Blenheim House, 9 Birmingham Road, Cowes - a little history of Beken's pharmacy




This is a painting of 9 Birmingham Road, Cowes, also known as Blenheim House - how it looked around the early 1900s when it was Beken and Son. On the britishlistedubildings website, it suggests that the original timber building probably dates back to the C17 and was refronted in late C18.

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The earliest evidence of Blenheim House is the 1841 census which lists the house in Medina Road (it must have changed to Birmingham Road later). Frederick Wyatt, a builder from Hythe, lived there with his wife Mary and grown up son George, a cabinet maker. Perhaps it was Fred who refronted the building as the current inscription on the shopfront reads ‘Estd 1835’. They later moved to Northwood Place where Mary ran a lodging housed Fred continued to build.

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After Fred, Blenheim House appears to have had a number of chemists working from the shop. The 1861 census records James Pollyblank King from Bath, a chemist and druggist, living there with his wife Sarah, two sons, an assistant and a servant. By 1864, several advertisements for ‘Mrs Winslow’s Soothing Syrup for Children Teething’ and ‘Brown’s Bronchial Troches for coughs and colds’, offered it for sale from A Bancks, chemist, Blenheim House, West Cowes. In 1871, John Dutton, a chemist master originally from Lymington is listed as living there with his wife Sarah, two daughters, two sons, a niece and a servant.

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By 1874 WS Rogers ran the chemist business from Blenheim House, selling amongst other things, ‘Roger’s nerve tonic syrup - for strengthening the nerves and blood’! In the 1881 census, he was listed as a chemist, surgeon and dentist, living with wife Caroline, 4 daughters, a son, a governess and a servant. Life was tough for domestic servants back then, a newspaper article of 1878 tells the story of Elizabeth Phillip an employee taken to the County Petty court sessions for stealing two library books from her boss Mr Rogers, she was eventually discharged as his wife declared that she had given the books to Elizabeth to read.

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In 1888 Alfred Edward Beken, a chemist and druggist moved from Kent to Cowes with his wife Emily Selina and son Frank and bought the pharmacy in Birmingham Road. Son Frank was so impressed with the sight of yachts sailing past his bedroom window that he attempted to capture these images with a traditional camera. Wanting to improve the image, he designed and had built a new style of camera which was the forerunner to the later twin-lens camera. The Bekens also processed the negatives and made saleable printed photographs which they sold alongside medicines and perfumes. At the time, Queen Victoria was often in residence at Osborne House in East Cowes, and Beken.co.uk reports that once five crowned heads of Europe visited the pharmacy premises at one time. The business flourished and was granted the tile of ‘By Appointment to Her Majesty Queen Victoria - Chemists’.

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Frank was joined by his son Keith in the 1930s who qualified as a chemist and during WWII skippered an Air Sea Rescue launch based in Cowes. When Frank died in 1970, the pharmacy was sold but the photography side of the business continued to flourish under the direction and lens of Keith. They moved to 16 Birmingham Road where the renamed Beken of Cowes business and library is now housed. Keith continued to build up the famous Beken Marine Photography Archive, which was continued by his son Kenneth.

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Blenheim House, number 9 is now Charlottes Academy, a hair and beauty salon.

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You can read more about the history and photographs of the Bekens:

www.beken.co.uk

www.classicboat.co.uk/articles/keith-beken-1914-2007-obituary/

https://www.classicboat.co.uk/articles/kenneth-beken-marine-photographer/


Please read more about the history of Cowes buildings with more illustrations on our page Cowes History.


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