Chelsea Physic Garden

The Apothecaries' Physic Garden at Chelsea was founded as an educational enterprise; it was also established in conjunction with the possession of the Society's first ceremonial barge. As a City Livery Company, the Society used its barge to participate in official processions and events on the river as well as for conveying members to and from the Physic Garden, and for herborising expeditions (the Society's term for educational, botanical field trips).

(John Haynes' survey of the Apothecaries' Physic Garden at Chelsea - 1751 (reproduced by permission of the Royal Society)

In July 1673 the Society took the lease on three-and-a-half acres of land on the riverfront at Chelsea and proceeded to build a bargehouse and cultivate a physic garden where, for well over two centuries, Apothecaries' apprentices and, later, medical students, were taught Botany and Materia Medica. In 1722 Sir Hans Sloane, who had purchased the Manor of Chelsea in 1713, conveyed the garden to the Apothecaries for £5 per annum, on condition that 50 new plants (in the form of dried specimens) grown in the Physic Garden were submitted to the Royal Society every year.

(John Parkinson, botanist, author, founder member and Warden (1620/1) of the Society)

Informed knowledge of Botany, essential to apothecarial practice, had been promoted by a group of botanist-Apothecaries led by John Parkinson, a founder member of the Society, and Thomas Johnson. Until the mid-nineteenth century, most medicines were derived from herbs, plants and vegetables. The Physic Garden thus served as a place of instruction, in addition to providing simples and raw materials for the manufacture of drugs in the Laboratory at Apothecaries' Hall.

(Admission tickets to the Physic Garden were first issued in 1785)

Apprentices had been rewarded for their botanical knowledge for many years before prizes in Botany and in Materia Medica and Pharmaceutical Chemistry were offered to male medical students by the Society from 1830. Prizes in (non-medical) Botany to young women under 20 years of age were instituted in 1877, and all candidates were actively encouraged to study at the Garden.

Attendance at lectures on Botany ceased to be a part of the medical curriculum following the Medical Act of 1886, and Botany as a subject of examination was discontinued by a resolution of the Society's Court of Examiners passed on 13 February 1894.

The Society of Apothecaries relinquished financial responsibility for the Physic Garden in 1899, when the recently inaugurated London Parochial Charities (City Parochial Foundation) took charge of its management. On 1 April 1983 a new charitable scheme came into being with Dr David Jamison, a Liveryman of the Society, appointed chairman of the Board of Trustees.

Chelsea Physic Garden Ltd, an independent charity but with a representative of the Society on the Advisory Committee of the Board, remains true to the principles of its foundation: the promotion and study of Botany through general education, scientific instruction and research.