On Tuesday 7 February 2023, we made a visit to the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries’ Hall in Black Friars Lane, in the City of London. The building we see today dates in part from the reconstruction following the Great Fire of London, but in earlier times was the location for the guest house of the the Black Friars monastery. It had been the location for the Legatine Court in 1529 which had heard arguments for and against the annulment of Henry VIII’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon.
Our guide, Dr Chris Derritt, explained the background and history of the Society of Apothecaries, starting with the Pepperers and Grocers of the 12th Century, the involvement of the Herbalists in the 14th Century, and the granting of the Royal Charter to the Society in 1617 during the reign of James I.
The building had been a centre of production for medicines through the ages with a shop at the front of the premises, but today it serves as a venue for various livery companies to meet, and as a museum for the display of its many items of interest and its archives. On the occasion of our visit, there was a luncheon for 120+ members of the Worshipful Company of Environmental Cleaners, complete with pikemen on duty in the courtyard.
Dr Derritt explained the connection between Apothecaries, Physicians and Surgeons, and the role that the London Society of Apothecaries had played in the training of General Practitioners in the 19th Century. In particular, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson had trained there before gaining a qualification that allowed her to be the first woman qualified to practice medicine.
Today, the Society concentrates on charitable work, supporting students and its two faculties – the Faculty of the History and Philosophy of Medicine and Pharmacy, and the Faculty of Conflict and Catastrophe Medicine. This was a most interesting visit, and we are indebted to Dr Derritt for his clear explanation of the events that had taken place in past days.