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This spring, high street chain Boots an­nounced the re­lease of its new on­line ar­chive, record­ing the long his­tory of the com­pany. The ar­chive cur­rently con­sists of 20,000 en­tries that in­clude pictures, ad­verts and mag­a­zines. Many of the items link to the city of Not­ting­ham – where the com­pany orig­i­nated – and so if you have fam­ily mem­bers or an­ces­tors who ei­ther worked for Boots, or who lived in Not­ting­ham, you may find some­thing of in­ter­est here. It is also a grow­ing and de­vel­op­ing on­line re­source; it cur­rently con­tains about one-fifth of the en­tire ar­chive, but many more items due to be added over the next four years.

The com­pany’s archivist has stressed the im­por­tance of the ar­chive for those in­ter­ested in both lo­cal his­tory or ge­neal­ogy, who can ‘ex­plore the his­tory of their high street or per­haps see images of their grand­par­ents and great­grand­par­ents’.


John Boot founded his com­pany in Not­ting­ham in 1849. His first shop was es­tab­lished at 6 Goose Gate, spe­cial­is­ing in ‘vegetable reme­dies’ that could treat ‘al­most ev­ery kind of dis­ease’. In fact, the first Boots was not known by that name, but by the more cum­ber­some ‘Bri­tish and Amer­i­can Botanic Es­tab­lish­ment’. It sold not only reme­dies but books and tracts pro­mot­ing botan­i­cal reme­dies, and John was also avail­able for con­sul­ta­tions at the premises three times a week. He was a re­li­gious man, who be­lieved that herbal reme­dies en­abled the poor­est mem­bers of so­ci­ety to look af­ter them­selves. In 1850, John’s son Jesse was born,

and when he left school at the age of 13, he started help­ing with the busi­ness. By 1870, John had died, and Jesse, formed a part­ner­ship with his wid­owed mother Mary, trad­ing as M&J Boot. The shop sold herbs, roots, plants and flow­ers col­lected lo­cally, many be­ing dried and pow­dered at the shop.

By the late 1870s, times had changed, and herbal­ism was de­creas­ing in pop­u­lar­ity as the Bri­tish peo­ple bought patent reme­dies in­stead. There­fore, when Jesse took sole con­trol of Boots in 1877, he cre­ated the slo­gan ‘health for a shilling’, of­fer­ing tra­di­tional medicines at cheaper prices than com­peti­tors. In 1883, his busi­ness be­came Boot & Com­pany, re­flect­ing its growth, and a year later, Boots’ first qual­i­fied phar­ma­cist was ap­pointed – Ed­win War­ing. In 1886, Jesse mar­ried Florence Rowe, and un­der her guid­ance, the busi­ness started to in­tro­duce new prod­ucts and in­tro­duced staff wel­fare pro­grammes. In 1911, it cre­ated the full-time post of wel­fare worker. Eleanor Kelly was the first per­son to take on the role, as­sisted by three oth­ers, and she opened a sick room to deal with poorly work­ers. Boots was also one of the first com­pa­nies to in­tro­duce the five- day work­ing week, in 1934.

In 1892, a flag­ship Boots store was opened in Pel­ham Street, Not­ting­ham. It was

When Jesse took sole con­trol of Boots, he cre­ated the slo­gan ‘health for a shilling’

The site is also use­ful for those seek­ing a bit of wider his­tor­i­cal con­text

more like a depart­ment store, with sev­eral dif­fer­ent de­part­ments, from dis­pen­sary to sta­tionery. Two years later, a staff ath­let­ics club was formed, de­signed to en­cour­age a sense of ca­ma­raderie amongst em­ploy­ees. In 1913, free evening classes were of­fered to work­ers, and seven years later, young work­ers – aged be­tween 14 and 16 – were given half a day’s leave a week to study at the Boots Day Con­tin­u­a­tion School.

Boots was sold to the United Drug Com­pany of Amer­ica in 1920, but the Boot fam­ily re­mained in­volved – in 1926, Jesse’s son John be­came the Boots chair­man, five years be­fore the death of his fa­ther, and he didn’t re­tire un­til 1953. By 1933, Boots had 1000 stores across the UK, and it re­mains a ubiq­ui­tous part of the High Street to­day. Given this long his­tory, and the fact that many of our fam­ily mem­bers may have worked for the com­pany, it is good to see that it has cre­ated an ar­chive that is ac­ces­si­ble to any­one with a com­puter – but what does it in­clude, and what might you be able to find there?


