Apothecaries’ Hall

Another in the series on historic secular buildings of London …

London’s Trades Guilds, or Livery Companies,  so-called for their distinguishing attire, began to be founded from the turn of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries onwards,  possibly essentially as part of an attempt to control the freedom to trade at a time of comparative over-population and shortage of work.  The Livery Companies established working practices and maintained quality standards (through so-called “searches”).  They  also provided apprenticeships for members at the beginning of their working lives, and alms for those at the end of theirs.  And they may, or may not,  have exerted control over commodity prices. 

Of the total of 77 Livery Companies   in existence in London at the time of the Great Fire of 1666, 13 (17%) were involved in the cloth and clothing sectors of the economy; 12 (16%) in food and drink; 10 (13%) in construction and interior design; 10 (13%) in metal-working; 5 (7%) in wood-working (including shipwrighting); 4 (5%) in leather-working; 3 (4%) in arms manufacture; 3 (4%) in equestrian accoutrement manufacture;  3 (4%) in the medical profession; 2  (3%) in chandlery; 2 (3%) in the clerical profession; 2 (3%) in entertainment;  2 (3%) in transport; and the remaining 6 (8%) in sundry trades.  London’s economy was evidently still dominated by the manufacture of goods, rather than by services, at this time.

Almost all of the Livery Companies’ Halls were burned down in the Great Fire of 1666, with only parts of the Apothecaries’ and Merchant Taylors’ surviving.

The Worshipful Society of Apothecaries was incorporated by Royal Charter in 1617, and the Apothecaries’ Hall on Blackfriars Lane was originally built in 1633, on part of the site of the former Blackfriars Priory, which had been dissolved in 1538.  The hall was substantially burnt down in the Great Fire of 1666, and subsequently rebuilt by Thomas Lock in 1668.  Only parts of the walls of the original building survive.

Apothecaries in Medieval and post-Medieval London were essentially purveyors of herbs and herbal medicines (the word derives from the Latin apotheca, meaning a storehouse where wines, spices and herbs were kept). Sad to say, the medicines were entirely ineffectual against the principal killer diseases of the time, Plague and Sweating Sickness.

One notable apothecary of the time was John Parkinson (1567-1650), who grew his own medicinal plants in a garden in Long Acre in Covent Garden, and sold his own medicines in a shop on Ludgate Hill, a short walk from the Apothecaries’ Hall.   He  was one of the founder-members of the Apothecaries’ Company, and also the apothecary to James I, and Royal Botanist to Charles I.   He also wrote  “A Garden of All Sorts of Pleasant Flowers” in 1629, and  “The Theatre of Plants” in 1640. 

Another notable was Gideon de Laune (1565-1659), the son of a Huguenot who had fled to London to escape religious persecution in his native France. He was another of the co-founders of the Apothecaries’ Company, and the apothecary to James I’s queen, Anne of Denmark. There is a fine marble bust of him in the Company’s Hall

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