165 Years Ago Today…
Bradford, like many rapidly growing towns of the day, suffered from poor air quality particularly in winter. Peppermint lozenges gave some temporary relief, even if the sugar was often partly replaced with plaster of Paris (daft). On this occasion, with the pharmacist ill in bed, the sweet maker was supplied with 12 lbs of white arsenic powder by the apprentice rather than the usual adulterant. Part of the batch of sweets was sold by Humbug Billy from a stall on Green market. By the next day (Halloween) several of his customers were dead and the official death toll would rise to 20 with a further 200 people seriously ill. Although the deaths were investigated and arrests made, but in the end no one was found guilty, with the court report concluding “The only really criminal thing in the whole affair was what the law could not touch - the practice of adulteration, and the supply of ‘daft’ for that purpose. If the calamity teach this lesson, it will not have been useless.”
This incident was one of many that helped usher in the Pharmacy Act of 1868 and The Adulteration of Food or Drink Act of1860
Felix Rimmington, a local pharmacist who played a key role in the investigation was appointed as Bradford’s first Public Analyst in 1874.
Freelance journalist Lauren Potts has given the story its most recent airing in an article on the BBC website