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The Apothecaries in London


Apothecaries Hall, London (Photo)

Apothecaries Hall London

Take the Panoramic Tour of the Garret

What made me love thee? let that persuade thee there's something extraordinary in thee. Come, I cannot cog and say thou art this and that, like a many of these lisping hawthorn buds, that come like women in men's apparel, and smell like Bucklersbury in simple-time: I cannot; but I love thee, none but thee, and thou deservest it.

Falstaff to Mistress Ford in the Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare


Until 1617 the trade in medicinal plants was controlled by the Grocers' Company, and was concentrated in Bucklesbury in the City which was famous for its aroma. In 1617 the Apothecaries broke away from the Grocers claiming that:

'very many empiricks and unskilled and ignorant men .... do abide in our city ... which are not well instructed in the art and mystery of Apothecaries but ... do make and compound many unwholesome, hurtful, deceitful, corrupt dangerous medicines.'

In 1676 they set up the Chelsea Physic Garden - now the second oldest botanical garden in England.

Apothecaries and Surgeons, in contrast to Physicians, did not have university degrees. Instead they served an apprenticeship, usually of 7 years. It was also usual for St Thomas's medical pupils to train with an Apothecary before training as a Surgeon.

The Apothecary had a greater standing than the present day chemist - the St Thomas's apothecary was the chief resident medical officer of the Hospital, responsible for all patients in the physicians' absence and for all prescriptions in surgical cases.

As science improved, and active ingredients were isolated and synthesised, the apothecary's art was increasingly replaced by the science of the pharmacist. Before the development of the chemical industry, medicinal compounds were virtually all made out of natural plants. Even today 70% of our medicines originate from herbal sources.

The Apothecary at St Thomas

spacer image Notes from St. Thomas's archives concerning herbs and the apothecary spacer image

spacer image Herb List from Guy's Hospital spacer image Medicinal use of Herbs spacer image Apothecaries in Londonspacer image Administering herbal medicines spacer image 'A Modern Herbal' by Mrs M Grieve. spacer image