Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,469 pages of information and 245,911 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Boots Pure Drug Co

From Graces Guide
The Hygienic Inhaler.
September 1912.
August 1918.
1933. New Factory designed by Sir E. Owen Williams, M.Inst.C.E.
1933. Conveyor Plant at the New Factory at Beeston.
May 1935.
November 1936. Stamford Street Store, London.
January 1944.
February 1944.
March 1944.
May 1944.

of Station Street, Nottingham. Telephone: 3160 Nottingham. Telegrams: "Drug, Nottingham". (1922)

Ditto Address and Cables. Telephone: Nottingham: 45501. (1929)

Ditto all. (1947)

1815 John Boot was born in Radcliffe-on-Trent.

He started work as an agricultural labourer before travelling to attend services at Wesleyan chapels in the Lace Market area of Nottingham.

Herbal remedies were popular at that time as the labouring poor could not afford the services of a physician. Boot's mother had used herbs for healing and he may have been familiar with remedies published in John Wesley's herbal Primitive Physic.

1849 With the help of his father-in-law and the support of the local Methodist community, he opened The British and American Botanic Establishment at 6 Goose Gate, hoping to provide physical comfort to the needy, as well as a reasonable living for his family. In addition to giving consultations and serving in the shop, John and his wife, Mary, prepared many remedies themselves.

By 1851 John Boot had moved to Hockley. It was a poor area so he became involved in chapel affairs and local schemes to improve living conditions within his community.

1860 John Boot died at the age of 45, after years of hard work and ill-health,. Mary took over management of the shop, with the help of her ten year-old son, Jesse, who gathered and prepared herbs and served behind the counter.

c.1871 When Jesse Boot was 21, he became a partner in the business, which began to trade under the name of M. and J. Boot, Herbalists. Determined to cut his prices, he preferred cash to credit. With extensive advertising, he began to sell a wider range of stock and advertised "over 2,000 articles".

1877 Jesse took sole control of the shop, became one of the busiest shopkeepers and the largest dealer in patent medicines in Nottingham.

1879 Success brought hostility from many fellow chemists, who criticised his cut-prices and tried to cast doubt on some of Boot's products. The House of Lords supported the right of general stores and companies, as well as traditional chemists, to dispense medicines.

1881 With financial support from several local business contacts, Jesse Boot took on a lease of a vacant property at 16-20 Goosegate. He converted the building into a new shop which contained the retail and wholesale areas, workshops, stockrooms, offices and living accommodation.

1883 The business became a private concern, Boot and Company Limited, with himself as chairman and managing director.

The success of the Goosegate shop inspired Jesse Boot to repeat the expansion elsewhere. He bought vacant properties all over Nottingham. They were usually in poorer districts so properties were reasonably cheap and he refurbished them all similarly. Each was opened to a fanfare of publicity. The growth of the railway network allowed Jesse to consider a much larger operation.

1884 The first Boots store outside Nottingham was opened, at Snig Hill in Sheffield.

1884 Jesse found and appointed Edwin Warin, a qualified pharmacist, in order to offer dispensing services, thus bringing with him the professional prestige that the business needed.

1885 Jesse Boot, suffering from overwork, took a holiday in Jersey, where he met Florence Rowe, the daughter of a bookseller and stationer in St. Helier. They were married the following year and John, their first child was born in 1889.

Florence enjoyed the retail side of the company introducing books, stationery, fancy goods, artists' materials and picture frames. Jesse and Florence began to develop a concept of Boots shops as department stores.

1885 Then followed an investment in the manufacturing side of the business. Jesse wanted the company to be self-contained so that he could control both prices and quality and to be the 'Largest, Best and Cheapest'. He then took a lease on three rooms in Island Street in Nottingham.

1888 To build public confidence in the quality and purity of his products, Jesse renamed the business Boots Pure Drug Company Limited. The company was registered on 7 November. [1]

1891 Jesse secured the lease on a property in Nottingham town centre. The premises were largely rebuilt, with a gallery supported by a colonnade of cast iron pillars and mahogany counters. This became the model for future Boots stores throughout the country.

By 1892 he had taken over the whole building and further properties around Island Street and Parkinson Street. Over 80 staff, including a large proportion of women, were employed in packing, bottling, shop fitting, printing, advertising, laboratory work and accounts. The Island Street works were ideally sited for developing the company's distribution system as they were convenient to the canal, main roads and railway stations.

1892 Boots, Limited, was registered to carry on the business of chemists and druggists,

By 1893 Jesse had opened 33 stores, with 7 branches in Nottingham, and extended further south, into East Anglia, and the West Midlands.

