Phantom pharmacist returns to scene of his error


Autumn is upon us with falling leaves, misty mornings and gloomy evenings. Despite the lush abundance of harvest time, for many people this is a season for melancholic reflection and also a time for telling tales of ghostly goings-on.

This story is set in Hereford where many of the old timber-framed city centre buildings have either been cleared away for new shopping developments or, where the timber frames do remain, have been clad with modern materials and familiar corporate facias. Among the exceptions is a small segment of an ancient shop that peeps out from above the facia of an otherwise modern building near the pedestrianised area known as High Town.

Fifty years ago, Hereford city centre was undergoing a massive transformation but the local council insisted that the builders of what was then a new Littlewoods store incorporate a 17th century timber-framed shop into the structure. The work, costing about £10,000 at the time, involved lifting the building on to a chassis made of steel girders and pushing it across High Town along a specially made track. There it was stored until work on the new store reached a point where it could be wheeled back and lifted into place. The rest of the new store was built around it leaving a small exposed section apparently floating above the facia.

A door in the upper part of the modern premises, which is normally kept locked, opens directly into the top part of the old building. Beyond the door the new building is separated from the old by a gap with a long drop. Stepping across the gap brings creaks and groans from the structure while the chilly atmosphere within induces an involuntary shiver. Or perhaps that was just the awful feeling of what most pharmacists dread – a death, or in this case two, caused by a dispensing error.

The old building has had various uses over the years but in 1886 it housed Ralphe and Clarke, Chemists. Late one night, a young apprentice living above the shop complained of severe toothache. The chemist decided to make up something to relieve his pain but, in the dim light and no doubt in a sleepy state, he failed to notice he had selected the wrong ingredients. The boy drank the medicine and promptly died. The distraught chemist’s body was found hanging from one of the wooden beams the next day.

Those who work in the store still report strange noises and unexplained shadows, especially around that locked door. They reckon the poor tormented soul returns, time and again, to the place where he unwittingly handed the deadly potion to the apprentice.

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, 1 November 2014, Vol 293, No 7834;293(7834):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2014.20066819

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