Boots Heritage

Boots is now a household name with stores all over the world and a number of hugely successful own-brand ranges.  It’s risen from humble beginnings to become the well-known and loved company it is today.  This timeline charts the development of the business from its first days as a herbalist store in Nottingham in the mid 1800s to its position as a modern global brand.   


John Boot opened the first herbalist store in Nottingham offering an affordable alternative to traditional medicines. The Thomsonian system of healthcare, first developed in the US, appealed to the devoutly religious John, as it offered a practical approach to enable the poorest to help themselves.


Jesse Boot was born in Nottingham.


John's widow, Mary Boot, and son, Jesse began trading as M & J Boot, Herbalists. Jesse was rewarded with a partnership in the family business, having left school at the age of 13 to give full time support to his mother. The sale of herbs was a big feature of the early business and included roots, plants, and flowers collected locally, many of them dried on the parlour walls at the back of the shop and then powdered.


By the late 1870s the working classes were transferring their allegiance from herbalism to patent remedies, encouraged by heavy advertising that growing numbers were able to read. When Jesse took sole control of the business in 1877 he launched an extensive advertising campaign under the slogan ‘health for a shilling’ which positioned Boots as the store which offered traditional medicines at greatly reduced prices.


Boot & Company Ltd formed.


Jesse Boot appointed his first qualified pharmacist, Edwin Waring. Waring’s principles were closely aligned to Jesse’s and within just a few years his dispensing services were offered at half the price charged by the other chemists in Nottingham.


Early manufacturing took place in a small cottage close to the store in Nottingham. However as demands from the expanding store network grew, space was found in a factory on Island Street in Nottingham which had excellent rail, road and canal transportation links. Within just a few years Boots had taken over the entire factory and acquired further properties nearby.


Jesse married Florence Annie Rowe. They had met the previous year when Jesse took a much-needed holiday to Jersey. Florence, the daughter of a bookseller and stationers, took a keen interest in the business, introducing new product ranges and progressive staff welfare initiatives.


Company renamed Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd.


A flagship department style store was opened in Pelham Street, Nottingham. The impressive new shop showcased the varied array of products now available at Boots, from the dispensary, perfumery and stationery on the ground floor to the pictures, glass and fancy goods on the upstairs gallery. The exquisite interior design was heavily influenced by Jesse’s wife Florence. Impressed by the latest innovations, such as electric lighting, the store "took the public fancy amazingly". The Pelham Street shop became the model for future Boots stores.    


The Boots Athletic Club was founded. The social club was open to all employees and encompassed a number of sports ranging from cricket to skittles. Jesse and Florence Boot were keen to promote sports and social clubs, seeing them as beneficial to their employees health as well as encouraging camaraderie and team spirit.


Boots pioneered the use of analytical chemistry as a means of quality control with the appointment of the first analytical chemist. The department soon developed and it became an established principle within the company that nothing should be sent out to the stores without first passing a number of rigorous examinations. 


Boots Booklovers’ Library was established. Within just a few years around half of Boots stores had library facilities. The service promoted the pleasure of reading to a wider audience and the small subscription fees made literature affordable. The libraries had a significant impact: at their height in 1938, books were being exchanged at a rate of 35 million a year. By the time of their closure they had firmly established themselves within British popular culture.  


Eleanor Kelly was appointed as the company’s first full time welfare professional. Her responsibilities involved the welfare of all female members of staff in Nottingham. Within just a few years and with the help of three assistants, Eleanor renovated the girls’ canteen and opened a company sick room.


The first free educational provision was established for employees through the offer of a series of evening classes run in partnership with Nottingham’s Education Committee. By 1920 this opportunity was extended as employees aged between 14 and 16 were granted half a day a week to study a variety of vocational and academic lessons at the Boots Day Continuation School.


During the First World War Britain lost its supply of chemicals from Germany. In order to bridge the gap, Jesse brought together a team of experts to begin the research and manufacture of key synthetic chemicals such as aspirin. Boots created a new manufacturing process which involved seventeen different analytical tests, and claimed that their aspirin was the “purest on the market”. The company was soon supplying the British Government with medicines for field hospitals and manufacturing products such as water sterilizing tablets which, at a concentration of 1 in 300,000, claimed to destroy the organisms of cholera, typhoid, coli and dysentery in about thirty minutes.

