A cough medicine that really worked, and it contained opium – the story of Fudge’s Firewater

Runny nose, sore throat, hacking cough? Do you run to the pharmacy for a cough medicine that may or may not help? Until 2006, in the market town of Bridport in the south west of the UK, the locals had the luxury of a cough medicine that really seemed to work. The medicine was Fudge’s Mentholated Honey Syrup, or as the locals christened it, Fudge’s Firewater. Here is the story of this potent potion, how it came about and why it is no longer available.

Fudge 806
Mr Fudge’s Pharmacy in the late 1950s when the road was flooded. Mr Fudge is seen standing in the shop doorway with Donald Balson from the next door butchers shop in front. Photo kindly supplied by Richard Balson.

The story begins in the 1950s when Ken Fudge moved from London to Bridport to open his pharmacy in West Allington, next door to Balsons, Britain’s oldest family butchers (est. 1515). For Mr Fudge, trained in London but born in Blandford, this was something of a return to his roots. At that time, many pharmacists devised their own remedies, often to secret recipes, and Mr Fudge was no exception. He made several nostrums, as these remedies produced and sold in a single pharmacy are called, but the most popular and enduring was his Mentholated Honey Syrup (known locally as Fudge’s Firewater). When Mr Fudge retired in 1973, the recipe transferred to the East Street Pharmacy where it was sold until 2006, for much of that time under the supervision of Mr Kevin Morrish. Even now, the mere mention of the Fudge’s name evokes a warm wave of nostalgia and longing in many Bridport people.

Fudge bottle
One of Mr Fudge’s bottles (probably about 50 years old). Photo kindly supplied by Jamie Dibdin

The medicine
Fudge’s Firewater was an old-style cough medicine recommended for common winter ailments: coughs, colds, influenza, loss of voice, hoarseness, sore throat and catarrh. The dose was one teaspoon every four hours and the label warned ominously that each spoonful should be “taken very slowly”. It was sold “over the counter” without prescription but strictly under the control of the pharmacist. Fudge’s Firewater was immensely popular and many people have told me how much they trusted it to help their symptoms: “Brilliant cough mixture, couldn’t beat it”, “Amazing medicine for coughs and sore throats”, “Never bought anything else”, “Please, if there is a god, bring back Fudge’s Firewater”. People travelled long distances to purchase the medicine, holiday makers often went home with supplies and, during some winters, as many as 250 bottles of Firewater were sold each week at the East Street Pharmacy.

The medicine also had a formidable reputation: “It nearly blew your head off but by golly it did the trick”, “Tasted like red diesel mixed with the finest brandy, lovely”, “The menthol really took your breath away” “It was a trial to take but you knew it would make you better” and several people spoke of “the Fudge’s shudder”.

As Mr Fudge himself said: “Some do swear by it, some do swear at it”.

A bottle of Fudge’s Mentholated Honey Syrup (Fudge’s Firewater). Photo kindly supplied Emily Hicks, Bridport Museum

Unconventional uses of Fudge’s Firewater
The medicine was also a voice-saver for some professional singers and I heard about one well-known entertainer who would regularly send a friend to buy Firewater from Mr Morrish to help lubricate her vocal cords. Similarly, Marco Rossi told me that, in the 1990s, when he was part of local band, Stocky Lamaar, performing in smoke-filled pubs around Dorset, he and Al, the other vocalist, each had a bottle of the potion by them on stage. With the occasional swig of Firewater, they could sing all evening without sounding like “Madge from Neighbours at a Bonnie Tyler tribute karaoke night”.

What was Fudge’s Firewater and how did it work?
Mr Fudge’s medicine was a dark brown syrupy liquid made by mixing menthol crystals and a little fudgy flavouring into Gee’s Linctus, itself an old-fashioned cough remedy dating from the Victorian era. Gee’s linctus, or to give it its proper name, squill linctus opiate, contains several potentially active ingredients.

First, there is tincture of opium, an alcoholic extract of opium (the resin derived from the seed capsules of opium poppies). The main active ingredient in opium is morphine, a substance with an established effect on cough, but also a well-known drug of abuse, and the linctus contains morphine at low levels. Squill, a plant extract, is another potentially active component in the linctus that, paradoxically, encourages coughing and mucus removal. The medicine also contains alcohol at similar levels to a fortified wine and this may have contributed to the Firewater experience. Mr Fudge’s masterstroke was to boost the effects of the Gee’s linctus by adding menthol, a remedy used for many years to help with symptoms of coughs and colds; menthol may also act as an oral anaesthetic helping with sore throats and may relieve nasal congestion.

