Phossy Jaw on TV

It seems that phossy jaw is getting more attention in the media. It has recently appeared twice on BBC.

The first programme is Victorian Pharmacy on BBC Two. It is a historical documentary that looks at the practice of pharmacy in the 19th Century. It showcased traditional remedies such as potions consisting of cannabis and opium, and ‘cure all’ medicines made up of soap and syrup. Apart from drugs, pharmacists expanded their business to custard, perfume, and matches! Historians on the programme re-created different types of old matches and phossy jaw was mentioned when they explained the white phosphorus ones!

The second one is Horrible Histories on BBC CBBC. CBBC refers to Children’s BBC for 6-12-year-olds. Oopps… I just told you I watched the children’s channel… Anyhow, it is a very intriguing educational programme that talks through history from the Middle Ages to the 20th Century in a humorous way. In a recent episode, Historical Wife Swap (pastiche of Wife Swap) featured a posh Victorian lady being swapped with a lower class woman. During her visit, she saw a poor girl making matches at home. The little girl suffered from phossy jaw and complained that doctors refused to treat her because of the foul smell from jaw pus. Making white phosphorus matches can indeed cause phossy jaw but whether doctors refused patients or not, I am not sure.

A clip for Victorian Pharmacy is available on Youtube:, and for Horrible Histories, it is the 10th episode. UK readers can still watch it on BBC iPlayer, enjoy~

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