1897 Boots, Cash Chemists (Western), Limited was registered to take over some of the retail businesses from Boots Pure Drug Co, Limited.

1899 Boots, Cash Chemists (Lancashire), Limited was registered to take over certain businesses from Boots, Cash Chemists (Western), Limited, and Boots Pure Drug Company, Limited.

1900 Boots Ltd was renamed Boots, Cash Chemists (Eastern), Limited.

1901 Boots, Cash Chemists (Southern), Limited was registered to acquire retail chemists’ and druggists’ shops originally belonging to Day's Metropolitan Drug Co, Limited, Day's Southern Drug Co, Limited, a chain of 60 stores in London and the south of England, and Boots Pure Drug Co Limited.

At the turn of the century, there were 250 Boots stores in the retail chain. As well as opening new branches, Jesse acquired existing chemist's firms.

Florence Boot, inspired by her interest in literature and the arts, founded a subscription library, the Boots Booklovers' Library. She also had the idea of opening elegant cafés in the larger stores. These had an impact on sales, attracted the more affluent middle classes to shop at Boots and encouraged loyalty.

1908 The Pharmacy Act confirmed the legal right of large companies and stores such as Boots to offer dispensing services.

1911 The Health Insurance Act extended medical benefits to ordinary working people and there was a dramatic increase in the number of prescriptions.

1913 Sales in the 560 Boots stores across England Wales and Scotland amounted to over £2.5 million a year.

Boots made a significant contribution to the war effort, producing items for men at the Front, such as water sterilizers, vermin powder and anti-fly cream. Many fine chemicals, such as aspirin and saccharin, had previously been imported from Germany; Jesse anticipated a shortage in supply. He enlarged the company's scientific laboratories and production facilities and manufactured for the government, domestic and overseas buyers. Over 900 women were involved in the manufacture of box respirators, used as gas masks. Over 5 million of these were produced throughout the war.

Post-WW1. Jesse Boot began to consider the company's future. He anticipated that the business would soon face a post-war depression, as well as greater competition. Increasingly disabled by arthritis, Jesse would soon need to relinquish control.

1920 Louis Liggett, the head of the United Drug Company, one of the largest pharmaceutical firms in America, made an offer to purchase the company for £2.25 million and the sale was agreed.

1922 British Industries Fair Advert. List of British made Chemicals. Manufacturers of fine Chemicals, Synthetic Drugs and Perfumes, Pharmaceuticals, Soaps and Toilet preparations. (Stand No. A.6) [2]

John Boot, Jesse's son was invited by Liggett to travel to America and study the production methods and organisation of the parent company. Certain problems were evident within the Boots business by 1920, including the difficulty of communicating with over 600 stores across the country. The company was re-organised, with a new committee structure and an emphasis on centralisation and efficiency. The introduction of a hierarchy of Territorial Managers also provided a career structure for pharmacists within the company. John Boot was associated with most of the new developments within the business and became chairman in 1927.

1929 The Depression in America forced L. K. Liggett Company into bankruptcy and Liggett was forced to sell his holding in Boots.

The company began to establish an agricultural division. The new Soap Works, 'D1', was built.

1929 British Industries Fair Advert for the Manufacture and Export of Fine Chemicals, Research Chemicals, Pharmaceuticals, Tablets, Pills, Lozenges and Proprietary Medicines. Also Toilet Products. (Chemicals etc. Section - Stand Nos. K.96 and K.99) [3]

1933 The company was sold to a group of British financiers for just over £6m, with John Boot as chairman and managing director. His ideas for the direction and management of the business - to preserve the 'Boot tradition' to expand the business and serve the public, but also to treat his employees well - were very close to those of his father. Investment in the retail chain continued; the 1000th Boots store was opened in Galashiels. The famous 'D10' "Wets" factory was completed and was so efficient, that the working week for its workforce was reduced from 47.5 hours to 42.5 hours.

Rapid expansion of the retail side meant that factory and warehouse capacity needed to grow as well. A new site at Beeston was chosen and land was acquired between the canal and the railway, reached by a new bridge across the railway line. A Works Planning Committee was established to consider the development of the site, and members toured Britain, Europe and America to study the layout of manufacturing plants.

1934 A five day week was introduced, with no cut in pay. Lord Trent purchased the Ardnamurchan Estate in Argyll, Scotland, part of which was farmed by the company, to help research and development of horticultural and veterinary products by practical farming experience.

1935 Boot's No 7 range of cosmetics was launched, in an art deco livery of blue and yellow. To support the new brand, Beauty Parlours were introduced in a number of stores, including Regent Street, London. The Booklovers' Library was also flourishing, with branches in 450 stores supporting over half a million subscribers.

