History in my garden: A bottle by J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd. (Wrexham)

Damaged J.F. Edisbury bottle found in my garden

Last week I posted about a Chester Lion Brewery Co. bottle that we found in the garden, dating to the final years of the 19th Century, one of two bottles that were found in a part of the garden that was completely invisible beneath a tangle of dead trees, shrubs and weeds.  On the right is the second one that we found, labelled J.F. Edisbury and Co. Limited, Wrexham.

The J.F. Edisbury and Co. Ltd bottle is made of clear green-tinted glass, with seam lines running up each side.  The text “J.F. EDISBURY & CO. LIMITED WREXHAM is embossed in raised glass on one side of the bottle, as is the trademark, consisting of two crossed foxes within a frame in the shape of a shield.  The shield shape was a traditional frame for displaying the name of ingredients on jars that lined the shelves of pharmacy shop interiors.  The base has some slight damage, obscuring some raised text, but appears to end in the numbers 80 (or to start with the numbers 08).  Opposite it, on an undamaged section of the base, more raised text is clearly visible, and appears to read, C.S. and Co. Ltd. on one side of the base, perhaps a reference to the bottle manufacturer.  Unlike the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, for which I could find no duplicate online, there are plenty of examples of Edisbury bottles of this type, with long necks.

James Edisbury , father of James Fisher Edisbury

The Edisbury family has a long connection with the Wrexham area, and the name pops up repeatedly, mainly because of Josiah / Joshua Edisbury, High Sheriff of Denbighshire, who was responsible for building the earliest version of Erddig Hall c.1684 overlooking the river Clywedog.  He went bankrupt in the process of building it.   The Dictionary of Welsh Biography says that Edisbury’s brother John Edisbury (c.1646 – 1713), ruined himself by misappropriating funds to help his brother. In 1716 Erddig was sold to a successful London lawyer Sir John Meller who bought out the mortgage and debts that Edisbury had incurred, finished the work and added two wings that remain today.

Bersham Hall, Wrexham, which is still standing. Source: Francis Frith Collection

The owner of J.F. Edisbury Co. Ltd., to whom the bottle belonged, was James Fisher Edisbury,  born in 1837.  His father James was very commercially successful first as a retailer in Holywell and then in Wrexham as an auctioneer.  James Edisbury senior was born in 1803, and in 1829 married Elizabeth Walker Ratcliffe, eldest daughter of the late Henry Walker Ratcliff, a grocer.  She died in 1832 and James was remarried in 1834 to Sarah Ratcliffe.  In the 1835 North Wales Directory for the Holywell & Bagillt areas,  James Edisbury is listed as “High St. Grocer &/or dealer in sundries, and tobacconist:  Tallow Chandler, Wine and Spirit merchant.”  A daughter, Emily Walker Edisbury, was born in 1834  and James Fisher Edisbury was born in 1837.  Emily died in 1839  and Sarah died a year later in 1840.  James Edisbury had more than his fair share of loss.  At some point before 1855, when he is next recorded, he made the decision to move to the outskirts of Wrexham, purchasing Bersham Hall in 11 acres of land.  In 1857 he decided to move into the town for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall. He appears to have had a major career change, becoming an auctioneer and appraiser, living and working at Brook Street in Wrexham.  He died on 21st September 1859, leaving Bersham Hall to his son James Fisher Edisbury.

The pharmacy business in the 19th Century

Jacob Bell, founder of the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841. Source: Pharmaceutical Journal.

Pharmacies began to rise in importance in local communities as scientific research into the relationship between diseases, ailments and potential treatments began to make real improvements to medical knowledge in 19th century Europe.  The Pharmaceutical Society was established in 1841, which moved to establish schools to standardize training and to regulate the sale of pharmaceuticals, but apprenticeship remained the principal form of learning until the end of the century.  Synthetic drugs were being developed, but traditional remedies based on herbal preparations were still dominant.

Pharmacists combined the roles of chemists, health consultants and dispensaries.  They worked alongside and often in competition with physicians to develop treatments for an enormous range of real and imagined conditions, frequently undercutting their more formally trained and qualified colleagues.  As the adverts on this page demonstrate, the public were becoming increasingly interested in their own symptoms and any treatments that might alleviate them.  Ailments at all levels of society represented lucrative business opportunities.

