The archive of the British Pharmacological Society (BPS) has recently been catalogued and is now available to researchers at the Wellcome Library. The BPS was founded in 1931 and the collection covers a wide range of areas: minutes of the society (SA/BPS/A/1), which includes some from the first and founding meeting of the group (SA/BPS/A/1/1); correspondence on the many awards the society offers (SA/BPS/D/2); a variety of photographs of members (SA/BPS/G/1); and some audio-visual material (SA/BPS/G/2).
The BPS was founded in 1931 by Sir Henry Dale, Dr W. E. Dixon and Professor J. A. Gunn. They sent out a letter to about thirty people who were in charge of departments that taught pharmacology at universities saying:
It has been thought for some time that it would possibly be of advantage to the subject of Pharmacology if some kind of annual meeting of British pharmacologist could be arranged, where papers on pharmacological subjects could be read and discussed, and question of teaching and publication might from time to time might be considered.
Twenty-four people replied saying they could attend, and the first meeting was held in July at Wadham College, Oxford where five papers were discussed and there was one demonstration.
Several notable scientists attended including: Dr Edward Mellanby (see PP/MEL), Professor J. H. Burn (GC/154), and two of the founders Dixon GC/154 and Gunn, but Dale was unable to come. The following year the second meeting was held in London and the rules of the society were drawn up and these remained largely unchanged until 1958. Following this the society met annually, alternating between Oxford, London, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. Several notable scientists became members or were part of the committee during this period: Wilhelm Feldberg and the first women members: Mary Pickford in 1933, Edith Bulbring (PP/BUL and Dr Marthe Vogt in 1937 (see PP/MLV).
In 1946 the society set up its first journal The British Journal of Pharmacology and Chemotherapy, (SA/BPS/B/1) and in 1968 the word chemotherapy was dropped from the title. The society from this point grew quickly; in 1947 there were only forty-seven members and nearly 25 years later in 1971 this number had grown to eight hundred. This was down the activities of the group increased particularly with the introduction of four scientific meetings a year from 1968, overseas membership, and the formation of the separate Clinical Pharmacology section in 1970, who four years later then set up their own journal: The British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (SA/BPS/B/2).
During the 1970s the society introduced several prizes: Sandoz (later renamed Novartis) for younger members (SA/BPS/D/2/1/1), the SmithKline Beecham Prize (SA/BPS/D/2/1/6), Lilley Prize (SA/BPS/D/2/1/10), British Association of Pharmaceutical Prize or BrAPP prize in the clinical section (SA/BPS/D/2/1/12), and the Wellcome Gold Medal Award in 1979 to recognize outstanding achievements by a pharmacologist (SA/BPS/D/2/1/4).
Today the BPS has 3000 members from more than sixty countries and covers the promotion and research of: laboratory, clinical, and toxicological aspects of pharmacology and supports members who work in academia, industry and the health service. The society became a registered charity in 1993. The activities of the society are run by the Executive Committee that works on managing the society’s present activities, and both are governed by a group of Trustees who meet twice a year. The society also currently employs ten full time staff who organise the various meetings, events and day to day running of the group throughout the year at their offices in Angel Gate. For more information on the BPS please visit their website and for a more detailed account of the society’s history you look at the hard copy edition in the archive in see SA/BPS/F/6. The catalogue of items can be searched on our online catalogue using the reference SA/BPS.
Author: Morwenna Roche was a work placement archivist at the Wellcome Library