History of the Society

The Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain was founded on 15 April 1841 by a group of leading chemists and druggists in London.

Early history and foundation

17 Bloomsbury Square

If you were sick in the 1800s, who would you turn to?

Back then, anyone could set up a stall and sell you whatever medicines they liked. Drugs were completely unregulated and unrestricted. As a patient, you wouldn’t know if you were getting the right drug, a fake drug – or something that would poison you.

There were plenty of concerned chemists out there, of course, and they wanted to make their profession more respectable. 

So, in April 1841 they met at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the corner of Arundel Street and the Strand in London. Here, William Allen suggested a solution to form a new society: the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. This would be an independent association, that would only admit members with a recognised qualification.

His proposal was seconded by John Bell, and Allen went on to become the Society’s first president. They appointed a council of 40 to frame laws and regulations. And in September, they leased a house at 17 Bloomsbury Square for their meetings.

That September, the membership looked like this:

  • 23 honorary members
  • 665 full members
  • 263 non-voting associate members (assistants and apprentices).

30% of members and 40% of associates were based in London, but soon 29 local associations were formed all over the country.

In May 1842, the council grew to 21 members.

Then a few months later, in February 1843, the Society was granted a Royal Charter of Incorporation by Queen Victoria. (They didn’t call themselves ‘Royal’ yet – that would start in 1988.)

With the granting of its Royal Charter, the Society set an ambitious purpose: “advancing chemistry and pharmacy and promoting a uniform system of education [for] the protection of those who carry on the business of chemists and druggists.”

After that, they built a School of Pharmacy, a library and a museum of materia medica at Bloomsbury Square. In 1843 Jonathon Pereira was appointed Professor of Materia Medica. In 1844, Theophilus Redwood opened a laboratory to teach practical chemistry.

True to their purpose, they had started leading in educational and scientific projects.

But their work was only just beginning...

A short video history of the RPS

Our Museum Officer, Catherine, has recorded this look at some of our achievements over the past 180 years.

Find out more about the 180-year history of RPS on our virtual online exhibition.

Some significant milestones

1850 Jacob Bell became MP for St Albans, primarily to push for a Pharmacy Act.

1851 The Arsenic Act could not restrict the supply of arsenic to chemists & druggists, as there was no legal definition of the role.

1852 Pharmacy Act, June 30th. Established a Register of Pharmaceutical Chemists, restricted to those who had taken the Society’s exams. However, the Act did not restrict the practice of pharmacy to examined and registered people, nor provide a legal definition for the trade and practice of pharmacy. Bell lost his parliamentary seat on 1st July when the St Albans constituency was disenfranchised following a revelation of bribery.

1859 Jacob Bell died, aged 49.

1859 The Chemist and Druggist was launched.

1861 The United Society of Chemists & Druggists founded. It supported the Pharmaceutical Society’s general aims, but accused it of being elitist and unrepresentative. Agreement was reached when the Pharmaceutical Society settled that chemists & druggists in business at the time of a proposed Pharmacy Act would be eligible for membership and election to its Council.

1864 The first British Pharmaceutical Conference (BPC) was held in Bath.

1868 The Pharmacy Act set up a register of people qualified to sell, dispense and compound poisons. The Pharmaceutical Society would examine and register pharmacists, and prosecute them in cases relating to poisons. Regulations in other areas was left to the Society.

1879 Isabella Clarke and Rose Minshull, already Pharmaceutical Chemists, were elected Society members, the first women to be accepted.

1898 The Pharmacy Acts Amendment Act. Apprentices became ‘student associates’, and Chemists & Druggists became full members of the Society with the same rights as Pharmaceutical Chemists, except from exemption from jury service.

1901 Supplementary charter granted. It increased the limit on the Society’s properties and rents.

1908 The Poisons and Pharmacy Act. The Society gained further powers relating to education and training. Corporate bodies could only use the term Chemist & Druggist if the business’ qualified pharmacy superintendent was on the board of directors. The title of Pharmacist was extended to all registered persons.

1918 Margaret Buchanan became the first female member of Council.

1924 The University of London’s Bachelor of Pharmacy degree was the first to be approved by the Pharmaceutical Society.

1920 Formation of the Retail Pharmacists Union (now the National Pharmaceutical Association), after the Jenkins case proved that the Society could not act as a trade union, and regulate hours, wages, prices or conditions of employment. Shortly afterwards the Guild of Public Pharmacists (now the Guild of Hospital Pharmacists) was founded.

1922 Formation of the Society’s regional branches.

1926 The Society’s pharmacological laboratories, established to research and standardise remedies, were opened by Neville Chamberlain, then Minister for Health.

1933 The Pharmacy and Poisons Act. Privy Council became pharmacy’s central authority and 3 Privy Council nominees were to serve on the Society’s Council. Membership, with an annual fee, became compulsory for all registered Pharmaceutical Chemists, and Chemists & Druggists. Statutory Committee was established as a disciplinary body, and the inspectorate was set up. Registration of premises was proposed, and was first published in 1936.

1937 King George VI became the Society's patron.

1941 Statement upon Matters of Professional Conduct, the first simple code of ethics, was published. The idea had first been proposed in 1866.

1947 Mrs Jean Irvine was elected as the Society’s first female president.

1948 The Society’s North British branch became its Scottish department.

1953 Supplementary charter granted. Its primary focus was to widen the Society’s objectives to cover all pharmacists, and to bring more of its actions under the control of its own Byelaws.

1976 Foundation of the Society’s Welsh Executive.

1988 The late Queen Elizabeth II agreed that the title "Royal" should be granted to the Pharmaceutical Society.

2004 Launch of MedicinesComplete, a website providing online access to Pharmaceutical Press publications including BNF and Martindale: The Complete Drug Reference.

2004 Supplementary Charter granted.

2009 The late Queen Elizabeth II allowed amendments to the Supplemental Charter of 2004.

2010 The Royal Pharmaceutical Society shed its regulatory function to become the new professional leadership body for Pharmacists in England, Scotland and Wales.

2013 RPS Faculty established.

Today, together with all our members, we are pharmacy.

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