The first employee magazine was produced to raise money for colleagues who were serving in the armed forces. In total twelve editions of the magazine Comrades in Khaki were printed between1915 and 1916. Each one carried a letter from Jesse and Florence and contained news, letters and photographs from employees both at home and overseas. After the war, the company launched two new magazines, The Bee and The Beacon, which further developed the “bond of union” between the company and its employees.  


Boots products first became available to buy overseas in India. A network of agents was soon established throughout the world to market the Boots brand abroad.


Boots Pure Drug Company Ltd sold to the United Drug Company of America.


The first works surgery was opened with a part-time medical officer. Within just a few years the professional team had risen to twenty. “The Company has recognised that its responsibility does not end with the weekly pay envelope”.

Boots registered its first pharmaceutical patent. Stabilarsan, an effective treatment for syphilis was approved by the Ministry for Health for use in public institutions. It was the first arsenical preparation introduced in a solution ready for injection.


Boots became one of just four companies licensed by the British Medical Research Council to undertake the mass production of the newly discovered, life saving drug.

Four thousand employees welcomed the Prince of Wales to the Island Street Factory site. During his visit he was given a tour of the Packed Goods Department and the Research and Pharmaceutical Laboratories.


A number of Boots stores opened surgical departments selling specialist equipment. These areas were supported by qualified nurses. Services included baby weighing, home visits and measurement taking and advice on surgical trusses and belts.


A 24 hour pharmacy was opened at the Boots store in Piccadilly Circus. The service was available countrywide, as medicines were distributed wherever they were needed.


John Boot, Jesse and Florence’s son became Chairman of Boots Pure Drug Company.


A two hundred acre site was purchased at Beeston in Nottingham to expand manufacturing capability, as the existing sites in the centre of Nottingham had reached full capacity.


University College, Nottingham transferred to a large new campus, thanks to a significant donation of land and money from Jesse Boot.


Boots D1 Soap factory, the first building on the new Boots Beeston site, Nottingham, completed.


Jesse Boot died at the age of 81


The D10 factory on the Beeston site was hailed in the press as the ‘factory of Utopia’. Designed by the renowned engineer, Owen Williams, it was praised for its impressive size, functional design and innovative features. The factory epitomised the scientific credentials of the company, where modern equipment brought efficiencies in production and improvements to working conditions.

The 1000th Boots store opened in Galashiels, Scotland.

The company came back into British ownership


The company announced a reduction in working hours from 5.5 days to a 5- day of the week, without a reduction in pay, for all D10 factory staff. This was made possible by the incredible efficiency of the new D10 factory. Conscious of the country’s unemployment problems, John Boot took the unprecedented decision to reduce working hours, rather than opt for redundancies, as a way of finding a more socially responsible solution. The experiment became a permanent fixture the following year when the beneficial effects of the changes had been investigated: “the general feeling is one of great appreciation, many people have said that it is the finest thing the firm has done for them”.


The original ‘Number Seven’ range was the company’s answer to providing a prestigious but affordable beauty range. Distinctive in its yellow and blue art deco packaging, the range encapsulated fifty years of beauty experience. It consisted of 11 products and was advertised as being “the modern way to loveliness”. Specialist consultants were brought in to give expert customer advice and some stores even opened Number Seven Beauty Salons.


The first overseas Boots branch opened in New Zealand in Wellington.

Speaking at a dinner in Wellington in 1936, the company Chairman, John Boot declared:

Profit is not our main objective. But we are proud of the great health and domestic service that we have built up, and we believe that we can extend that service gradually in the British Empire and make the benefits of our methods and our organisation accessible…  overseas.”


Boots sun tan creams had been popular since the 1920s, but the launch of Soltan addressed customers’ desire for a non-greasy lotion. Launched as a cream and a lotion, the fantastic summer of 1939 helped to make the brand an instant success.


Boots began mass manufacturing penicillin

The Ministry of Supply asked the company to design and operate a ‘surface culture’ plant for the mass production of penicillin. At the time, the Boots factory was the world’s largest antibiotics manufacturing facility.

Boots saved unnumbered lives and prevented immeasurable pain, by producing in quantity, at very short notice, the desperately needed penicillin”


International wholesale and manufacturing business expanded.


Boots Pure Drug Company (India) began trading in 1946 and a new pharmaceutical factory was commissioned with production starting at the Sion factory in Bombay in 1949.  