Illustration Papaver somniferum0.jpg
The opium poppy

(from Wikipedia, for details see Link)

Although cough medicines cannot alter the course of viral infections, they may help you feel better and Mr Fudge’s medicine attacked symptoms in several ways which is perhaps why it was so popular and so successful. It was the menthol, however, that made the potion so memorable, justifying the Firewater nickname and establishing a shared experience among those who used it, believed in it and benefitted from it.

Abuse of Fudge’s Firewater
Non-prescription medicines such as Gee’s linctus, and Fudge’s Firewater, have been abused by people trying to access even the small amounts of morphine they contain. Gee’s linctus is, for example, reported to induce a “lovely euphoria and dreaminess”, but only if you are prepared to drink 50ml or more of the medicine! Local pharmacists were aware of the problem and tried to control it: Mr Morrish monitored all sales personally and Mr Conroy (manager in the early 21st century) restricted sales to one bottle per person, with a signature.

The end of Fudge’s Firewater
Gee’s linctus gradually fell out of favour as a cough medicine because of the problem of abuse. Finding commercial sources of the linctus became more difficult and temporary interruptions to the availability of Fudge’s Firewater occurred early in the 21st century. Then, in January 2006, a notice appeared on the window of Bridport’s East Street Pharmacy (then owned by Moss/Alliance) announcing that the medicine would be discontinued owing to “problems with the supply of ingredients”. That was the official line but I suspect this was not the full story. Around this time there had also been a change in the pharmacy regulations. Nostrums containing even small amounts of morphine, like Fudge’s Firewater, now required a prescription and this change must have contributed to Moss’s decision.

That wasn’t quite the end, though, because a modified Firewater was available for a few years from the St John’s Pharmacy in Weymouth, about 20 miles south east of Bridport. A Weymouth pharmacist, Mr Dipan Shah, produced and sold a version of the potion but because of the change in pharmacy regulations, people needed to persuade their doctor to issue a private prescription if they wanted the medicine. The need for a prescription severely affected sales and by 2009 production finally ceased. The change in regulations also means that Fudge’s Firewater is very unlikely ever to reappear.

Fudge’s Firewater served Bridport well for 50 years. The medicine is now just a memory but one that should be preserved as an important part of Bridport’s history.

I should like to thank Angela Alexander, Stuart Anderson, Richard Balson, David Conroy, Richard Cooper, Margery Hookings, Diana Leake, Kevin Morrish, Caroline Morrish-Banham, Dipan Shah, Elizabeth Williamson, Joy Wingfield, The Bridport Museum and the many commenters on social media who generously helped me in preparing this article.

This article appeared in a slightly modified form in the March edition of the Marshwood Vale Magazine.

The picture at the top of this post shows Mr David Conroy, manager of the East Street Pharmacy in Bridport in the early 21st century (from the Bridport News).


For a matter of record, I have set down the timeline of Mr Fudge’s Medicine below

The Fudge’s Firewater Timeline

1950s Mr Ken Fudge opens his pharmacy at 7 West Allington, Bridport and begins production of Mentholated Honey Syrup (Fudge’s Firewater)
1973 Mr Fudge retires and the recipe for Firewater transfers to Mr Joe Sparrow at his 24 East Street Pharmacy
1975 Mr Kevin Morrish takes over the East Street Pharmacy, together with Fudge’s Firewater
1998 Mr Morrish retires and the business is acquired by Lifestyle
2001 Moss acquires the East Street Pharmacy, Mr David Conroy is the manager until 2005
2006 Moss ceases production of Fudge’s Firewater
2006-2009 Firewater available in Weymouth (Mr Dipan Shah, St John’s Pharmacy) but only with private prescription.

33 thoughts on “A cough medicine that really worked, and it contained opium – the story of Fudge’s Firewater”

  1. Fascinating! I remember we used to take Kaolin and Morphine for upset stomachs when I was young (and in my twenty-something pub visiting years). Apparently you can still buy it, which surprised me! I guess the morphine must be within the non-prescription limits.


    1. Thanks Jane, pleased you liked the story. I also remember kaolin and morphine and how well it worked. The contemporary version of K and M contains morphine at quite a low but permitted level. My father was a pharmacist and I have a dim recollection of him saying that the morphine had been reduced at some stage, but I might be remembering incorrectly.
      Have you been enjoying the Corfe Mullen waxwings?


