IF you were feeling a bit squiffy or even worse in the early 1800s there was no popping along to the local branch of Boots or Lloyds Pharmacy.

Most likely you had to make do with a hefty intake of opium, a bit of bloodletting or maybe a potion of frogspawn and crushed nuts courtesy of the old lady who lived at the end cottage.

So Thank Heavens for the Worcester Dispensary and Provident Medical Institution, which was set up in the city in 1818.

At least that’s when it was first mooted, although the building in Bank Street in which it was eventually based wasn’t actually finished until 1822.

Then it was completely rebuilt in 1850 at a cost of £1,500.

The aim was provide medical advice and medicine for the poor in their homes, to carry out vaccination and to help women with difficult births.

It was officially described as a charity, but in reality was more a benevolent institution, helping those who could not afford to pay for medical attention.

Its income came from subscriptions and charity events. For an annual payment of 10s 6d each subscriber was entitled to two tickets of recommendation for any two poor  persons.

Early subscribers included county money such as  Robert Berkeley of Spetchley Court and Viscount Deerhurst, heir to the Croome Court estate.

The institution and its staff did indeed become an institution in Worcester. Its first apothecary and dispenser Mr Richard Hale junior was in post for 40 years, while Dr SW Coombs, the medical officer, was there for 35 years.

Several notable physicians were linked to the dispensary, including Dr Charles Hastings, who founded the British Medical Association and made a name for himself across town  at Worcester Royal Infirmary.

Opening times were 10am until 5pm every day except on Sundays and it proved a very popular addition to Worcester’s fledgling healthcare system.

When in 1873 a Provident branch was added, more than 1,300 joined in the first year and within five years the number had risen to more than 5,000.

In 1901 a satellite dispensary was opened on the corner of Sunnyside Road, Barbourne, opposite where Gheluvelt Park  was to be created, and there was another in Bromyard Road, St John’s. By 1919 the institution had 9,000 members and 30,000 prescriptions were dispensed.

However there was a growing feeling that charitable care encouraged the dependence of the poor and this coupled with burgeoning a working class with a bit of money encouraged the dispensary to switch to a system in which potential patients paid a small but regular subscription themselves and received free care when ill.

The dispensaries continued for many years, even after being combined into the National Health Service. But any trace of them in Worcester disappeared when the Bank Street building was demolished as part of the Crowngate redevelopment and the satellites became housing with GP surgeries taking over their patients.

The days of bloodletting and opium were long gone.