A short time ago, after a particularly stormy night, some more plaster work collapsed in the gallery area of the former Barony St John’s Church building in Ardrossan.

As I looked up into the void from the ground floor, I could see an old bible lying open. How it got there we will never know. It was too thick to fall between the gallery floorboards so I’m guessing it must have fallen down there before the floorboards were laid or during some kind of repair work when the floorboards had been lifted.

Not far from the bible lay an old advertising pamphlet.

Although damaged by dampness and dust, I could easily make out the wording; it was a titled “Human Life – A Records of Facts, Principles and Discoveries” which bestowed the virtues of taking “Dr Birley’s Invaluable Compounds of Free Phosphorus”.

Apparently, this wonderous phosphorous compound came in “Plain” form but could be flavoured or added to, to cure almost anything. The list of additions included;

Ironised – for Muscular Debility, Heart Disease, Lumbago, Obesity

Sub-Ironised – Mumps, Bright’s Disease, Varicose Veins and for women feeling “Below Par”

Magnesium – for Pulmonary and other forms of Consumption

Anti-Stipatic – for Chronic Constipation and excessive Flatulence

Acidified – for Weak, Fading and Falling out of Hair.

Tomatined - for Weak or Partial Loss of Sight and Deafness

It also came in Bronchial, Gastric, Virilitic, Anti-Neuralgic, Anti-Catarrh, Cutaneous and Tonic Teething forms to cure everything else from Skin Diseases to Pneumonia.

Turning on my Sherlock mode, I set about investigating this Dr Birley and his magic potions;

I found out that Dr Samuel Birley was born in 1816 and died in 1884. The pamphlet I found refers to him as “the late Dr Samuel Birley”, so this advertisement must have been after 1884…but his phosphorous compounds were already well established by then.

My research concluded that these phosphorus-based medicinal cure drinks were actually a forerunner of the well-known Dr Pepper drinks - first formulated by Brooklyn pharmacist Charles Alderton in 1885 and advertised as a medicinal drink that “aids digestion and restores vim, vigor, and vitality”.

It also pre-dates Coca-Cola which was invented by American John Stith Pemberton in 1886.

Both Coca-Cola and Dr Pepper contain sugar, tartaric acid, phosphoric acid, caffeine and water; and guess what Dr Birley’s Invaluable Compounds of Free Phosphorus contained; 74 parts sugar, 1.15 parts tartaric acid, 0.07 parts phosphoric acid, a trace of Alcohol and 100 fluid parts of Water – everything bar the caffeine.

So, it seems that this amazing compound was a soft drink more akin to Dr Pepper and Coca-Cola. In fact, Coca-Cola was originally advertised as the Pemberton Medicine Company where the products alleged medicinal benefits were highlighted as; “A valuable brain tonic, and a cure for all nervous affections – sick head-ache, neuralgia, hysteria and melancholy.”

And it’s not surprising that it could cure headaches and melancholy as the original recipe for Coca-Cola contained not only phosphoric acid but also nerve stimulants and cocaine.

What some people do to get you hooked on your product!

Next time, I’ll tell you more about Dr. Samuel Briley but in the meantime if you would like to find out more about the discoveries I have made in the former Barony St John’s church building, please check out my blog at www.ardrossman.wordpress.com.