From Chemist To Local Celebrity

There are certain families on my family tree that I get messages and questions about more than others simply because they are so prolific and heavily researched. I spend so long researching these family names that they really do become a part of me. Some of my most heavily researched lines include the names of Brumby, Doo, Metcalfe, Batters, and Edwards. It is a member of the Doo family that I am writing about today who was as far as I can tell a bit of a local legend in his day but whose name is remembered in a way that even he would not have conceived of when he was alive. His name was Harold Emile Doo or H. Emile Doo as he was known in business or just Emile to those closest to him. He was my 3rd cousin 3 times removed and his Great-grandfather James Doo was the brother of Holmes Doo who was my 4x Great-Grandfather on my mother’s side. (Remember that name for I have further stories to tell of Holmes Doo and his family!)

Harold Emile Doo was born on the 15th January 1885 in Netherton, Worcestershire, England to parents James Emile Doo and Letitia Lytle. He was the second child to be born to them out of five children in total and he was the eldest boy with an older sister, a younger sister and two younger brothers. His family story is a sad one in itself in that three of Emile’s siblings were lost to the family at a young age. His sister Daisy Maud Doo died in infancy aged just 3 years old and his brother James Lawrence Doo survived only weeks. His other brother Arthur Cyril Doo was killed in action at age 23 whilst serving with the Duke of Cornwall’s Battalion as a Gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery in France during WWI. Emile’s father was a chemist having started his career in Derbyshire as a Surgeon’s Assistant which is where he met and married Emile’s mother Letitia, the daughter of a Policeman in 1882. The family moved back to Netherton pretty much straight away and by 1991, James Emile Doo had his own chemist/druggist shop situated at 5 Halesowen Road in Netherton. In 1901, Emile Doo, aged 16 was a student preparing to work in the same  business as his father and by 1911, he was doing exactly that and working alongside his father in the family shop. The father, James, died 14th November 1915 and Emile took over the family business for himself and remained a chemist there until his death in 1970.

H.Emile Doo's Chemist Shop in Halesowen Road, Netherton
H.Emile Doo’s Chemist Shop on Halesowen Road, Netherton

(Source: “The Black Country Living Museum – 25 Years” by David F. Vodden, Sutton Publishing Limited, 2000, ISBN 0-7509-2629-5, pp 19-21)

Whilst alive, Emile must have been a very important part of the community and trusted by many who would have sought out his help for all kinds of ailments. The Pharmacist back in those days was treated very much like the poor man’s doctor and Emile readily made his own concoctions and home remedies and in the absence of baby clinics and health visitors, his shop must have been a hub for mothers to meet and get advice on feeding and teething and even to have their babies weighed. Emile Doo was not uncomfortable treating animals and humans alike as is evidenced in this local newspaper article, a modern-day story (2 July 2009) reflecting on one person’s memory of Emile Doo the chemist from when they were younger. Emile’s features on page two of this article.

(Published 2 Jul 2009 in “The Bugle”)

Emile Doo did marry – to Kathrene Sarah Golding Barnsley in 1918 and they had one daughter Betty Doo born in 1922. Betty did not marry herself and had no children so with no-one to take up the reins, Emile’s story would have ordinarily ended at his death but not so in this case. The fixtures and fittings of Emile’s shop were donated by the Doo family to The Black Country Living Museum – a registered educational charity whose aim was to preserve social history in a very authentic and tangible way preserving a way of life so that it can be experienced in a true and full sensory way. The result of their hard work can now be experienced in one of the largest open-air museums that exists in this country and H.Emile Doo’s little shop is just one of the centrepieces of this attraction.

Around 1973, the interior of Emile’s shop was displayed at an exhibition in Dudley Museum but in 1979, his shop was dismantled and reconstructed brick-by-brick using the original shop frontage and interior fixtures and became a part of the museum’s “village” where visitors can get a very nostalgic experience of what life must have been like all those years ago.

A book celebrating 25 years of the museum by David F. Vodden commemorates in pictures the scale of the work that was undertaken to create this attraction and in it you can find pictures of the shop under construction on the site. Below is how the shop looks today and the museum have created an exhibit information sheet that is freely downloadable and offers further insight into Emile Doo and his work as a chemist.

(Source: The Black Country Living Museum)

I don’t suppose for one minute that Emile thought his life’s work would ever be immortalised in this way; I wonder what he would have made of it all! Over 40 years have passed since his death but thousands upon thousands of people will know the name of H.Emile Doo. Less than that will know of the man himself, but there is something about researching a story like his that makes you feel very connected to him. He died just before I was born and all I can think of is going to visit his shop and have my picture taken in front of it knowing that his family’s blood runs in my veins too! A journey I think I will have to make very soon!

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