170 years of Pharmacy History at Boots UK

Over the last two hundred years, pharmacists have played a significant role within community life. This has perhaps never been more apparent than the last year, with high street pharmacies becoming one of the few vital services permitted to remain active during the long periods of social lock down.


As you can imagine, our Boots Archive team have been busy recording our response to COVID-19 and documenting it for future generations. We have all sorts of interesting records from our 170-year history, so we wanted to share some pharmacy facts from our Archives team with you today.

Female Pharmacists – Breaking the Boundaries

As men once again left their occupations to serve in the Second World War, the female pharmacists who took their place saw a greater social acceptance than their predecessors. Post-war discussions regarding gender within the profession focused on the widespread issues affecting most women in the workplace employability, equal pay and working married women.

In 1947, just over 100 years after its creation, the Pharmaceutical Society elected its first female president, Jean Irvine. At that time, around 35% of pharmacists were women. Today, women make up 69% of the pharmacy profession in Britain.

The 1960s saw a significant increase in the number of female managers at Boots, all of whom were qualified pharmacists. Numbers rose from 16 at the start of the decade to 43 by the end.

By 1970, Boots employed over 200 female pharmacists. Opportunities for women were starting to align with those offered to male colleagues. The management of large stores or regional store management were considered attainable positions for women.

Not so long ago, lady managers were something of a phenomenon. Now we expect them on equal terms with their male colleagues and indeed, their opportunities and working conditions are exactly the same for the men. The sky’s the limit for women in the company today.

Equal representation in senior management was highlighted by the editor of the Chemist and Druggist on International Women’s Day this year, stating that “women in the profession need more and better platforms to help them to reach the same heights as their male counterparts”. In 2020 Bernadette Lavery became the first female Pharmacy Director at Boots. In her first International Women’s Day message to colleagues, she shared insights from her own experiences with words of challenge and encouragement. She also urged others to nurture female talent within the organisation.

Female Pharmacists

Tools of the Trade

In the days before the mass manufacture of medicines, a large part of the pharmacist’s work involved making up the pills, tablets, powders and syrups required by customers. This was slow work, which required care and precision in order to ensure the finished result was exactly as the formula specified. The pharmacist had a wide range of equipment to assist in their work, such as bottles, jars, bowls, measures and weights, as well as a huge variety of ingredients, making the inside of the pharmacy “as full of promise as Aladdin’s cave”.

Behind the counter, ‘shop rounds’ (glass and ceramic storage bottles) were used to house ingredients. Shop rounds varied in shape and size depending on the nature of the substance contained within it. Powders were kept in wide mouthed bottles, to make the extraction of the contents easier. Liquids bottles had a narrow neck and a lip to enable to the exact pouring of precise dosages. Oils had a spout set into a collar to return any spillages back into the bottle. Syrups left a sticky residue after pouring, which then crystallised and jammed the stopper, so instead, tin caps were used and in more recent decades, plastic. Due to their dangerous contents and the perils of working in poor light, poison bottles were designed to be highly distinguishable. Ridged bottles provided an instant warning when it was first touched, and sometimes an additional alert such as a sandpaper collar or even a bell was added.

Tools of the Trade

If you would like more information about becoming a pharmacist with Boots or have any questions about joining us you can browse our nationwide vacancies to find the right role for you or use our live chat function to speak to one of our in-house recruitment today - you can access the live chat in the bottom right corner of our pharmacist page.

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Content Specialist, Boots UK

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