200 years of History
A Name TRUSTED
Two hundred years is a long time, especially in the world of medicine. I am personally flabbergasted by the advances medicine has made since I started up in business as a herbalist back in 1812. And by the same measure, I'm immensely proud of the fact that many of my old remedies are still in use today.
Herbal medicines are as old as civilisation itself and are still used to treat all manner of conditions, from indigestion, hay fever and tickly coughs, through to anxiety, sleeplessness and joint care.
Potter's Herbals, the company descended from my original shop, is today the oldest manufacturer of licensed herbal medicines in the UK and in 2012 it celebrates 200 years in business - so I thought we could together take the opportunity to look back at the story of the business and the principles which have guided us these past two centuries.
The story begins when I travelled down from my hometown of Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire to set up a business in the Fleet Market, opposite London’s notorious Fleet Prison (an area more familiar these days as Farringdon). I’d already been a successful herbalist and purveyor of leeches for some time, but I wanted to take advantage of the opportunities that London then on the cusp of becoming the largest and most dynamic metropolis on Earth offered.
The hand-painted sign over my shop read: ‘Seedsman, Herbalist and Dealer in Leeches’ most medicines in 1812 were based on herbs, seeds and other naturally-available ingredients. I can recall it vividly as if it were erected only yesterday!
In those days the industry was nowhere near as regulated as it is today, but I decided that the best way to become successful was to be as straightforward and open as possible. The last thing I wanted to do was to be thrown into the Fleet gaol with the other debtors and failed businessmen!
Thankfully my approach which, I have to confess, owed something to that of my illustrious predecessor Nicholas Culpeper (1616 1654) - meant that I quickly became one of the city’s most trusted herbalists.
Success in business relies on innovation as much as it lies in trust, and I decided that I must constantly innovate and develop my remedies in order to stay ahead of the competition. Hopefully I will not appear too vainglorious if I tell you that my innovation was the use of blending specially-selected ingredients to create holistic natural medicines: the secret of effective herbalism is the
synergy between the ingredients. This multi-ingredient approach remains at the heart of all Potter’s medicines to this day, I am delighted to say, and it is a source of immense personal pride to note that the business continues to thrive on the foundations I laid two centuries ago.
I even found the time to write a reference work, Potter’s Cyclopaedia of Botanical Drugs and Preparations, which was eventually published in 1907 after additions by RC Wren. Amazingly, it’s still available today another source of pride to me and my family.
By now I was a wealthy and successful man, but I thought that, after 34 years’ hard work, it was time for me to retire and hand over the reigns of the business. Thus I sold out to my nephew Henry Potter II, keeping the business I had built very much “in the family”. The second Henry was also a herbalist, and in fact studied herbalism in London with one Jesse Boot, who went on to found the world-famous chain of chemists which bears his name.
With a keen sense of continuity, Henry II hired my old apprentice, George Hailey, and renamed the business Potter & Hailey.
But the business reverted back to Potter & Son in 1870 when Henry Potter II’s son, Henry Potter III joined the business.
Henry Potter III and partner Charles Clarke grew Potter’s, Son & Clarke into a national business, adding innovations such as herb growing, distilling, tablet and pill-making, lozenges, herb grinding and the preparation of sweet and medicinal herbs.
1886 - 1899
The Potters business in Lancashire and Yorkshire - it’s good to go back to one’s roots - grew rapidly. Further premises opened in Cannon Street, Manchester, housing bulk goods for distribution to customers in the North of England. Additional premises were secured on Casson Street in East London to house laboratories and packed goods and at Victoria Mills near Bradford for manufacturing, printing and packaging. Potters had become a truly modern, truly national business.
Potters became a limited company called Potter & Clarke Ltd, with the tireless Henry Potter III as Chairman and Managing Director.
One of the oldest Potter’s remedies - Chest Mixture No. 80 - was launched. Today you’ll know it as Potter’s Chest Mixture. It comprised - and still comprises - a combination of five active ingredients. The same year, Potter’s Elixir of Echinacea is launched, another industry first. I believe it is thus the original Echinacea treatment.
The six or seven years preceding the Second World War were a time of huge change. Herbal medicine at this point is still the basis of ‘official’ medicine (in the days before the NHS, it cost a small fortune to see a doctor) but antibiotics and synthesised drugs continued to gain prominence - a process accelerated by the War.
Brothers-in-law RC and RW Wren inherited the Potter’s business just before WWII. Shortly after, Harry Hall, a renowned expert in herbal medicines, joined as Technical Director, carrying on a long Potter tradition of expertise and innovation. Many of Harry’s formulations are still available today.
1939 - 1945
One rather unexpected effect of war was a massive herb shortage throughout the UK. With shipping from abroad at a standstill, Potters collaborated with local herb growers and all herbs used in our remedies were UK sourced until 1951, in our case most reliably from Leighton Buzzard in Bedfordshire.
The Casson Street site was badly damaged in an air raid (fortunately without loss of life) and later rebuilt.
The NHS was formed, a key turning point in the history of medicine ultimately leading to the mass production, and use, of synthetic drugs. Fortunately herbal remedies continued to have a place.
Following the advice of leading British herbalist Frank Power, businessman and Master Brewer Jeff Hampson, known affectionately as ‘EJ’, bought Potter & Clarke and Potters moved to Wigan with Jeff as Chairman. EJ also bought the trade name ‘Potters’ and continued as head of the firm into the new Millennium.
1968 - 1972
The UK Medicine Bill was passed, introducing tighter regulations on medicines. The Ministry of Health rules all medicine companies should complete simple licence applications in order to manufacture a medicine. Consequently all products were awarded Product Licences of Right. By 1988 we had no fewer than 136 licensed products!
It’s the end of an era: our ancient steam-operated pump in the Wigan factory was decommissioned and taken away for scrap - by none other than TV steeplejack Fred Dibnah.
Potters was acquired by Galenica AG, Europe’s most diversified healthcare provider with an HQ based in Switzerland. The management and technical staff at Potters continued to build on our reputation for unique herbal formulations.
Potters moves to its current purpose-built state of the art, fully accredited manufacturing site based in Wigan.
The Traditional Herbal Medicines Directive, which came into law in April, meant that unlicensed herbal products were no longer permitted on the market. As you might expect, Potter’s Herbal Remedies have been fully licensed by the UK Healthcare Authorities for quality and safety since the 1990s and continue to go from strength to strength.
Potter’s celebrates its 200th anniversary and gets a new look with packaging that promotes its heritage in traditional herbal medicine. I appear in advertising and on packs for the first time as a silhouette, alongside the year I went into business - 1812
So, there you have it - Potter’s has 200 years of traditional skills and expertise, complemented by extensive research and development and by modern manufacturing techniques.
The result is a range of trusted, effective herbal medicines manufactured to the highest quality standards. There are over 50 different plants and herbs to create our remedies and licensed medicines, and multi-ingredient products like Potter’s Cough Remover, Chest Mixture, Catarrh Mixture and Elixir of Echinacea Plus are among the oldest herbal medicines on sale today.
And the next 200 years? We continue to work closely with the UK healthcare regulatory bodies and we’re investing heavily to transition our licensed herbal medicines from Product Licence to Traditional Herbal Registration (THR) status in line with European legislation.
Expect to see more herbal medicines added to the Potter’s Herbals range in the coming years.
Potters is a traditional British company that moves with the times. I am proud that it still carries my name and continues to adhere to the values and principles that I practised all those years ago.