Open House Festival

Royal Pharmaceutical Society Museum

museum, library, online

Interior design Associate at BDP , Kristen Liedl, 2015

66 East Smithfield, E1W 1AW

Join us for a free guided tour of the RPS Museum and Library and find out what crocodiles have to do with pharmacy! Over 180 years old, the RPS Museum and Library is a hidden gem in East London, full of the weird and wonderful world of pharmacy history. Find out how best to use bear’s grease and explore a collection of poisons even Agatha Christie would swoon at!

Getting there


Tower Hill, Tower Gateway


Fenchurch Street, Shadwell



Additional travel info

Five minute walk from 100 bus stop on East Smithfield Ten minute walk from Tower Hill or Tower Gateway Fifteen minute walk from Shadwell



Accessibility notes

For more information about what to expect when you visit, please see our visitor guide:

What you can expect

The environment is likely to be noisy with tours taking place throughout the day and children may be present


History of the Museum

The Society’s museum was created in 1842, a year after the Society. It was intended as a reference collection for the students of the newly formed School of Pharmacy. Jacob Bell, the Society’s founder, wrote in the first edition of The Pharmaceutical Journal that the School should be equipped with a laboratory, a library and a “complete museum of materia medica comprising specimens of good and bad drugs”.

A new chapter in the Museum’s history began in 1937, when the decision was made to establish an historical collection, to coincide with the Society’s move to a new headquarters. Although the move to the new headquarters was abandoned for financial reasons, the museum collections expanded as was intended. Agnes Lothian, the librarian and part-time curator from 1940 to 1968, carried out an ambitious purchasing programme, particularly in the areas of ceramics, caricatures, and proprietaries (brand name medicines).

By the 1950s, the original materia medica collections were out of favour. Although their research potential was still recognised, changes in pharmacy and pharmacy education meant that the museum’s original purpose, its “practical utility” for students, was in an irreversible decline. The herbarium and materia medica was transferred to the University of Bradford in 1965, and then to the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew in 1982. These collections are still at Kew, and are available for research.

In 1976, after 135 years at Bloomsbury Square, the Society moved to new headquarters in Lambeth. From the outset, objects from the museum’s collections were displayed throughout the building, from the basement to the fifth floor.

In 2015 the Society moved to its current headquarters at 66-68 East Smithfield, London. Here the museum displays are concentrated on the ground floor.

Since the 1980s, with the appointment of specialist curators, the museum has concentrated on a wide range of activities from conservation programmes and computer cataloguing, to outreach events, exhibitions and publications. It is also a member of the London Museums of Health and Medicine group.

The museum collections cover all aspects of British pharmacy history, from the 1400s up to the present day.

The collection includes:
◾Proprietary (brand name) medicines, dating from the 1700s to the present day
◾Fine English Delftware & European drug jars, dating from the 1600s-1700s
◾Bell metal mortars, dating from the 1500s-1700s
◾The Burges Collection of Materia Medica, dating from the late 1700s
◾Traditional dispensing equipment
◾Drug storage containers
◾Medical caricatures and prints
◾Oil paintings, including portraits of past Society Presidents.
◾The Society’s photo archive
◾The Early Printed Books Collection, including herbals and early pharmacopoeias from the 1400s-1800s

Online presence


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