A recreation of a 19th Century chemist at the York Castle Museum’s “Kirkgate Victorian Street,” York. Source and copyright: Crinoline Robot, Miriam McDonald

Every town had at least one pharmacy, sometimes more.  For example, as well as J.F. Edisbury and Co., another Wrexham pharmacy Francis and Co., with premises at 53 Hope Street and 22 Town Hill in Wrexham.   The shops were lined with shelves and cabinets that held clearly labelled glass and ceramic jars full of the raw materials for the manufacture of pills, potions, gels, ointments and medicines, looking much like a traditional sweet shop.  A workshop in the rear usually contained the equipment for assembling these products.  The above photograph by Miriam McDonald shows a recreation of an actual pharmacy in contemporary York, giving an excellent idea of what sort of experience a customer would have had when they walked through the door of a British pharmacy in the 19th Century.

James Fisher Edisbury, chemist and pharmacist 

In this 1916 family photograph published in the Wrexham Leader, James Fisher Edisbury is at far right, four years before his death. Source: Wrexham History website

Top: 3 High St, Wrexham. Bottom: 4 Grosvenor Road. Source: Google Maps.

James Fisher Edisbury established himself as a pharmacist at 3 High Street, Wrexham.  The building is a remarkable survivor sandwiched between two deeply unattractive modern buildings.  By 1861 he is recorded as a master chemist and pharmacist in Wrexham.  James Fisher Edisbury married Harriet Jones in 1863.  She gave birth to a stillborn child in May 1864 and died herself two weeks later.  James Fisher remarried, to Minnie Jones, in 1867 and the couple lived in Bersham Hall, now sitting in only in 4.5 acres of land.  Like James Senior, they moved their home to Wrexham for business reasons, letting out Bersham Hall and settling at 4 Grosvenor Road.   In total they had seven children, one of whom died, and Minnie herself died at the age of 35 in 1882.   

I have never had much of an interest in family history, but what these two generations of family history do say is that the risk of death for mother and child during childbirth, and the ongoing risk for babies and toddlers was very high, and that medical assistance was very much required.  For a long time it had been little better than the provision of quackery, but during the 19th Century health care was developing in new and more scientifically exacting directions.

(Thanks to Annette Edwards for her article on the Wrexham History website for the information about two generations of the family’s history – please see that page for more James Fisher Edisbury’s family details).

James Fisher Edisbury’s business interests were embedded in the pharmaceutical industry, and he was a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.). The fascinating advert to the left gives a very comprehensive idea not just of the products that he was selling but the high quality of customer service that he offered to his valued customers.   The pharmacy offered a 24 hour service.  Although the shop was shut at night, those in need could obtain the services of the pharmacist by ringing the doorbell.  I don’t know what Chinese Floating Soap might be, but I want some!

According to his advertising, at some point in the late 1870s or early 1880s J.F. Fisher  and Co. became the proprietors of the North Wales Mineral Water Factory at Horse Market, Wrexham and seem to have owned the Penadur Spring Works also in Wrexham, perhaps towards the end of the century.   The company may  have bought the business from R. Evans and Co., as one advert refers to “J.F. Fisher and Co. (Late R. Evans and Co.)”.

By 1881 the company was producing mineral waters in Llangollen in a building adjoining the Cambrian Hotel, a coaching house in Berwyn Street, called the Mineral Water Manufactory.  Late Victorian Llangollen was enjoying an economic boom building on its existing stone and slate quarrying, manufacture of woollens and fabrics and tourist industry.  The canal network, the arrival of the railway and the construction of Telford’s Holyhead road all contributed to the success story, The Mineral Water Manufactory was a soft drinks business, which produced  aerated (fizzy) versions that were something of a late 19th Century novelty.  Edisbury bought the mineral drinks operation from Zoedone, together with nine vans, which delivered throughout Wales and had depots at Chester, Oswestry, and Birmingham.  In 1903 the Cambrian Hotel, Cambrian House and the mineral water factory premises were sold at auction in Llangollen but I do not know what happened to the drinks business, which may have moved elsewhere or have been absorbed into one or other of the Wrexham operations.

