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Obituary: Norfolk pharmacist showed us what life was like in the past

PUBLISHED: 18:11 16 September 2019 | UPDATED: 17:56 20 September 2019

The past - bottled. Something from John Newstead's collection  Picture: SONYA BROWN

The past - bottled. Something from John Newstead's collection Picture: SONYA BROWN

Hundreds of old chemist's shop objects John Newstead collected are in the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell

John Newstead helped create the period pharmacy at the Time and Tide museum in Great Yarmouth. This was taken in 2015   Picture: Nick ButcherJohn Newstead helped create the period pharmacy at the Time and Tide museum in Great Yarmouth. This was taken in 2015 Picture: Nick Butcher

John Newstead has left us many historic treasures showing how life used to be. He collected and preserved more than 2,500 pharmaceutical artefacts over half a century - and his dedication is our gain.

Joseph King knew John well. "I worked for him as a Saturday boy in the early '60s before going on to qualify as a pharmacist myself." He pays tribute to a man born in September, 1930.

"John Newstead, who originated from Hemblington (near South Walsham), led a rich and long life which was typified by one particular aspect: that of service to others.

"He attended the City of Norwich School from 1942 until 1949, when he went on to do his National Service in Austria. He served in Klagenfurt and visited Vienna, which at that time was divided into four occupation zones and jointly occupied by the USA, the Soviet Union, the UK and France. It was from there that he applied to study pharmacy in Leicester.

John Newstead and wife Janie in 2015, at the period pharmacy within the Time and Tide museum in Great Yarmouth  Picture: Nick ButcherJohn Newstead and wife Janie in 2015, at the period pharmacy within the Time and Tide museum in Great Yarmouth Picture: Nick Butcher

"After qualifying as a pharmacist he did a year post-graduate at Leicester Royal Infirmary. He then worked in Folkestone before moving to Peck's, a prestigious pharmacy in Cambridge.

"The Pharmaceutical Society inspector told John that Sprowston, a suburb of Norwich, was expanding and needed a pharmacy. He lost no time in establishing his first pharmacy in Blenheim Road, becoming a valued member of the community.

"In his younger days he was an active member of the Round Table and later Rotary, both service-led organisations. He travelled widely to support them in various ways, collecting pennants from the places he visited.

"He had many hobbies, notably antiques (especially guns), target shooting (where he shot at Bisley) and a lifelong passion for fine wines. He studied wine at both the French School of Wine and the German Wine Academy.

John Newstead in 2003 with part of his collection of historic artefacts  Picture: SONYA BROWNJohn Newstead in 2003 with part of his collection of historic artefacts Picture: SONYA BROWN

"Always an entrepreneur, he also turned his hobbies into successful businesses, one of which was leading wine tours to some of his favourite vineyards in Germany and France - combining business with pleasure."

John's amazing 'gift'

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"In the late 1960s and '70s he had noticed that, as pharmacy was changing, many traditional pharmacies were closing. He made it his life's work to preserve that heritage," says Joseph.

"John and his wife Janie became regular attendees at events involving the history of pharmacy and he was on the national committee set up for this purpose."

The couple travelled around the region (not just in Norfolk) collecting items from pharmacies that were being modernised or shutting.

"He built a Victorian pharmacy as a museum in the garden of their house in Boundary Road, the contents of which he eventually gifted to the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell."

The collection was donated in 1984, with a recreated chemist shop installed at the Bridewell museum in 1985.

"He was familiar with older pharmacy techniques such as pill making, and refined techniques for the museum to demonstrate.

"John maintained his involvement by going in each Friday for many years to catalogue the collection. More recently he helped the Time and Tide Museum in Great Yarmouth with their collection."

The involvement with the Time and Tide museum saw John assist with the development of a 1913 pharmacy display featuring (among other things) cabinets and bottles containing ingredients such as elephants' toenails and "dragons' blood".

"He recorded his passion for the history of pharmacy in a book called 'A Pharmacist's Tale'. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 1978 in recognition of his work.

"His dedication to this task over decades was acknowledged earlier this year in his award, by the Queen, of the British Empire Medal." It was for services to pharmaceutical heritage.

"Due to ill health, he was presented with his medal at home by the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, Richard Jewson, and he was rightly very proud to receive it surrounded by his family."

John, who had retired in 1990, was looked after by his wife after suffering a stroke a couple of years or so ago.

He died in Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital seven weeks shy of his 89th birthday and is remembered as a much-loved husband, father and grandfather.

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