You are here: Home Newsroom Features Boots Boundary Breakers - Aphra Wilson

Boots Boundary Breakers - Aphra Wilson

30 January 2020
Feature Brand

We’ve been searching through the Company Archives to rediscover some of Boots ‘Boundary Breakers’ – women in science who have broken barriers and pushed boundaries and whose stories haven’t been widely shared before.

Each month we’ll be shining a spotlight on these remarkable women, starting in January with Aphra Wilson, a Plant Pathologist who was awarded an MBE for her service during the First World War, and whose pioneering research led to her becoming one of the very first women to be appointed as a Director of Boots.

Aphra Phyllis Wilson was born in 1896 and attended Queen Anne’s School, Caversham, before moving to study at the Royal College of Science in London. Her time there was interrupted by the outbreak of the First World War, and between 1915 and 1919 she was fully involved in the war effort, first serving with the Women’s Volunteer Reserve and later with the Women’s Army Corps where she served as a dispatch rider delivering important messages to Allied troops by motorcycle whilst facing grave danger. In recognition of her courageous service during the conflict she was awarded an MBE in 1919, aged just 23.

Once the war had concluded she returned to her studies, and spent her postgraduate year examining pests and the diseases of plants. Upon graduation she quickly established a national reputation as one of the country’s leading Plant Pathologists (the study of the nature, cause, and control of the diseases of plants), and in 1922 she joined the staff at Swanley Horticultural College in Kent where she worked for 8 years.

By 1931 Wilson had begun to specialise in laboratory and field work involving the development and application of colloidal fungicides, which at the time was an emerging field and a great step towards developing modern day fungicides which sought to protect food crops around the world from disease, and it was this pioneering work that led to her joining Boots in 1936.

At the start of her career at Boots the company was gradually moving in to the field of horticultural research, but the outbreak of the Second World War meant that initially much of her work had to be conducted in rudimentary facilities, including air raid shelters on Boots Beeston site in Nottingham where Wilson was involved in growing mustard, cress and mushrooms.

However, under her expert supervision this area of the business expanded rapidly, resulting in the creation of the Lenton Research Station, a research site in Nottingham that housed specially built laboratories and greenhouses used for the discovery and development of compounds to treat plant pests and diseases and promote agricultural yield, and which quickly became recognised as a world class research facility.

As well as continuing her work in horticultural research, Aphra Wilson was also heavily involved in the development of Boots Farms and Gardens Department, which was responsible for providing supplies to farmers and gardeners throughout the United Kingdom. In recognition of her pioneering and extensive work Wilson was appointed as a Director at Boots, becoming one of the very first women since Florence Boot to take a position on the board, at a period of time when it wasn’t commonplace for women to be elected to such senior positions.

Aphra Wilson spent a total of 21 years at Boots, retiring from her role as Deputy Head of Agricultural Research in 1957, although she retained her seat on the Board of Boots Eastern Company for a number of years more. At the time she stated that the two things that had always impressed her about Boots had been the comradeship and the terrific backing she had always received, and went on to claim that the work in the early days was exciting and sometimes difficult, but had always been most enjoyable.

Away from Boots Wilson immersed herself in the local community, sitting as a governor at The Bluecoat School in Nottingham, and taking an active role in a number of different societies, including as a life member of The Royal Horticultural Society. She died in 1976, having successfully established Boots at the forefront of horticultural research, and succeeded in becoming one of the most senior women within the business.


What’s new at Boots? Find out the latest updates from the UK’s largest pharmacy-led health and beauty chain – from new products and services to important business developments.



Read the views of our team members at Boots, who are experts in their field. Find out what they think about the most important issues of the day – from healthcare equality to sustainability.


Media Resources

A you are a journalist looking for information and resources about Boot? Visit our media resources hub to access images, reports, spokespeople and videos.


Boots is the UK’s leading health and beauty retailer with over 52,000 team members and 2,100 stores, ranging from local community pharmacies to large destination health and beauty stores.*

Boots serves its customers and patients for life as the leading provider of healthcare on the high street and the UK’s number one beauty destination. It offers an unrivalled depth and breadth of products, which incorporates its extensive own brand range and innovative portfolio of brands, including No7, the UK’s No1 skincare brand, Soap & Glory, Liz Earle Beauty and Sleek MakeUP.

2024 marks Boots’ 175th anniversary year. Founder John Boot opened a herbalist store in Nottingham in 1849 to offer an affordable alternative to traditional medicines. His son Jesse expanded the business to become a modern retailer and the biggest chemist in Britain. Throughout its history, Boots has listened, learned and innovated, and it continues to challenge itself to improve its products and services every day.

Boots is part of Walgreens Boots Alliance, which is a global leader in pharmacy-led, health and wellbeing retail.  More company information is available on

*Figures accurate as of 30 November 2023