Back in Wrexham, adverts placed in various newspapers indicate that James Fisher Edisbury had a cure for just about every ailment from corns, warts and bunions to shortness of breath, bronchial problems, nervous afflictions and neuralgia.  An advert dating to 1883 indicates that he had also diversified into animal cures as the agent for a farm suppliers:  “IMPORTANT TO FARMERS. -J. F. EDISBURY is the authorised agent for the Pix Compo, Down’s Farmer’s Friend, and manufactures the celebrated Wheat Dressing for destroying slug, grub, and wire worm, and preventing the ravages of birds, 3, High-street, Wrexham.”  He also sold personal grooming and bathing products, such as hair brushes, tooth brushes, nail brushes, sponges and sponge-bags.  In one 1885 advert advertising sponges and gloves, there was also the mention of Cyprus Insect Powder as “the best exterminator of moths, beetles, fleas, &c.-non- poisonous and effectual, in Id, 2d, and 3d, packets, 6d and 9d tins.”  Another advert lists the “paints, oils, colours and varnishes” available to purchase from 3 High Street.

In 1887 J.F. Edisbury and Co. purchased a ginger beer company, A1 Stone Ginger Beer.  On last week’s post about the Chester Lion Brewery the topic of trademark infringement came up in connection with beer sales, and here is a similar example, with the company placing a notice in a local newspaper warning that the firm’s bottles were being used to pas off “very feeble and unpalatable imitations.”  A reward was offered to anyone bringing examples of such fraudulent products to the factory for testing.

In 1895 Ellis and Son from Ruthin ran a large advert in the Wrexham Advertiser and North Wales News advertising their own mineral waters.  They were mainly advertising their own operation in Ruthin, but in smaller letters also featured J.F. Fisher and Co. as an outlet for their products.  In the same newspaper, and next to the Ellis and Son advert, J.F. Fisher and Co. also had a large advert, focusing on their North Wales Mineral Water Co, which sold Penadur Spring Waters.  The latter advert mentions that the water had been exhibited in the Paris Exhibition and the London International Exhibition of 1891, reinforcing the sense of high-tech novelty.  At the same time, it emphasizes that this new product was very accessible, available not only via retail outlets, but also at railway station buffets at Chester, Birkenhead, Chester and Ruabon.  By diversifying, Edisbury may have been looking for a competitive edge to consolidate his position as he was not the only pharmacist operating in Wrexham in the late 19th Century.

Edisbury was also involved in the Aerated Water Manufacturing Company, which appears to have been another profitable Wrexham-based business.  The company’s Third Ordinary General Meeting in 1891 was held at the Wynnstay Arms, a few doors down from Edisbury’s premises at 3 High Street, and was reported in the Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser and Cheshire Shropshire and North Wales Register.  It was announced that the company was doing well. “On the year there was an increase, and due care having been exercised in the matter of expenses the net profit had proved to be in excess of what was stated in the prospectus. . . . That would be satisfactory to the shareholder.”  At the same time, it was revealed that “the Company had commenced the manufacture of British wines under Mr Hutchinson, who had special experience in the work, and he thought the wines produced were of high quality.”  These wines were medicinal rather than epicurean.  By 1895 James was selling the wines in his Wrexham premises:  “MEDICATED WINES.  J. F. Edisbury, M.P.S., 3, High-street, Wrexham. Coca Wine @ 2s 6d per bottle; Extract of Meat. and Malt Wine, ls 6d per bottle.”

James Fisher had a very strict record system for the supply of bottles of his products to customers, some of which were very expensive to manufacture, as explained in the second page below, taken from a J.F. Edisbury Co “pass book.”  The first and last pages of the pass book provided details of some of the company’s products, and the rest of it was a record of a customer’s account, tracking product deliveries and returns. You can flip through the pages of the book on the Internet Archive website here.  The outer envelope and cover of beautifully preserved pass book from the National Trust’s Erddig is shown below.

This sort of bottle return policy operated by Edisbury and other drinks suppliers probably accounts for why only two 19th Century bottles have so far been unearthed in my garden.

