Friday, 20 April 2012

Oils Morris Ifans

A young slate worker in Ffestiniog aspired to be a doctor but, aged ten and one of a dozen children, he was obliged to work in the quarries to contribute to family finances. When there were problems at the quarry, and the men laid off, he used his savings and began his medical career in the 1880s. They say the original recipe came from a ‘vagabond’ who gave it to Morris in return for some act of kindness.

There were two main product lines – household oils for humans and oils for horses. In his day he was a pioneer in advertising through the medium of Welsh, which made him popular with the farmers, but he was also quite international. One of his promotional leaflets, targeting military buyers, tells the tale of a young soldier buying the oil at Cape Town on his way to fight the Boers. ‘The Riding Master of the Battery found it a most valuable preparation in war time for the ailments of horses, whether caused by the climate, the hard work, or the work of the enemy’.

It’s difficult to imagine the small village of Llan Ffestiniog having a ‘manufactory’ for the production of medicines but it was there, conveniently for mail order, next to the railway line between Bala and Blaenau, until not so long ago.  Morris died of tuberculosis in 1923 and the oils continued to be made up until 1980 when his youngest son Frank died. Members of the family say they still have the secret recipes but there are no plans to reintroduce them. This is a great shame as there are lots of people around who swear by it. It worked on anything. ‘Sore throat? Suck a sugar lump with a couple of drops of oil!’ 

Morris Evans’ Oils (Olew Morris Evans) didn’t make it quite as big as Elliman’s Embrocation which was manufactured in Slough from 1847 onwards by the James Elliman family. By 1911 the product was on sale in 42 countries. In the 1960’s Horlicks took over the product and they in turn were taken over by Beechams in 1970, now part of GSK (GlaxoSmithKline).

Bottle and packaging
According to the Slough Museum the three ingredients of Elliman’s Embrocation are eggs, turps and vinegar! Eggs were imported from Ireland by the million to the extent that the staff would spend six weeks just cracking them. As for the addition of turpentine this was especially dangerous and the process overseen by the fire brigade.

Like Morris Evans, James Elliman had two main product lines ‘Universal Embrocation’ for humans and ‘Royal Embrocation’ for animals. Apart from the names they were identical but tax was payable only on human medicines. 

The good news is that there is another product called Muscle Oil or Olew Gewynnau which is locally produced by descendants of the Bonesetters of Anglesey! Full details at


  1. Oil Morris Evans, was a magnificent product, and was amazing on cuts, burns etc.
    I can well remember my gran, using it, back in the early 1970s in Llanfair PG, on Anglesea, and was a cure for all ills.

    I am surprised it was still available in the 1980s, because i can remember some time in the late 1970s, it was difficult to get hold of.

    Ive still got two empty bottles of it at home.

  2. I can remember it being made, but I was never allowed in to see how it was made