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Inside the Queen’s pharmacy: From flu jabs to the coronation anointing oil

Appointed in 1958, John Bell & Croyden held the title as official pharmacy of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. C+D takes a look at just what makes it one of the grandest pharmacies in the world

Few pharmacies have a backstory quite as majestic as John Bell & Croyden.

The central London pharmacy – which first opened its doors in the late eighteenth century – may not be a high street name, but it is a go-to for some of the world’s wealthiest.

The Marylebone store serves the City’s glitterati, wealthy tourists, celebrities and was the pharmacy favoured by the late Queen Elizabeth II, no less. It also claims to count the Duke of Wellington and Florence Nightingale among its previous patients.

But behind its opulence lies a serious business, led by an experienced team of staff and built on a commitment to the health and wellbeing of London.

Read more: From the archive - The Queen’s Pharmacy

Offering eight separate health clinics, including osteopathy, podiatry and dental hygiene, its pharmacy services include COVID-19 and flu vaccinations, diabetes screenings, blood testing, and pain clinics as well as blood pressure and cholesterol checks and the new medicine service.

It is a pharmacy not only fit for the Queen but fit to cater to many health needs.

 

Only anointing oil sample and recipe

 

“For over 60 years, John Bell & Croyden were proud to hold the Royal Warrant as pharmacists to Queen Elizabeth II, an accreditation that we held from 1958”, James Gray, healthcare services manager at the pharmacy, tells C+D.

“The Royal Warrant was originally granted on behalf of King George V in 1909 and we were equally proud to hold The Royal Warrant to Her Majesty the Queen Mother until her death in 2002.”

But John Bell & Croyden’s deep-rooted history with the royal family does not end there. It also holds the anointing oil used in King George V and Queen Elizabeth II’s coronations.

The pharmacy boasts the only sample and recipe for the anointing oil used in the crowning of the Sovereign – an oil containing orange, roses, cinnamon, musk, and ambergris.

Read more: Pharmacy bodies pay tribute to Queen Elizabeth II as national mourning begins

“Usually, a batch is made to last a few coronations,” Mr Gray says.

“When the turn of Elizabeth II came in 1953, it was discovered that while sufficient quantity would have remained from the anointing oil used for her father, it had been destroyed during the London raids of the Second World War in May 1941 when it was kept in the deanery of Westminster Abbey,” he explains.

But to make matters worse, Squire & Sons – who made the anointing oil before the Second World War – had ceased trading.

 

“Awaiting further instructions” from palace

 

Squire & Sons was taken over by pharmacy company Savory & Moore – who had taken over John Bell & Croyden in 1928.

“Thankfully, all was not lost”, Mr Gray says. “An old, retired employee was able to save the day after having kept some of the anointing oil as a souvenir.”

The oil used on the coronation day of Queen Elizabeth II was formulated and prepared by the surgeon apothecary, he explains.

“A change is noted about the type of oil used, no longer ‘oil of been’ (oil of Ben) as for Charles I, but sesame oil.”

Now, John Bell & Croyden holds two bottles of the anointing oil under lock and key, safely stored beneath the pharmacy.

Following the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on Thursday, “we have contacted the palace and are awaiting further instructions”, Mr Gray tells C+D.

 

£4m refurbishment in 2015

 

2015 saw the re-launch of John Bell & Croyden, refurbished as part of a £4 million investment from then-owner Celesio.

But the pharmacy can trace its history to 1798 when John Bell opened at its original premises on Oxford Street.

It was in fact founder John Bell’s son Jacob who founded the Pharmaceutical Society in 1841, later renamed the Royal Pharmaceutical Society in 2010.

Bells-4.jpg

Inside the pharmacy in 2015

“Until the advent of the 20th century, the store was open seven days a week from 8am to 11pm. All staff were given time for recreation, religious observance and study and were actively encouraged towards self-improvement by attending lectures at the Pharmaceutical Society’s School of Pharmacy,” Mr Gray explains.

Through its 200-year history, a number of pharmacy businesses have been involved in the transformation of John Bell & Croyden, including Savory & Moore – which made the 1953 version of the anointment oil – Allens Chemist, Cross & Herbert, R Gordon Drummond, Kingswood GK, Hills Pharmacy and Lloyds Chemist.

Today, John Bell & Croyden, alongside Lloydspharmacy and wholesaler AAH, collaborate as Hallo Healthcare, after parent company McKesson UK’s recent acquisition by the Aurelius Group.

 

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