Green leatherette account book in a red leather-covered cardboard case. The account book is marked dated on the first page 1871.  Source: National Trust Collections

There are plenty of references to James Fisher Edisbury in the Wrexham local newspapers in the context of a number of civic activities.  He was a Justice of the Peace, was on a committee to organize the planning and building of a new retail arcade, which still stands, and was a Provincial Grand Officer of the Freemasons.   As well as a successful business entrepreneur and a Member of the Pharmaceutical Society, (M.P.S.), with fingers in several pies, he was clearly a solid and influential pillar of the Wrexham community.  James Fisher Edisbury died on 20th October 1920 at the age of 83.

Back to the bottle

J.F. Edisbury and Co trademark.

The bottle from my garden was unlikely to have been used for one of the aerated drinks, because these, being fizzy, had special storage requirements.  They were delivered in bottles with pointed bases that had to be laid horizontally, ensuring that the liquid inside would prevent the cork from drying out, ensuring that the gas was retained in the bottle.

This bottle, with its flat base, was not one of those  and could have contained any number of other J.F Edisbury products.  A the moment there it has not possible to narrow down which of the various wines, oils, medicines, tonics, and other potions that it may have contained.  Nor has it been possible to narrow down a date for the bottle.

Markings on the base of the bottle

There are still several other questions that have yet to be answered.  The crossed foxes trademark is very distinctive and appears on many of J.F. Edisbury and Co. bottles and jars, but I have been unable to find out where it came from or what, if anything, it refers to.  I have also been unable to find out anything about the markings on the bottom of the bottle, but hope that information on the subject will eventually come to light.  It is possible that the markings on the base refer not to Edisbury’s various enterprises, but to the bottle manufacturer.  The shape of the bottle, the presence of the cross-foxes trademark and the quality of the glass itself might help to narrow down a date for the bottle.  I do hope that some of these details will eventually emerge, and if you are reading this and have more information please get in touch.

Final Comments

This is a rather different story from the one I told last week about the Chester Lion Brewery bottle, and not merely because of the contrast between health drinks and beer.  Last week’s bottle was the story of big factory-style breweries, big investments in future technologies and large ambitions, and even a case of minor trademark fraud.  The Edisbury bottle, by contrast is the story of high street retail where success was achieved by offering wide product ranges and providing excellent customer service.  James Fisher Edisbury’s advertising speaks of a man who was highly organized, ambitious and driven to look for new ways to use his skills to find new markets, or to find new products for existing markets.  Where expedient he joined forces with other companies to retail their products and he invested in new infrastructure when required.  He saw the potential for health drinks and invested heavily in providing this to families who wanted to improve the quality of their lives and their overall well-being, and were attracted by novelty.  Looking around today at the proliferation of health-food stores and the growing interest in vegan diets, it is a far from unfamiliar story.

Sources:

Books and papers

Robinson, J. 2016. Looking back at 175 years of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. The Pharmaceutical Journal April 15th 2016, Vol. 296, No.7888, p.296
https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/feature/looking-back-at-175-years-of-the-royal-pharmaceutical-society

Wilson’s Trades Directory of Wales, 1885. William Wilson & Sons.
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/community.30136288

Cadw 2016. Llangollen. Understanding Urban Character.

Websites

Wrexham History, founded by Graham Floyd
James Fisher Edisbury, by Annette Edwards, August 2019
https://www.wrexham-history.com/james-fisher-edisbury-2/ 
Francis The Chemist by Annette Edwards, October 2018
https://www.wrexham-history.com/francis-chemist/ 

The Internet Archive
The North Wales Mineral Company. Pass Book
https://archive.org/details/b3047775x/mode/2up

The National Trust
Erddig, The Whole Story
https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/erddig/features/erddig-the-whole-story

Welsh Newspapers Online.  National Library of Wales
https://newspapers.library.wales/

History Points
Former Cambrian Hotel, Berwyn Street, Llangollen
https://historypoints.org/index.php?page=former-cambrian-hotel-llangollen

The Dictionary of Welsh Biography
EDISBURY family, of Bedwal, Marchwiel, Pentre-clawdd, and Erddig (Denbighshire)
https://biography.wales/

Gravestones.info
J.F. Edisbury and Co.
https://www.gravestones.info/data/edisbury-j-f-co/ 

Center for the History of Medicine
Jars of “Art and Mystery”:  Pharmacists and Their Tools in the Mid-Nineteenth Century 
https://collections.countway.harvard.edu/onview/exhibits/show/apothecary-jars

 

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