Quack doctor's tale is great medicine; Two avid bottle collectors have, thanks to their passion, produced a fascinating book on a great Tyneside character. JENNIFER BRADBURY has the details.
HE had very little education or technical training but he succeeded because in everything he approached he put forth remarkable energy, originality and honesty.
"He was a personality and will go down in posterity as one of Newcastle's most remarkable men."
This was the tribute that was published in the Newcastle Daily Chronicle following George Handyside's death in 1904.
He was 83, a widower with no children. On his death he left pounds 92,000 to charitable institutions across the region including the Northern Counties Orphan Institute and Newcastle Eye Infirmary.
Until shortly before his death, Handyside could be seen daily supervising his biggest building venture yet-an arcade on Percy Street which would contain no less than 90 shops.
Long after his death the venture was completed and became the Handyside Arcade, a shopping centre which was completely demolished in 1987 to make way for Eldon Garden.
Elswick Cemetery, where he was buried (now known as St John's Cemetery) is close to where he lived.
So where did this remarkable man come from? At times in his life he was a boot and shoe manufacturer, property speculator, advertising pioneer and, a maker and seller of consumption cures.
He added to his wealth by investing in American railways and a hat maker in Hull. He was also a bus owner for many years and ran a farm near Bellingham.
Born in the small village of Newton on the Moor near Felton in Northumberland in 1821, he began his shoe business with just 17 shillings (the equivalent ofpounds 1 today). Not long afterwards he was overseeing an empire of more than 50 shops.
This gave him the capital to speculate in property, and he gradually built up an impressive list of buildings, including 16 shops in New Bridge Street, Newcastle, and a block of property forming on the corner of the Bigg Market and Grainger Street. He built at least 50 houses in Benwell and about 16 on Gateshead High Street.
But it's his move into quack cures that particularly interests David Robertson and Alan Blakeman, who have put together the impressive book George Handyside, Newcastle Entrepreneur and Quack Vendor. David, 58, of Wideopen, did the research while Alan, who owns the biggest collection of Handyside's potion bottles in the UK, is responsible for the pictures and publishing.
Both are avid collectors of bottles. David is the current secretary of the Northumberland and Durham Bottle Collectors Club, while Alan was at one time the Secretary of the Old Bottle Club of Great Britain. He also runs the Codswallop (named after the bottles with the marbles in the neck) bottle museum in Elsecar Heritage Centre near Barnsley, which is home to his collection of around 60 Handyside quack/cure bottles.
It's got to be said, both men know their bottles. As Alan, who lives near Barnsley, points out: "I don't like to think what they're worth. More than my house, no doubt."
Handyside bottles are much coveted by those in the world of bottles and they're especially popular in the States.
"I used to say I was called Handyside to get my hands on the bottles. I had to stop the lot going to the States," Alan reasons.
So what's so special about Handyside's bottles?
Well, they all have the all-important word "Cure" engraved in the glass, and that makes them very collectable, because afte r 1912 such b road and g rand claims were made illegal.
"They're very crude, full of bubbles, and wobbly necks. They've got lots of character," Alan enthuses.
And just to make sure you know there's more to him than his bottle obsession, he endears himself by admitting that to outsiders he can seem to be a bit of a sad anorak.
In the write-up about Handyside's funeral in the Chronicle it was recorded that a thousand people, many poor, turned up to pay their last respects. And no wonder he was so popular. He would give those unable to afford his cures a free bottle.
He was also a master of marketing. He understood the power of words in advertising, and used phrases such as nerve restorer and blood purifier to describe his products. He had little time for doctors and his book Every Man Should Be His Own Doctor sold a million copies.
A Wallsend Herald reporter once visited Handyside's consulting rooms in Bentinck Crescent, Newcastle. Here he met various patients including Mrs Gill of Consett. Long a victim of dyspepsia (better known now as indigestion), Mr Handyside's cures had given her a new lease of life.
It was reported: "When Mr Handyside took up her case seven weeks previously she had the greatest difficulty walking, all the colour had left her cheeks, nor could she take a drink of milk. But now a wonderful transformation has taken place. At the present time she could walk almost any distance, her colour had returned and she could take a light boiled egg for breakfast every morning."
Meanwhile Miss Spears of Spen reported herself to be cured of a bad stomach after just two lots of medicine.
And Miss Galley of South Shields, who was suffering from a tumour, reported that she had derived considerable benefit from the use of Handyside's medicines. She'd been turned out of the infirmary as incurable but after a bit of Handyside magic, said she was feeling a lot better. The tumour, it was reported, had become softer and diminished in size.
The reporter also makes great claims about Handyside's medicines and their benefits for cancer sufferers.
'The case of cancer of the breast which I reported in my last interview continues to progress favourably, while others under Mr Handyside's treatment who were not present, he assures me, are making progress towards recovery.."
Ever the philanthropist, one advert for his cures reads: "G Handyside has made a discovery of a medicine to take away the desire for alcoholic drinks. Wherever it has been tried, it has been successful. It will not be sold until it is further tested, but it will be given away free to anyone on the testimony of a minister...to the effect that the person had no will of his own, and was reduced to a slave with the drink." (Durham Chronicle, 1890). Meanwhile one of his ads for Handyside's Electric Nervine Snuff claimed it could cure tic, toothache and neuralgia in just two minutes.
Today Handyside's bottles can sell for anything from pounds 15 to several thousand. But, if you'd like one, forget it. The collections boasted by David and Alan are not for sale.
Not for anything.
Lots of bottle!
NORTHUMBERLAND and Durham Bottle Collectors club has over 100 members who come from areas as far afield as Scotland. It produces a 48 page newsletter every three months and there are two meetings every month. They collect bottles from the 1700s to 1920s and an annual show takes place every June. The members abide by a code of conduct and if any member is found to be digging illegally they are automatically dismissed from the club.
George Handyside, Newcastle Entrepreneur and Quack Vendor retails for pounds 9.95, plus pounds 1.20 p&p, from Alan Blakeman, Elsecar Heritage Centre, Nr Barnsley, S Yorkshire, S74 8HJ. Phone (01226) 745 156 or e-mail email@example.com
CURE CLAIMS: This advert for Handyside's Electric Nervine Snuff promises amazing effects; FASCINATION: David Robertson of Wideopen researched George Handyside's life for the book; PERSUASIVE: This ad for Handyside's Blood Purifier told women they could dispense with "paint"