Part One: The Curious Tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice
“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”
As the opening line of L. P. Hartley’s 1953 tome The Go-Between very presciently pointed out; while many aspects of life in the past may seem familiar to us, it was a very different world indeed.
Over the years, the Archaeology Live! team have come across a multitude of more… unusual artefacts. These curious objects are often unearthed from the most surprising of contexts and, if we are very lucky, can bring to life forgotten moments from the more dusty and unfamiliar recesses of our past.
On a recent excavation in North Yorkshire, Archaeology Live! Director Toby Kendall came across just such an artefact.
Hidden amongst a jumble of 20th century rubble was an intact bottle with a clearly legible design. Closer inspection revealed the simple but rather charming motif of Valentine’s Meat Juice. It was immediately apparent that this bottle warranted further research.
Little did Toby know that this find had an amazing tale to tell…
Victorian Britain witnessed an explosion of technological advancement and scientific discovery, but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The age that saw the publication of ‘On the Origin of Species’, also saw patents for the Spherical Velocipede and the Multi-purpose Cane. In a century that gave us pasteurisation and aspirin, a gentleman named Mann S. Valentine gave us Valentine’s Meat Juice.
In their search for cure-all remedies it seems that our Victorian forebears were not too concerned with the science behind the multitude of potions and lotions that filled the nation’s pharmacy shelves. Furthermore, there was very little in the way of rules and regulations regarding the production and marketing of such products. Britain was awash with unscrupulous salesmen extolling the virtues of products containing substances as lethal as lead, arsenic and asbestos. In an age of international trade, vastly improved communications and print advertising, business was booming for pseudo-scientists!
When Mann S. Valentine, a merchant from Richmond, Virginia, made his first foray into this fledgling industry in 1871, he believed he had created a product of a higher calibre. Each 2oz bottle contained a tonic claimed to be effective in the treatment of conditions such as typhoid, cholera, pneumonia, atonic dyspepsia, diarrhoea, gastritis and nausea. US excavations of 19th century brothels have come across Valentine’s Meat Juice bottles in some quantity, evidencing a belief that the liquor could “act as a cure for sexually transmitted diseases, aka social diseases.” It seems there were no limits to its applications!
So what were the ingredients of this miraculous tonic you ask?
The answer is beef. Four pounds of beef.
Valentine’s Meat Juice was born out of adversity. By New Year’s Eve 1870, Mann’s wife Maria had been seriously ill for weeks, ill to the extent that it had not been possible for her to eat. Mann’s solution was to invent a system of shredding and compressing beef while maintaining a low heat; the theory went that this process allowed the juices to be collected without any loss of protein. Valentine’s own account of the genesis of his miracle cure can be read here, including a staggering number of glowing testimonials!
Maria recovered from her illness and lived for another three years. Word quickly spread about the benefits of Valentine’s “nourishing protein tonic” and by the end of the century it was being produced on an industrial scale and sold across the globe.
The tonic even gained royal approval as King George V, Chinese Viceroy Li Hung Chang, US President James Garfield and Emperor Yoshita of Japan all extolled its virtues.
The Valentine’s Meat Juice brand thrived in a golden age of pseudo-science, however, the story takes a stranger turn when we consider how the tonic was administered. While the standard dose was taken orally, Caroline Rance’s research into 19th century ‘quack’ doctors suggests that some physicians believed the most efficient method of absorbing the goodness of the tonic was to introduce it ‘per rectum.’
Indeed, a 1900 entry from the Philadelphia Medical Journal suggests that a mixture of one egg, one tablespoon of Valentine’s Meat-Juice, 4oz sterilised milk, ½oz. brandy, ½ tsp. salt, and 5oz of sterilised water should be deposited every two hours, “as high up the large bowel as possible.” (Read more at Caroline’s website)
If the image of King George V of England receiving the equivalent of a Bovril enema isn’t shocking enough, the story took an altogether darker turn in 1889 when a bottle of Valentine’s Meat Juice was implicated in one of the 19th century’s most high-profile murder cases.
James Maybrick and Florence Chandler met aboard a transatlantic steamer in 1880 and were married within a year. At 40, the Liverpool born merchant Maybrick was 23 years older than his American bride, but the pair were clearly smitten and the early years of their marriage were happy ones.
Following a spell in Virginia, the Maybricks relocated to Liverpool and took residence in Battlecrease House in Liverpool with their two young children. It was here where their honeymoon period came to a tragic end.
James was an unfaithful husband and a hypochondriac, regularly making use of cure-all tonics containing substances as poisonous as strychnine and phosphoric acid. The pair became increasingly estranged, leading Florence to gambling and serious debt. As James’ health deteriorated, Valentines Meat Juice was frequently administered and when he finally died, a bottle was found to have been contaminated with arsenic. Florence was implicated by an intercepted letter and her habit of extracting arsenic from flypaper for supposedly cosmetic purposes.
Despite questionable evidence and unreliable testimony, Florence was tried and initially sentenced to death, although this conviction was later downgraded to life imprisonment. Florence returned to the USA after fifteen years behind bars and died penniless and alone in 1941. She never saw her children again.
The case became embroiled in a growing feminist movement that demanded better representation for women’s’ rights within the legal system and Florence’s guilt remains a matter of heated debate. The Maybrick trial has been studied in detail in a recently published book by Kate Colquhoun.
By the mid-20th century, public demand for health products had changed and the Valentine’s Meat Juice factory closed its doors for good in 1957 after almost 90 years of production. Mann S. Valentine was an intriguing character. An avid collector of art and antiquities, he went on to found a museum and even posed for a series of photographs conveying different emotions. Little did he know that his brainchild would go on to touch the lives of royalty before being ensnared in a net of murder and intrigue!
It’s amazing what a small bottle buried in a pile of rubble can tell you!
To read more about the curious tale of Valentine’s Meat Juice, search online or try the following links:
If you would like to join our 2016 excavation in York and add your own discoveries to our miscellany of peculiar finds, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org