New guide helps to mark Hitchin landmark’s 25th anniversary, and town’s links to healing down the ages

The Hitchin Physic Garden in the grounds of the town's library

The Hitchin Physic Garden in the grounds of the town's library - Credit: Archant

A new book published by Hitchin Historical Society has taken as its subject a town landmark which has only been in existence for 25 years.

Nicky Nicoll and Carola Scupham sign copies of the new book about Hitchin Physic Garden at Eric T. M

Nicky Nicoll and Carola Scupham sign copies of the new book about Hitchin Physic Garden at Eric T. Moore bookshop, Hitchin - Credit: Archant

But the Physic Garden is testament to the town’s long connection with the pharmaceutical industry from the earliest days when medicines were created from natural ingredients.

The William Ransom Physic Garden – named in tribute to the pioneering pharmacist who was once a major employer in the town – was opened in the grounds of Hitchin Library in Paynes Park in May 1990.

Hitchin’s herbal past can be traced back to before the Great Plague and the Great Fire of London of the 1660s.

In 1658, William Drage opened an apothecary shop in the town. Apothecaries, who largely used plants as sources of drugs, evolved into present-day community pharmacists and family doctors.

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In the mid-18th century Hitchin’s vicar, the Rev Mark Hildesley, kept a herbal – a book about plants which had medicinal properties – for parishioners to use.

And in Victorian times, visitors to the town market could consult ‘herb doctor’ Richard Crofts from Great Wymondley.

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The Perks family had a High Street pharmacy and were growing lavender locally by the 1820s.

The Ransom company was established on land in Bancroft in 1846. The business later became William Ransom & Son and was famous worldwide for producing drugs from plants, from the somewhat innocuous lavender and peppermint to the more powerful opium poppy, deadly nightshade, and hemlock.

The Physic Garden came into being when Vi Lewis, the last pharmacist in the Perks & Llewellyn pharmacy before it closed, donated shop fittings and pharmacy items to a trust formed to find a home for the collection and create the Physic Garden.

Some of the Perks & Llewellyn fittings will form part of the permanent exhibits at the new North Herts Museum in Brand Street, scheduled to open later this year.

The new book has been researched and written by three of the garden’s volunteers – David McNamee, Nicky Nicoll, and Carola Scupham. Dr Gerry Tidy, who has been involved in the garden since its inception, also contributed to the book, the third to be published by the society in the last 12 months.

It is also the final book to be co-ordinated by Scilla Douglas and Pauline Humphries before they step down after more than 20 years, with a catalogue of more than 30 books and other publications to their credit.

The book costs £12.95 either from the society, or from Eric T Moore’s bookshop in Bridge Street, where signed copies were available from the authors during a special session.

Alison Fell-Gordon of Eric T Moore said: “We had huge amount of interest from our social media posts – as well as books sold on the day, there were lots of orders from across the country.

“It is a fabulous book and one of its many attractions is that you can actually visit the gardens and explore.”

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