    1. Very interesting. I was raised in a strictly teetotal family, but my mother gave us four children a spoonful of Gee’s Linctus before bed if we had troublesome coughs. I was the runt of the litter, and had survived a bout of whooping cough at the tender age of three days; and was treated sympathetically in this regard throughout my childhood. It was prescribed by our local doctor in his wisdom; and was taken WILLINGLY. Insofar as one can tell if any medicine is effective, I truly believe that Gee’s linctus was; and much regret its unavailability in this day and age.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks for your comment. My father was a pharmacist and would bring home a “strong” cough medicine when we children had persistent coughs. It was reputed to have contained morphine and may well have been Gee’s linctus or one of it’s variants, and it worked!


    1. Thanks Marilyn. It would indeed be a good seller, but I am afraid it wont happen. Firstly the change in Pharmacy law that happened in 2005 means that if it were ever made as a nostrum in one pharmacy, then a private prescription would be required and most people wouldnt be bothered to do this. Alternatively, if someone wanted to try to sell it more generally as an “over the counter” potion they would have to spend large sums of money developing and validating the product as a new medicine and showing that it was superior to other cough medicines already on the market.


  2. I found this post fascinating. It’s amazing what things used to be legal even not very long ago. I remember when you could walk into a shop and buy magic mushrooms for breakfast every day.


    1. Glad you liked the story, Emily. As you say, one of the things that fascinated me was that this medicine was available until quite recently. You can still buy Gee’s Linctus on line, as for magic mushrooms, I couldnt possibly comment!


  3. A great story. I used to swear by Fudge’s Honey Mentholated Syrup and travelled from Wareham to Bridport especially to stock up on bottles of the stuff. It was ideal for chesty coughs, and no wonder, with its interesting ingredients.


      1. I am 99% sure that Gees Linctus is NO LONGER produced by anyone. I don’t think it is the issue of a small does of morphine sulphate rather all the ingredients Tolu Syrup and Camphorated tincture of opium not to mention the oxygen of squill. It also had a high alcoholic titre. Lovely stuff.


  4. Such an interesting post which captured my dulled thoughts as I struggle to surface from a virus I brought home after two weeks holiday. I am being treated with a friend’s Propomiel – a small teaspoonful three times a day of this mixture of honey and propolis. Is it working? – not yet. Amelia


  5. Great article. Reminded of the story of Dr Giles Roberts of Bridport and his, “Poor Man’s Friend”. I certainly heard about ‘FF’ when I was a boy growing up in Dorchester in the 1950s but our local. efficacious ‘firewater;’ was sold by a Mr Hutchings who owned a chemist in High East Street, Dorchester. Although I returned to Weymouth in 1988, Mr Shah’s elixir was under my radar until too late


    1. Thanks Jonathan, glad you liked it. I am interested that you mentioned Dr Roberts as I see the two stories (Fudge and Roberts) as both being of similar importance in Bridport’s history.
      I hadnt heard of Mr Hutchings and his firewater, do you know any more about him?


  6. Oh dear !
    I am down to my last teaspoonful of Fudge’s Mixture, bought from Mr Morrish in the eighties. It still works better than anything I know…perhaps not quite as well as the original mixtures my mother used to buy for us children growing up in Bridport in the fifties.
    I will keep on coughing….
    Brian Norris


    1. Thanks Brian, how fascinating that you still have some Fudges left. There doesn’t seem to be any doubt that it helped many people and it’s good to hear another report of its effects.


  7. Gee’s linctus is still available here in New Zealand without prescription. My friend is a doctor and told me about it a while ago when I had an awful cough. I just stumbled accross this article when researching it.. as I have a terrible cough again and wanted look into it’s effectiness as I’m fed up with wasting money on ineffective medicines. I remember her saying it contained morphine so you have to ask the pharmacist for it.


    1. Thanks Karen, that’s fascinating to hear that Gee’s linctus is still available in New Zealand. There seems to be a huge demand for a cough medicine that works but the morphine is the factor in Gee’s linctus that inhibits its availability in many countries.


  8. Just to bring you up to date NZ has made Gees Linctus subject to a doctors subscrpition earlit his year I2019) and I am told by my pharmacist that it will not be possible for them to get any more supplies.
    I have a persistent wet cough and mt doctor prescribed Gees just 3 days ago , and it is working.


  9. Thanks for that update, John, did your pharmacist say that irrespective of a prescription they still wouldnt be able to get any more Gees Linctus? I have also recently had a bad cold and persistent cough and have also wished for the Gees Linctus!! Hope you feel better soon.


  10. I’ve personally drank over 350 bottles of Gee’s linctus. If ANYONE has ANY Gee’s linctus message me IMMEDIATELY.


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