History of the Society

Founding of the Society

The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain was started in 1841 (the prefix Royal was added in 1988), following a proposal by Parliament to put limits on the practice of pharmaceutical chemists and druggists. The bill did not pass, but the chemists and druggists agreed that the profession was not well enough regulated or protected, as there were no standards or enforced qualifications. The creation of a professional association would protect its qualified members, unite the profession and advance scientific knowledge.

In order to do this the Society would provide a system of education and examination that would ensure that all qualified pharmacists would receive a high level of education. Jacob Bell, along with many others including Daniel Hanbury, William Allen and John Bell, founded the society in 1841. The newly formed Pharmaceutical Society moved into number 17 Bloomsbury Square, London. A School of Pharmacy was started shortly thereafter with botany and materia medica as an important part of the students' curriculum.

The Museum

As an aid to the school, a museum of materia medica was started at the Pharmaceutical Society in 1842. The museum collected authentic and adulterated samples of crude drugs to demonstrate to students the difference between the two. The collection was used by students as well as researchers, importers, practitioners and manufacturers. They were also used as the source of lecture specimens for the early lectures at the School of Pharmacy. The collection aimed to contain a specimen of every available substance in different stages of growth as well as different samples of purity.

Some of the early curators, who significantly increased, improved, researched and organised the collection, included Theophilus Redwood, Edward Holmes and Thomas E. Wallis.

Major donations to the Pharmaceutical Society's Museum

The collection was augmented by several notable donations over the next 40 years. Apart from the distinct collections that are now at Kew, some other donations to the Pharmaceutical Society included the collection of Jonathan Pereira, Professor of Materia Medica (500 specimens); many of these specimens were used writing his influential Elements of Materia Medica (1839). W. Dymcock donated a large collection of Indian drugs, Mr. Lloyd Stacey of Corbyn and Co, presented the Corbyn Cabinet in 1908, housing a collection of 18th century medicines.

In 1926 the Royal College of Physicians of London presented its extensive materia medica collection to the Pharmaceutical Society. This collection contained many significant collections within it, including a small collection of Chinese materia medica from Mr. P. P. Thoms, and a large collection of 17th and 18th century drugs collected by John Burges, and presented to the Royal College of Physicians by Dr. Everard August Brande in 1809.

Later history of the Museum

In 1948 the School of Pharmacy moved to the University of London and it was decided to disband much of the Museum. The collections were no longer heavily used as the direction of pharmaceutical education moved away from the study of plant-based materia medica. In 1968 the School of Pharmacy at the University of Bradford agreed to take over the herbarium and materia medica from the Museum collection.

In 1983, Bradford, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society and Kew agreed that the Economic Botany Collection at Kew would be a more appropriate location for this significant collection. With support from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society the collections were integrated into the Economic Botany Collection over the next few years. The remainder of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's historical materia medica collections have stayed at the Society.


EBC Theophilus Redwood with Professors Bentley & Attfield

Theophilus Redwood with Professors Bentley & Attfield

  • Description: Theophilus Redwood, on right, with Professors Bentley and Attfield
EBC Edward Holmes

Edward Holmes

  • Description: Edward M. Holmes. c. 1900
EBC Thomas Edward Wallis

Thomas Edward Wallis

  • Description: T.E. Wallis as a student in the Chemistry lab, 1898
EBC Bloomsbury Square

Bloomsbury Square

  • Description: Pharmaceutical Society at No. 17 Bloomsbury Square, 1930s
EBC Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum 1883

Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum 1883

  • Description: Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum 1883
EBC Economic Botany Collection

Economic Botany Collection

  • Description: Economic Botany Collection in the Banks building at RBG Kew