Blue plaque will honour cold and flu remedy inventor Thomas Beecham

Beecham Cottage in Curbridge is the birthplace of Beechams Powders inventor Thomas
Beecham Cottage in Curbridge is the birthplace of Beechams Powders inventor Thomas

The founder of a pharmaceutical company that became a household name for its cold and flu relief products is to be honoured with a blue plaque.

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board will unveil a plaque for Thomas Beecham, manufacturer of patent medicines and founder of the famous Beecham Company, in Curbridge.

As a poor Oxfordshire boy, Beecham worked as a shepherd, selling herbal remedies as a sideline.

He later became a travelling salesman or peddler full time.

Born in Curbridge in 1820, he received one year of schooling before becoming a shepherd boy at the age of eight.

At eleven he moved further away to Cropredy as a shepherd at Lawn Farm. Here he began to make herbal laxative pills based on his observations of plants and animals.

Around 1840 he moved on to Kidlington to live with his uncle, working variously as mail carrier and gardener at Hampden House, all the while making and selling his pills.

By 1842 he was living in Witney and travelling around the market towns to sell his wares.

In 1847 he made the decision to move to the industrial north to make his fortune.

He first opened a chemist’s shop in Wigan, working indefatigably, manufacturing the pills at home, travelling to market them and running the shop. He started a new business in St Helens with a shift of focus on marketing by advertising in newspapers and on billboards and using a network of wholesale agents in the north and in London.

This proved the secret to success and he rapidly built up a thriving business. His famous slogan was ‘Worth a guinea a box’. (A guinea was the fee charged by fashionable doctors.)

The prolific advertisements persuaded people that Beecham’s pills and powders could relieve a multitude of ailments.

His son Joseph Beecham succeeded him and made the business global.

Joseph used his wealth for philanthropy in the arts, especially for opera and ballet, for which he was knighted and made a baronet.

His son, Thomas’s grandson, was the famous conductor Sir Thomas Beecham.

In the 1920s Beecham’s became a professionally managed joint-stock company and then ventured into antibiotics and pharmaceuticals, which resulted in takeovers.

In 1989 the name was still visible in SmithKlineBeecham but finally submerged in 2000 in the new company GlaxoSmithKline.

GSK still uses the Beechams brand name in the UK for its over-the-counter cold and flu relief products.

The plaque will be unveiled at Beecham Cottage, Lew Road, Curbridge OX29 7PD, on Saturday May 21 at 11 am.