Visit to the Apothecaries’ Hall – 9 Feb 22

A number of Freeman met at the Apothecaries’ Hall on Wednesday morning and received a very informative and enjoyable tour of the hall.

Our guide, Dr Chris Derrett, a retired GP, welcomed us into the main reception room that replicates the Society’s shop of the early 1920s. During this introduction we learnt about the history of the hall and the development of the Apothecaries’ profession. Apothecaries originated from grocers and the word ‘apothecary’ derives from the Latin ‘apothecarius’, a storekeeper.  Over the centuries apothecaries moved from simply handling medicinal products to providing diagnosis and treatment. During the tour we were shown electrical treatment devices, bloodletting equipment and glass cups for ‘cupping’. GPs emerged from this profession and now most members of the Society are doctors and pharmacists.

Some interesting items were shown and their use explained. These included a small wooden eggcup type pot that was used to coat pills with silver or gold (for those people who requested more expensive pills). A fireman’s helmet was also on display. We were told that a laboratory was once on the premises manufacturing huge amounts of flammable medicinal products, and due to this, the hall had its own fire brigade.

The site was acquired before the Great Fire of London in 1666. Unfortunately the fire destroyed much of the original buildings that were once part of the Black Friars Priory before the dissolution. It was in the dining room of the priory where Cardinal Wolsey helped to adjudge the validity of the marriage of Henry VIII to Catherine of Aragon. A map of the priory and a painting of Catherine of Aragon being interviewed were on display. Rebuilding of the hall started in 1668 and much remains from those days.

Our tour from the reception room included ascending the 17th century staircase and visiting a number of rooms including the Court room, Parlour room and Great Hall. Throughout the building the walls are festooned with portraits of Past Masters, Kings and Queens and Lord Mayors of London. Display cabinets in every room are full of medicinal jars, pots and medical instruments.

Today the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries supports a number of charities, provides a programme of social and educational events and has two academic faculties; The Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy and The Faculty of Conflict and Catastrophe Medicine.

Following the visit, 24 of us had a very nice lunch in Côte Brasserie, concluding a very enjoyable and interesting morning.

Gary Jones CBE