WWII The company and staff contributed greatly to the War Effort. John Boot himself was appointed Regional Commissioner for Civil Defence for the North Midlands, as well as remaining chairman of the company. Boots manufacturing capacity was vital. Three million pounds weight of saccharin was produced (the equivalent of 731,000 tons of sugar, a commodity which was strictly rationed). Fifty million bottles of orange juice were packed for the Ministry of Food, and 1,500 tons of Chloramine were produced, for water sterilisation in Europe, Africa and the Far East. Boots manufactured penicillin in the largest surface culture plant in the country, designed and managed on behalf of the Ministry of Supply. Pharmaceutical research continued; 29 products were added to the existing portfolio, 12 of which were previously made only in Germany.

As many as 7,000 employees were away on war duty and by the end of the war 381 members of staff had been killed in battle or air raids. Qualified pharmacists were called up later than the general population because of the importance of their civilian work. Some stores were used as First Aid posts with first-aiders or qualified nurses in attendance. Boots staff also took the Civil Defence ARP test and worked as Air Raid Wardens. From October 1942 until May 1945 six wardens were supplied every night for the Deep Tube Shelter at Clapham Station.

Thirty-three shops were destroyed, including stores in Manchester, Plymouth, Portsmouth, Coventry and Swansea. The print works at Station Street in Nottingham were destroyed, in May 1941. Measures were taken to protect the D10 factory at Beeston against damage.

To protect stocks, new warehouses in Nottingham and Lancashire were used in place of those in London, and greater quantities of stocks and raw materials were kept by stores. Refrigerators were installed throughout the country to store insulin for diabetics.

The company was involved in War Savings Certificates. Assistance was given to the Ministry of Agriculture, by distributing their leaflets concerning food production through Boots stores. Boots also contributed to the 'Dig for Victory' campaign and approximately 40 acres of land around the Beeston factories was planted out with vegetables, which were used to supply the canteens.

1942 Boots equipped and staffed a Mobile Infant Welfare Unit, which was sent to blitzed cities where help was urgently needed. Numerous staff assisted at Infant Welfare Clinics and Day Nurseries around the country. The Piccadilly branch was lent to the Red Cross for a Prisoners of War Exhibition and many other stores displayed specimen food parcels to promote the idea to the general public. Boots were also involved in the salvage of metal tubes, the proceeds of which went to the Red Cross.

1947 British Industries Fair Advert as Manufacturers of Special Medical Products; Pharmaceutical Specialities; Fine Chemicals; Veterinary and Horticultural Products; Toilet Preparations. Cosmetics, Sops, Industrial Chemicals, Galenicals** and Tablets, Potassium Permanganate, Saccharin. (Chemicals etc. Section - Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. A.1193) [4]

Post-WWII. Factory development began in Nottingham, the major part being completed by 1953. This included a new power house, printing works.

1947 New laboratories for horticultural research at Lenton, Nottingham and Thurgarton, were completed. There was also expansion overseas. A retail company had been formed in New Zealand in 1936; and over the next 30 years manufacturing businesses were established in India, Pakistan, Australia and Canada.

1948 There were developments in the world of pharmacy and retailing. 1948 saw the inauguration of the National Health Service. This led to a vast increase in dispensing and the demand for drugs.

1949 a factory for the manufacture of cosmetics was opened at Airdrie, in Scotland.

1952 The company's agricultural division also expanded; by 1952 the company was farming 4,500 acres in England and Scotland.

1956 Some self-service stores were opened and other branches were re-modelled to give partial self-service.

1959 A new pharmaceutical research building was completed.

From about 1960, increased emphasis was placed on selling the chemicals and formulated products made by the company through other outlets, in addition to the company's shops.

1965 It was announced that the Booklovers' Library was to close - the last branch shut in 1966.

1967 Formation of Pharmaceutical and Fine Chemical Division, responsible for manufacturing and marketing.

1968 Retailing was re-organised under one subsidiary Boots the Chemists' Ltd. There were 1256 shops.

1968 Acquired Timothy Whites and Taylors Ltd

1971 Acquired Crookes Group, maker of medicines and veterinary products, from Arthur Guinness, .

1971 The name of the Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd was changed to the Boots Co Ltd[5]


  • Galenical - 1. A medicinal preparation composed mainly of herbal or vegetable matter. 2. A remedy prepared according to an official formula. [6]

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  2. 1922 British Industries Fair Advert xxxiv; and p9
  3. 1929 British Industries Fair Advert 5; and p23
  4. 1947 British Industries Fair Advert 259; and p35
  5. Companies House filing
  6. [1] Medical