The Pharmacopoeia Londinensis

The Pharmacopoeia Londinensis was originally published in Latin by the Royal College of Physicians in 1618 and translated into English by Nicholas Culpepper in the middle of the seventeenth century. To celebrate its 400th anniversary an illustrated version of the book is to be published later this year.
I am delighted to be one of a number of contemporary botanical artists asked to contribute to this exciting project. I have selected to paint the beautiful and intriguing ‘Rosa damascena’ or the damask rose. A strongly scented rose it is famous for its use in perfume with the fresh petals either distilled as rose water or as one of the worlds most expensive essential oils, 100ml costs more than £1500.00, the petals are also used dried and the hips used fresh or dried. Rosa damascena essential oil is composed of hundreds of components, including citronellol, citral, carvone, citronellyl acetate, eugenol, ethanol, farnesol, stearpoten, methyl eugenol, nerol, nonanol, nonanal, phenylacetaldehyde, phenylmethyl acetate, and phenyl geraniol. There is evidence of its use medicinally going back to the seventh century with a particular link to Iran and the Middle East. Recent studies of the pharmacological effects of the damask rose show it has not only antibacterial and anti oxidant effects, but also anti-viral, anti-depressant, anti-diabetic, analgesic and hypnotic properties.

Detail of Rosa damascena  –  watercolour

All of the medicinal plants painted for this publication and accompanying exhibition can be found growing in the Royal College of Physicians medicinal garden near Regents Park in London. A lecture on the Pharmacopoeia Londinensis and tours of the garden will be part of the RCP/BSHM special event on 11th June 2018. See

I was particularly interested in taking part in this medicinal plant project as I have a multidisciplinary art practice with a strong research base informed by my career as a horticulturalist working in therapeutic community gardens.  I use plants as a way of telling stories about our relationships with the natural world.


Julia Groves

Spa therapy in Stuart and Georgian England at Tunbridge Wells

Water from natural springs has been used therapeutically since antiquity. In the Christian pre-Reformation era the healing properties were often ascribed to the power of the saint to who they were dedicated and so the waters became the object of pilgrimage.

In the mid-sixteenth century Paracelsus (1493-1541) proposed the use of specific minerals in medicine. In England there were wells containing salt, sulphur or iron, known colloquially as salt, stinking or tart. An example of the last was discovered in woodland near Tonbridge in 1605 by Dudley, Lord North (1581-1666).

To promote its use he arranged for clearance of the land, the erection of lodgings and medical publicity with the publication of The Queen’s Wells in 1632 by Ludovick Rowzee, a physician from nearby Ashford.

The advertising was so successful that soon royalty attended. All the Stuart rulers, followed by Queen Mary II and her sister Queen Anne, came for fertility problems mainly associated with the difficulties of producing a male heir. The fashionable attended as it was not too far from London, situated in pleasant countryside and it boasted good facilities for therapy and entertainment.

It was suggested that you should consult your home doctor before travelling as Tunbridge did not accept children, those terminally ill nor those with infectious diseases. On arrival you would be met by Beau Nash (1674-1761) who attended each summer to arrange the entertainments of dancing, gambling and theatre. He would solicit a contribution to their costs.

Next would be a visit to the spa doctor who would recommend your individual regimen. This would include advice concerning bleeding, purging, diet, rest, exercise and moderation in alcohol intake. At Tunbridge one drank the waters rather than bathed in them. Your spa doctor would prescribe your own intake which could be up to eight pints. This would be taken before breakfast, starting with a small dose and working up to the maximum after at least a fortnight and then slowly decreasing again.

Having returned to your lodgings, breakfasted and dressed in one’s finery, you would spend the day at leisure. This could include socialising on the walks near the well, shopping, getting a book from the lending library or attending a long sermon at the local church. Gentlemen might read the daily papers and smoke at the pipe shop. The evening could be spent enjoying Nash’s diversions.

Much of the literature stated that if your ailment was not cured it was either because you had not drunk enough or that you were too mean and your stay was too short to let the waters have their effect.

John Ford

Apothecaries’ 400th Anniversary

English Apothecary Shop 17th Century after Faithorne. Undated illustration

December 6th 2017 saw the 400th anniversary of the granting of a Royal Charter by King James 1 to the Apothecaries and signalled their legal freedom from the Grocers Company. It has colloquially been called Grexit.

The Grocers had always imported the raw materials for making medicines in bulk, en grosse, hence their name. Within the Company, one of the oldest and richest London Livery Companies, there had always been a group who were more interested in compounding medicaments and filling prescriptions rather than in the business of grocery.  By the early seventeenth century this group wanted to form a company of their own which would have the power to regulate apothecaries’ work and police the purity of the drugs they made.

This secessionist group was led by Gideon de Laune, the son of William de Laune a Reformed Church minister and physician who had escaped the Huguenot persecution in France in 1572 and had settled in Blackfriars. Gideon was Apothecary to Anne of Denmark, James’s wife. Also attending the Royal family were Theodore de Mayerne (1573-1654), another Protestant refugee from France and Anne’s Physician, and Henry Atkins (1558-1635) President of the Royal College of Physicians 1607/8 and 1616/17. Atkins wanted the College to have more control over the apothecaries and thought that this could be obtained if they were separate from the Grocers.

