Royal Pharmaceutical Society

The Pharmaceutical History of Coronation Oil

image of John Bell & Co. Chemists, 338 Oxford Street, London, c. 1870by Catherine Walker, Museum Officer at Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Stored away in the fashionable pharmacy of John Bell & Croyden, is a small vial of Coronation oil that has been the responsibility of pharmacists since the reign of Queen Victoria.

Peter Squire, a founding member of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, ran a dispensing chemist in Oxford Street in the West End of London in the early 19th century. Among his clientele was Queen Victoria, who made Squire her Chemist by Appointment on her assent to the throne. This began a long relationship with the Royal Family and the burgeoning pharmacy profession.

Peter Squire’s son Peter Wyatt Squire continued the business on the death of his father and was called upon to mix the anointing oil for the Coronation of Queen Victoria’s successor, King Edward VII.

This chrism oil was created from a recipe used since King Charles I and included traditional pharmaceutical ingredients such as sesame and olive oil, jasmine, rose and cinnamon.

After the death of Peter Wyatt Squire, the business continued to be responsible for preparing the anointing oil used in the coronation of monarch throughout the early 20th Century, including the coronation of King George VI in 1937.

Botanical illustration of the plant Sesamum indicum, common name sesame.When it was time for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953 Squire and Company were no longer trading, having been acquired my Savory and Moore in 1950. Complicating matters, the oil that had been mixed by Squire had been destroyed by bomb damage during the Second World War and a new batch had to be mixed.

Through the seven decades of the reign of Elizabeth II, the coronation oil passed hands to another pharmacy business. John Bell & Croyden had been among the 19th century pharmacies trading in London’s West End. This company had also been acquired by Savory and Moore in 1928 and were later granted a Royal Warrant in 1958.

Savory and Moore ceased trading in 1968 but John Bell & Croydon continued to hold the Royal Warrant until Queen Elizabeth’s death in 2022. John Bell & Croyden still holds two bottles of anointing oil from the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II.

For his own Coronation, King Charles has chosen to have a new oil mixed, to reflecting his own values. While this concludes a long-standing pharmaceutical tradition, the connection to pharmacy continues in a new way. Traditional pharmaceutical ingredients such as sesame, cinnamon and jasmine remain in the new formula, as a reminder of pharmacy’s links to this ancient ceremony.   

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