17 Bloomsbury Square

History of the Society

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

Early history and foundation

In the early 1800s, some chemists and druggists had already worked collectively to protect the profession’s interests. They successfully argued for an exemption from the Apothecaries Act of 1815, formed a committee to monitor the progress of a proposed Sale of Poisons Bill in 1819, and created a short-lived General Association of Chemists and Druggists to promote protection against the Medicine Stamp Duty Act.

In 1841, a group of chemists and druggists convened a public meeting in London to discuss a proposed medical reform bill.  Although this bill failed at its second reading, the trade felt vulnerable. It was unregulated and unrestricted. Anyone could operate under the title of Chemist and/or Druggist.

Jacob Bell, the son of a Quaker pharmacist John Bell, emerged as a spokesman for those concerned. The group agreed that the best foundation for a permanent independent association was membership based on a recognised qualification. William Allen proposed the formation of the Pharmaceutical Society at a meeting on April 15th 1841 at the Crown and Anchor Tavern on the corner of Arundel Street and the Strand in London. John Bell seconded it. Allen went on to become the Society’s first president. A committee of forty was appointed as the first Council to frame laws and regulations. It served until elections in May 1842, when a Council of 21 members was formed.

The Society’s founding aims were to unite the profession into one body, to protect its members' interests and to advance scientific knowledge. The Royal Charter of Incorporation, granted to the Society in February 1843, gave the purpose of “advancing chemistry and pharmacy and promoting a uniform system of education” precedence over “the protection of those who carry on the business of chemists and druggists.”

In September 1841, the Society took a yearly lease on a house at 17 Bloomsbury Square.

The Society published a list of the founder members, in its Pharmaceutical Journal, on January 1st 1842. There were 23 honorary members, 665 full members, and 263 non-voting associate members (assistants and apprentices). 30% of members and 40% of associates were based in London.  Despite an initial surge, and the establishment of 29 local associations, further recruitment of members was slow.

A School of Pharmacy, library and museum of materia medica were established at Bloomsbury Square in 1842. Jacob Bell, Theophilus Redwood, and Jonathon Pereira led the Society’s educational and scientific projects.  Pereira was appointed Professor of Materia Medica in 1843. Redwood pioneered the establishment of a laboratory for teaching practical chemistry in 1844. 

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