Gideon de Laune by Cornelius Johnson 1593-1661

In 1610 the grocer-apothecaries promoted a Bill in Parliament for separation for the Grocers. This fell when Parliament was dissolved in 1611. A second attempt was made in 1614, signed by seventy-six grocer-apothecaries, but this again failed with Parliament’s dissolution. It was called the Addled Parliament and only sat for six weeks. The King acceded to a new apothecaries’ petition in 1615 and a charter was drawn up for royal signature which was delayed by wrangling among the Crown’s legal officers. In the summer of 1617 Bacon was made Regent of England while James made his first visit to Scotland since his accession. Bacon prepared a third charter which was signed on James’ return.

The legal work in preparing the apothecaries’ case was most skilfully done and it has always been thought that this was under the guidance of Francis Bacon. On Bacon’s fall from grace in 1624 he acknowledged that he had received financial favours from both parties to the dispute.

The Grocers backed by the Mayor and City of London fought the secessionists vigorously with petitions and counter claims.  However the drive and ambition of de Laune, underpinned with excellent legal advice and backed by Royal favour and the President of the Royal College of Physicians, ensured that the Apothecaries had their own Society.

John Ford

BSHM Wikipedia Editathon

Although it often seems like everything is on Wikipedia (the main page currently features articles on the oldest living Pole, the feathers of birds, and 1894 flash floods in Austria, for example!) there are many areas that could benefit from some substantial improvements, and  the history of medicine is one such field. So on 11th April, the British Society for the History of Medicine brought people together at the Wellcome Library to celebrate some of the medics, places, and events that deserve a more prominent place in the online historical record.

The Viewing Room was packed with a mixture of historians, medics, students and local wiki-editors. We began the day with inspirational talks from Iain Macintyre and Emily Mayhew, who took historic images as their focus. As we listened to them speak, topics for improvement were rapidly added to the event page – the history section of the medical illustration page needs work, and the moribund wards which Mayhew mentioned seem like a topic deserving of a page.

Most of those attending had done little or no editing of Wikipedia before, but nowadays it’s very straightforward to get started. Everyone logged in and the Wiki-editing part of the day began with new editors introducing themselves on Wikipedia and exploring some of the page-features they’d never used before, such as Talk pages where editors discuss articles and History pages where you can see every single change ever made to a page. By lunchtime, the room was buzzing with conversations about the talks and about which pages people were planning to tackle!

After lunch, Ross MacFarlane provided a quick tour of the online resources of the Wellcome Library that can be used as sources and inspiration for editing, such as the Digital Collections that are available to all users and Databases and Journals that can be accessed free with a Library card. Nusa Faric talked about her research into why people contribute to medical pages on Wikipedia, and inspired us by showing how many people can benefit from improved articles and introducing us to Wikipedia Zero (a project to provide Wikipedia free of charge on mobile phones, particularly in developing markets). Fired up and ready to go, the group dived in to editing! Some began creating pages from scratch in their Sandbox, whilst others launched into making improvements or corrections on existing pages.

New pages have already been created for leprosy doctor Isabel Kerr; Beryl Corner, who halved newborn mortality rates; cancer researcher Henry Wade; Mary Sturge, who conducted pioneering work on alcoholism; a tool for dental extraction called Coupland’s elevators; and Gilbert Primrose, surgeon to King James I. Pages for Edward Berdoe and Florence Barrett have been improved, the date of publication of De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septum by Vesalius has been corrected on the History section of the Medical illustration page, and a fascinating snippet about the re-enactment of surgery has been added to the Historical accuracy section of the page on the television series The Crown. Other pages in the works include a draft on psychiatrist and mental health campaigner Doris Odlum. Impressive work for such a short time!

Readers are already enjoying this work too – just counting the brand new pages created as part of the editathon, they have been viewed 498 times already (in just a single week!).

There is still more to be done though. A list of the Presidents of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh shows that many of these eminent figures are yet to have articles, and many of the women doctors listed on the event page still need pages creating or improving. These themes tie in perfectly with two of the themes of the BSHM Congress this year: Women in Medicine and Scotland’s Contribution and Influence. So if you find yourself inspired by a paper in Edinburgh this September, and want to share fascinating stories from the history of medicine with a wider audience, consider joining the Wiki-editing! There are lots of BSHM members who can give you pointers on getting started, and you’re very welcome to contact me at the Wellcome Library too.

Alice White

Wikimedian in Residence at the Wellcome Library
Tweet: @HistorianAlice

Celebrating Dr. Caroline Nompozolo on International Women’s Day

To mark International Women’s Day (8th March)  the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh has published an interesting blog  on the little-known story of a pioneering female doctor, Caroline Nompozolo, “the first woman of colour from the Union of South Africa to qualify in medicine”. (Children’s Newspaper, Oct 1943)

The blog can be read at

Iain Macintyre