The history of contraception and pregnancy testing in Portsmouth is often overlooked but in the company Lloyds of Portsmouth we can see the development of the service across a period of more than 100 years.
The business was established in the 1890s by Walter Henry Lloyd - a Master Herbalist who qualified in America in the days when "medicine men" toured the West in covered wagons selling various nostrums and cure-alls. As a crowd puller he would extract teeth for free to the accompaniment of drum rolls from his assistant (the Ballyhoo) and then sell "Lloyd's Pink Pills" at a dollar a box (the Shill). These were good for a remarkable number of complaints.
On returning to the busy British Naval port of Portsmouth Walter opened a shop at 23 Lake Road as a Herbal Cash Drug Store on the American model. It offered advice free on all diseases and all medicines sold were purely herbal. There was also a Dental Surgery and the business advertised itself as a Temple of Health. Walter married and had three sons.
At the turn of the century the perfection of the vulcanisation process for rubber goods made possible the manufacture of reliable condoms which, together with Dutch Caps and pessaries, formed the basis of contraception. The work of Marie Stopes did much to overcome the considerable public ignorance and prejudice about contraception with the publication of her book "Married Love" in 1918.
To Walter the provision of rubber goods was a natural avenue for his business to take and he was in correspondence with Marie and her Family Planning Association about sources of supply. He was one of the first to market contraceptive goods freely over the counter at a time when it was very difficult to obtain such things. Portsmouth serviced the Fleet at that time with all the consequences to be expected and sales of sexual products and remedies were good.
By the 1930's Walter had established further Lloyds branches in Bristol and Manchester each run by one of his sons. He moved to Manchester and died there in 1936 by which time the original Portsmouth shop was run by his youngest son Ralph Edward Victor Lloyd who was born in 1897. He had five children and they lived above the shop. Then came the War and Portsmouth as the home of the Navy was particularly targeted by German bombs. The Lake Road shop was flattened by a direct hit in 1941 and Ralph, having seen his livelihood reduced to a pile of rubble, died the same year aged only 45.
The business limped along for the duration of the War in rented premises run by Ralph's wife Hilda. It was taken over by her eldest son Bertie in 1947. He was 20 years old and a man of enterprise. He established the repair of dentures by post as a profitable sideline. By this time Lloyds Hygienic and Surgical Stores were selling mostly contraceptive and other sexual products with the addition of a few of Walter's original herbal remedies including Vital Tonic tablets. ("They impart youthful vigour and power").
Bertie was in the right place at the right time when he had the revolutionary idea of selling contraceptives by mail order. In 1948 such things were only obtainable from barbers shops ("Something for the evening Sir?") and there were still many taboos about sexual products being available on open sale. The problem was that it was almost impossible to advertise for no magazine or paper would accept adverts for contraceptives for fear of offending their readers. Bertie solved this problem by offering "Free Family Planning Advice" in the form of a handy booklet written by himself which contained a price list at the back. Even so only two magazines would accept his advert. The response was huge. He offered a confidential and discreet service by return of post in plain brown paper packaging and was the first to do so on any scale. In the 1950's the business entered its most prosperous phase becoming Lloyd's Surgical Department Limited in 1957.
By the time of the "Permissive Sixties" Bertie no longer had the field to himself and advertising restrictions were no longer as tight. Even though the market place was becoming more competitive Lloyds was still the first to introduce pregnancy testing by post.
Bertie died in 1994 but the business continued true to his principles of service to customers in the hands of his son Ralph. The next communications revolution, the internet, posed a far greater problem to Lloyds as companies around the world joined in the race to sell condoms to a world-wide audience. Seeing that he could not afford to be left behind, Ralph ventured into the realms of online sales but sadly the competition was just too fierce and Lloyds was forced out of business in 2007 so ending more than a 100 years trade.
This article was written by Ralph Lloyd and originally appeared on the Lloyds website. It has been slightly adapted for publication on this site.