Evidence for this is to be found in the Day Books of the firm. An example of one entry is to be found on 28th February 1812 when Thomas Pridmore paid a total of £4-10 shillings for items delivered to Hinckley Wharf by a Pickford's canal boat which had come from Derby. One item in the manifest was a quantity of snuff from Sharrow Mills in Sheffield.
In 1820 Mr. Hulse became a declared bankrupt, his chief creditor being James Hollier who owned considerable property in the town and whose name is commemorated today by Holliers Walk. It was a Mr. Hollier who established the Hinckley Mineral Baths in Ashby Road at the end of the 1840s. James Hollier acquired the property at the bottom of Castle Street as the major creditor and he assigned the building to Mr. Nunnerly and Mr. Fanner who auctioned it but failed to find a buyer. Local bankers, Sansome and Blakesley, subsequently had an interest in the property but later William Baines became the owner. During the whole of this period it would appear that Thomas Pridmore continued his practice as an apothecary, doubtless dispensing medicines to the patients of local medical practitioners including the famous Dr. Chessher.
On the death of Mr. Baines his property was partly left in trust to his housekeeper, Elizabeth Barfoot and when she also died the remaining trustees again auctioned the premises where Thomas Pridmore was still the practising apothecary. He entered a successful bid of £490 on 20th October 1860, at last becoming the owner of the building where he had worked for so long. Thomas clearly had a prescription for longevity for he only died in 1873, now renowned as the leading local chemist rather than a junior apothecary. William Pridmore, nephew of Thomas, now took over the business and continued to dispense medicines to the people of Hinckley and act as a local dentist into the early years of the twentieth century.
William Pridmore was a notable Hinckley character, with his grey beard and tiny spectacles, a great favourite of local children who were given sweets when they went to the shop. He also had a keen sense of commercial humour. When asked for the best quality goods he would reply, "The best is always the best in my shop". William had a great conviction in the value of his own cures and there are many stories to indicate this. Typical was the customer who asked for a proprietary fever powder and was told by Mr. Pridmore that he was wasting his money on such medicines. The customer returned home carrying a Pridmore Fever Powder' to cure his ailment.
William Pridmore died in 1912 and the flourishing business was left to Tom Pridmore, the wheelwright of Stoney Stanton and Joseph Mitchell, a local farmer. Mr. Baxter purchased the business and in 1913 Mr. John Stephenson of Cricklewood became the new owner. Only a year later the outbreak of the First World War brought shortages of drugs and pharmacists. Mr. Stephenson faced a considerable challenge to keep his business profitable but with the help of Miss Sue Dawson, his assistant, he succeeded admirably. Miss Dawson gained a considerable reputation for her own special cures.
The name Pridmores' had been maintained by Mr. Stephenson and had now become a Hinckley household word! During the 1930s and 1940s the business continued to provide a vital service to the people of the area and with the coming of the National Health Service in 1948 the enlargement of the premises took place to take account of the increased demand for prescriptions. Mr. David Stephenson succeeded his father as a director of the flourishing pharmacy and in 1963 further modernisation took place but much of the old building was retained including the original shop window and the Tridmore' sign. In 1968 the business celebrated its 150th anniversary as the oldest pharmacy not only in the town but in the country in terms of dispensing medicines from a particular building over a continuous period of time.
Pridmores ended business in 1979. The building finally ceased to be a pharmacy in 1988 and today has its 300 year old cellars joined to those of Dolland and Aitchison, thus preserving a medical link of a kind through three centuries. The building of Thomas Cook's still preserves a ghostly presence of Thomas Pridmore, witnessed by several people in recent years. It would be interesting to take a spectral prescription if the ghost of Thomas is still dispensing medicines in the 21st century!
The Editor would like to give special thanks to Mr. David Stephenson who has provided the information on which this article is based.
|Three views of Pridmores in the early Twentieth Century|
Author: Hugh Beavin
Written for: Hinckley Historian Magazine