Boots became the first UK chemist store to introduce self-service stores.

Boots opened its first self service store at Burnt Oak, Edgware in London. It was amongst the first examples of self service in retail in the UK.


John Boot retired.


Boots responded to the growing teenage market with the launch of its vibrant 17 range.

Timothy Whites & Taylors Ltd chemist’s chain acquired adding 622 new stores.


Ibuprofen was launched as a prescription drug called Brufen in February 1969, and was the result of 16 years of research.  Dr Stewart Adams led a research team, which began work in 1953.  They tested over 1,500 new compounds during their search before Brufen could be marketed as a potent non-steroidal antirheumatic agent.  By 1980 Brufen had become the U.K’s no 1 anti-inflammatory treatment.

It is a curious irony, and at the same time fitting and appropriate, that the world’s most widely prescribed compound for rheumatoid diseases was developed at The Boots Company, because the company’s founder, Jesse Boot, was a victim of this painful and crippling disease”.


The Boots Charitable Trust was set up to fund and support charities in Nottinghamshire. To date, over its forty year lifetime, Boots Charitable Trust has donated around £10m to health, lifelong learning and community development in Nottinghamshire.


Boots trialled its first optical in-store practice in Nottingham and followed it with six further practices in the following year. By March 1986 the total had risen to sixty eight.  


Boots (Retail Buying) Hong Kong Ltd established.


Boots received the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement for the discovery and development of ibuprofen.


Boots Opticians was formed and became the UK’s second largest optical retail chain following the acquisition of Clement Clarke and Curry and Paxton Ltd. The first free standing Boots Opticians practice opened in September 1987, in Durham.


Natural Collection was launched.

The brand proposition was 'fun, colourful and exotic' and the range consisted of hair, skin and bath products containing essences of rich tropical fruits, a variety of herbs and exotically scented flowers.


Boots Contract Manufacturing and Boots International were established.


Boots launched UVA star rating for its sun care range.


Botanics skincare range launched.

The range combined sophisticated high-tech formulations using the most effective natural ingredients.  It was positioned as a skincare range using natural extracts scientifically formulated.

Boots Pharmaceuticals sold to BASF.


Botanics skincare range launched.

The range combined sophisticated high-tech formulations using the most effective natural ingredients.  It was positioned as a skincare range using natural extracts scientifically formulated.

Boots Pharmaceuticals sold to BASF.


Boots Advantage card launched.

2000 was launched, a new complete e-photo service.


Boots Hearingcare offered the world’s first disposable hearing aid, Songbird.


Boots Healthcare International was sold to Reckitt Benckiser.

Boots Group merged with Alliance Unichem to form Alliance Boots.


Alliance Boots is privatized.


Launch of Boots Laboratories skincare range in France and Portugal.


Merger of Boots Opticians and Dollond & Aitchison to form the second largest optical chain in the UK.

Launch of offering customers a health and wellness information portal.

Boots Extracts Fairtrade was launched and became one of the first complete ranges of beauty care products to be certified as containing Fairtrade ingredients.

Prince Charles visited the Boots site in Nottingham to discover more about the company’s corporate social responsibility activities, in particular environmental progress.

Launch of No7 Protect & Perfect Intense Beauty Serum.


Boots brands were sold directly to third party retailers in the US and other countries.

In partnership with Mothercare, Boots introduced ‘mini club’ – a new clothing and accessories brand for babies and children up to six years old.

Boots Pharmaceuticals launched.


American drug store chain Walgreens acquired a 45% stake in Alliance Boots.

Both Boots UK and Boots Opticians were ranked in the ‘Sunday Times 25 Best Big Companies to work for’ awards for the third year running.


Boots extended its hearingcare partnership with Sonova.


Walgreens Boots Alliance was created through the combination of Walgreens and Alliance Boots. This transaction brought together two leading companies with iconic brands, complementary geographic footprints, shared values and a heritage of trusted healthcare services through pharmaceutical wholesaling and community pharmacy care, dating back more than 100 years


Boots Beauty Advisor role launched, as Boots reinvents the store beauty hall experience.


The first Boots Covid-19 vaccination hub was opened in Halifax.


Boots launched a beauty only concept store in Battersea.


Boots launched the NHS Pharmacy First service in England.