Firstly, the ar­chive is great for both ad­ver­tise­ments of prod­ucts and for pho­to­graphs. There is, for ex­am­ple, an im­age of the com­pany’s for­mer print­ing depart­ment at Is­land Street, Not­ting­ham, from 1892, so if your an­ces­tors worked here, you can ac­tu­ally see what their work premises would have looked like at the time. Space here was ob­tained by Boots in 1885, as it out­grew its pre­vi­ous premises, and it soon took over the en­tire fac­tory build­ing. There is a photo of Boots em­ploy­ees out­side one of its fac­to­ries in 1940 – so if your fam­ily mem­ber worked in one, you might be able to spot them!

How­ever, the site is also use­ful for those seek­ing a bit of wider his­tor­i­cal con­text, too. It in­cludes much of in­ter­est in terms of po­lit­i­cal his­tory, with cor­re­spon­dence re­lat­ing to var­i­ous par­lia­men­tary bills, such as amend­ments to the Com­pa­nies Act of 1895, the Com­pa­nies Act Amend­ment Bill of 1900, and the 1906 Poi­sons and Phar­macy Bill (ar­chive ref WBA/BT/1/30/3); there is also in­for­ma­tion about a binder of press cut­tings, pho­to­graphs and let­ters re­lat­ing to the open­ing of Gov­ern­ment In­for­ma­tion Bureaux in Boots stores. These bureaux were set up by the

gov­ern­ment in 1918 to give the pub­lic in­for­ma­tion on war-re­lated mat­ters such as na­tional war aims, food and labour. Although the ar­chive de­scribes the let­ters rather than let­ting you click on digi­tised let­ters them­selves, you can see a list of the bureaux, and which Boots lo­ca­tions they were in – such as one at Boots Cor­ner in Liver­pool, opened on 30 Au­gust 1918 by the co­me­dian Harry Lauder. If you click on one of the lo­ca­tions listed at the bot­tom of this search re­sult, you get a de­scrip­tion of that par­tic­u­lar store – where ex­actly it was lo­cated, when it opened, and whether it moved at any point. In this way, you can find out where your Boots em­ployee ances­tor may have worked, and whether their store changed place at any point. There are also many pho­to­graphs of in­di­vid­ual stores taken at var­i­ous times in their his­tory, which will be of par­tic­u­lar in­ter­est if your ances­tor worked at a store that has since been de­mol­ished.

There is plenty more to find out about your fam­ily mem­ber; within the ‘sub­ject browser’ on the ar­chive, you can se­lect ‘em­ploy­ees’, and this then lets you set a nar­rower search term. The choices given in­clude ben­e­fits, fa­cil­i­ties, in­cen­tives, re­cruit­ment, sports and so­cial, and train­ing – so you can find out what your ances­tor may have been paid, what their work in­volved, and how they so­cialised with other em­ploy­ees. When YFH was look­ing at the site, fo­cus­ing a search too much re­sulted in a search re­sult er­ror, but hope­fully this should have been rec­ti­fied by the time you read this. If in doubt, keep your search as broad as pos­si­ble; do bear in mind that more items will be added to the ar­chive as time goes on, so it’s worth check­ing back reg­u­larly.

You can set your search to only re­turn re­sults that in­clude images; these can re­turn some sur­pris­ing photos, such as photos of fe­male em­ploy­ees wa­ter test­ing filled gas can­is­ters and con­duct­ing re­sis­tance tests in 1918! Even if you haven’t any fam­ily mem­bers who worked for Boots, the ar­chive is a gold­mine of in­for­ma­tion about life in the 19th and 20th cen­turies, both in terms of work-life and in terms of sci­en­tific and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal de­vel­op­ment.

Boots was orig­i­nally founded in Not­ting­ham in 1849 – the Wal­greens Boots Al­liance has an ex­ten­sive ar­chive of doc­u­ments and images re­lat­ing to the firm’s his­tory, with some of them shown on these pages

Wal­greens Boots Al­liance

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