Website of the Laceby History Group

Horace Watson - The Laceby Druggist


As the last century grew to its close, a man who can only be referred to as a “grand Victorian” died. He was the very image of what Victorian businessmen have become known for – hard work, energy, enterprise and compassion. This Victorian gentleman lived and worked in Laceby. His name was Horace Watson.

Much has been written about this man, and so that he can best be recorded for posterity in the Chronicles of Laceby, what follows are extracts about him from other writings, starting first with three newspaper accounts recording his death in September 1899.

GRIMSBY NEWS 29th September 1899

Laceby has sustained a great loss in the death of Mr Horace Watson which took place early on Wednesday morning at the advanced age of 86.
The deceased gentleman was well known by every man, woman and child in the neighbourhood, and by his kind acts had endeared himself to all. He will be interred at Laceby on Saturday.

GRIMSBY NEWS 3rd October 189

LACEBY – Interment of Mr Watson.
The mortal remains of Mr H Watson were interred on Saturday amid signs of deep mourning. Mr Watson was born at Kirton Holme, near Boston on July 24th 1813, and had consequently reached the ripe age of 86. After leaving school he was with his father, a druggist at Laceby, until 19 years old. At that time Mr Henry Oxenden (afterwards Sir Henry) made him a present of £3. 3s 0d worth of medical works, and a letter of introduction to an eminent London Surgeon who gave him the privilege of assisting in dispensing and taught him to bleed. Becoming very ill with Asiatic Cholera, he returned home, and after a few months was bound apprentice to Dr Richmond of Grimsby. He was there for two years when Dr Richmond failed, and he returned home
He first introduced his famous “Family Pills” (made from his own recipe) to the public in 1837. In 1846 he added to his other business that of printing, and in 1852 he bought a two-horse steam engine and a super royal press, and issued Grimsby and local time-tables. In 1854 he first published the Grimsby Advertiser, with a circulation of one thousand copies weekly.
In 1860 he took offices in Grimsby and published a monthly magazine.
In 1889 he gave up his retail business, which was carried on until 1897 by Mr G R Cook (now Postmaster at Cleethorpes) and since that time by Mr Edward Darley (an old apprentice with Mr Watson), and devoted all his time and energy to that of pill-making, the business having grown very considerably.

GRIMSBY NEWS 6th October 1899

The funeral of Mr Horace Watson, Pharmaceutical Chemist of Laceby, took place on Saturday last amid every manifestation of grief at his demise. The deceased, who was 86, had died from senility. He was of a most benevolent disposition and in his quiet unostentatious way had been a very great friend to the poor, who will miss him sadly.
He was always anxious to join in any movement having for its object the general welfare of the parish, and was held in the highest of respect by all classes, being a man of broad and generous sympathies.
In order to show the esteem in which he was regarded on the day when his remains were consigned to the grave in Laceby churchyard, the business premises in Laceby were closed, and the blinds of dwelling houses were drawn whilst the inhabitants of Laceby and district generally attended the funeral.
The first portion of the service was held in the Parish church, of which the deceased had been a Warden. The Rector (the Rev H W Knight) officiated as well as at the graveside. At the Church, the hymn Abide With Me was rendered, and the mournful congregation departed to wend their way to the churchyard, the Dead March in Saul being feelingly played on the organ. A number of floral tokens of regard were sent. The large attendance at the funeral included Messrs M Cook (Grimsby), S Macauley (Aylesby), W D Field (Laceby), G Croft (Grimsby) and R Walker (Aylesby). Deceased leaves a widow to mourn his loss.

To put an account of his life in a more concise form, this account is taken of him from the Laceby Chronicle 1977.

“His reputation as a Pharmaceutical Chemist has gone beyond the bounds of the village, and world-wide his famous Family Pills have brought relief from suffering for many thousands of people. But in other respects he has been a stalwart of Laceby Village for more than fifty years. In 1840 on the death of his father, Edward Watson, he took over the thriving business of grocer and draper; and in a few short years had also become a druggist and printer. He modernised the printing plant by installing a steam driven press, and for many years issued an annual Laceby and District Almanack which was much in demand. In the 1850’s he became the village sub-postmaster and later an Insurance Agent. He became a qualified chemist and thus started producing his various patent medicines. When the farming slump came in the 1860’s Mr Watson became the Emigration agent in the area for New Zealand, thus helping some villagers find a new life beyond the shores.
He was also one of the corn-millers of the village, and acted as the village dentist. In later years he concentrated more on the chemist side of the business, but continued actively in the printing works. An advertisement in 1896 stated “Watson’s Local Time Tables – will be sent free for twelve months to any part of the United Kingdom on receipt of sixpence for Postage to the Proprietor, Horace Watson, Laceby, Grimsby.”
But it is as a Chemist that he will be remembered. His famous “Watson’s Family Pills” will still be talked about in seventy years time.

After his death his famous “Pills” continued to be sold for several years, and although unfortunately there is none now in existence, one of his pill boxes has been kept.

An unsolicited letter appeared in the Grimsby Gazette and General Advertiser, Vol 1, No 5, dated Friday October 7th 1853 listing some of the varied cures brought about by “Watson’s Family Pills”.

“Three Thousand Boxes of Watsons’s Family Pills – I have calculated have been sold by me in Louth during the short period of my agency. Extraordinary cures of various diseases through their use have come under my own personal observations. The following are some of the most striking:-

ANTHONY SNOWBALL cured of Tic Lumbago after being dreadfully afflicted for four years.

ROBERT REED cured of inveterate sick headache.

MRS REED cured of weakness of the stomach and biliousness.

MRS DAVEY cured of violent attack of Tic in a few hours by one 7½d box.

Edward Squire Bookseller Eastgate Louth 12th September 1853”

Excerpts from an article written for Volume 4 of The Chronicles of Laceby in 1983 by Peter Gosden.


Further to the above article on Horace Watson, it has now come to light that Horace was married again at the age of 77 years to Emma Renison, age 22 years.

Completely by chance, contact has been established with the great-nephew of Emma Watson nee Renison, who had in his possession family photographs, two of Horace’s prescription books, and a host of other family documents including wills.

An update to the Horace Watson story is included in Volume 11 of the Chronicles of Laceby.