The Society of Apothecaries was incorporated by royal charter from James I in 1617. The Letters Patent gave the Society the right to "have, purchase, retain and appoint a certain Hall, or Counsel-House" in the City, but it was 15 years before it could afford one.
Cobham House in Blackfriars was chosen. Situated in the precinct of the former Dominican Priory of the Black Friars, the property had originally been their guesthouse. The Society bought it for £1,800 in October 1632 from the executors of Lady Anne Howard, sister-in-law of Lady Cobham (who was the wife of the 11th Baron and daughter of Lord Howard of Effingham).
Destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666, the Society immediately set about re-building the Hall. Work was completed in 1672 and an 'Elaboratory' was included for the first ever large-scale manufacture of drugs. This was located at ground level along the eastern side of the courtyard, underneath the Great Hall.
A major restoration and building programme was carried out in the 1780s, in part because of the huge expansion in the pharmaceutical trade operations at the Hall. This resulted in a new west and south range to the courtyard and additional premises behind the original, eastern block. Formerly bounded by large iron gates on the western side, entry to the Hall was now from the street through a central archway.
The Apothecaries' retail pharmacy, which had been located on the northern side of the courtyard, gained a separate entrance on Water Lane (now Black Friars Lane) in 1823. Its steps and wrought-iron railings are still evident. The colonnade in the courtyard where the main door, surmounted by the Society's Arms, is now located was enclosed in 1929. The Entrance Hall features the main staircase which was constructed in 1670.
Although the Hall underwent major re-development in the 1980s, its external appearance has altered little since the late-eighteenth century. It is the oldest extant livery company Hall in the City, with the first-floor structure and arrangement of the Great Hall, Court Room and Parlour remaining as re-built between 1668 and 1670.
The central 24-branch candelabrum suspended from the ceiling was presented to the Society by Sir Benjamin Rawling, who was Sheriff of London and Master in 1736.
The windows on the east and west sides of the Hall contain stained glass Coats of Arms of Past Masters and former Officers of the Society, and portraits hang on the walls.
The Irish oak panelling in the Great Hall dates from 1671. There is a carved screen at the south end of the room, a minstrels' gallery at the north end, and an oak floor.
The Court Room is carpeted, and completely panelled in oak in a style similar to that in the Great Hall.
The room is dominated by two large stained glass windows, one depicting the Society's Coat of Arms, the other the Stuart royal Arms. Portraits adorn the walls and the painting which hangs over the fireplace is that of Gideon de Laune, Royal Apothecary to Queen Anne and founder of the Society. It was presented to the Society of Apothecaries in 1641.
The Parlour is a carpeted, brightly-lit and air-conditioned room and is well suited for small meetings and receptions.
The room contains a large, wall-to-wall showcase in which many of the Society's apothecaries' drug jars and pill tiles are displayed. It adjoins the Court Room and there is a connecting door between them.