History of the Society

Our history

Archive photos of Gunn, Dale and Dixon

From left to right: Professor James Andrew Gunn (Copyright British Journal of Pharmacology), Professor Sir Henry Hallett Dale (CC BY 4.0 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images ), Professor Walter Ernest Dixon (Copyright British Journal of Pharmacology).

The Society was founded in 1931, in Oxford, by a group of around 20 pharmacologists. They were brought together on the initiative of JA Gunn, by a letter signed by JA Gunn, HH Dale, and WE Dixon, who proposed the formation of a pharmacological club. The group met in Wadham College on the evening of Friday 3 July 1931, the day before the meeting of the Physiological Society. Professor Gunn presided over the meeting. It was agreed that a Society should be founded to meet at least once a year for the reading of papers on pharmacological subjects and the discussion of questions of teaching and publications and to promote friendly relations between pharmacologists!

A provisional committee, consisting of the signatories of the original letter, together with Dr HM MacKeith as Secretary, was appointed and instructed to draft rules and arrange a meeting in 1932. The next day the Society met in the Pharmacological Laboratory, where six papers were read and the practical classrooms were inspected.

The meeting in 1932 was held at University College London, where rules were approved which remained largely unchanged until 1958. Some new members, and the first two honorary members, JJ Abel and HH Meyer, were elected. Among the guests at this meeting were VE Henderson (Toronto) and LW Gunn (Cape Town). The scientific business consisted of three demonstrations and five papers.

M Tiffeneau, W Straub and W Heubner were elected to honorary membership in 1934. In 1933 and 1934 the Society was increased by several pharmacologists who left Germany to come to work in this country. Among them were: O Krayer, WS Feldberg, E Bulbring, M Vogt and P Ellinger. The Society then began to invite guests to its summer meetings and in the years from 1935 to 1939 there were repeated visits by many pharmacologists from abroad.

The Society met annually, usually at Oxford or Cambridge and once at Edinburgh, until 1939. The Society continues to host its annual meeting Pharmacology in December, which now attracts over 1,000 participants.

In 1994 the Society purchased a long lease on a building in Islington, London as offices and meeting rooms for the Society. In 2012, the membership voted to name the building ‘the Schild Plot’ in celebration of the achievements of HO Schild.

In 2006 the Society celebrated its 75th anniversary by holding a number of special events held throughout the UK and at the IUPHAR meeting in Beijing. There was a series of 75th Roadshows in Edinburgh, Bristol and Manchester, which brought together members and promoted our activities to the next generation of pharmacologists.  In addition the British Journal of Pharmacology  published a 75th anniversary special issue, edited by Editor-in-Chief Alan North and Senior Editors. We ended the 75th anniversary  year by returning the Winter Meeting to Oxford, where the very first meeting of the Society was held.


At the 33rd meeting of the Society held in Edinburgh in July, 1956, the 25th anniversary of its foundation was celebrated. By that date the membership had risen to 207, including nine honorary members. By 1966, there were 438 members. In 1967, a more liberal membership policy was introduced and as a result, the rate of growth more than doubled; in January, 1973, membership was over 900. To cope with the extra numbers, the Rules were changed in 1968 to add a Meetings Secretary; non-official Committee Members were also increased from a total of six to eight. In September 1970, a Clinical Pharmacology Section of the Society was formed.

Associate Membership of the Society, for pharmacologists who live overseas, was introduced in 1958 and by 1972 there were over 130 members of this type. However, with increasing numbers of Ordinary Members working overseas, the distinction between the two groups became less clear and in 1973 the Society combined them into one class of Ordinary Membership. Associate Membership became a category for individuals studying or having a professional interest in pharmacology or a closely related subject without the necessary qualifications to become Ordinary Members. 

In July 1974 the total membership of the Society reached 1,000. By December 1986 this number had risen to more than 2,000. In 1996 the category of Student Member was introduced, this category was subsequently split into Undergraduate and Postgraduate membership. In 2011 Undergraduate membership became free and in 2015 Associate Membership was renamed Early Career Membership.


The Journal of Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics had been founded by J.J. Abel (Baltimore) in 1909. He associated with him in this venture a succession of British Editors, A.R. Cushny, W.E. Dixon and A.J. Gunn. In 1933, it was agreed that this journal should be a joint publication of the American and British Pharmacological Societies and the latter Society nominated three of the Editors from that date until 1946, when its own Journal, the British Journal of Pharmacology and Chemotherapy began, edited by H.R. Ing and published by the British Medical Association. The link with the American Pharmacological Society was renewed in 1949 when British (and Scandinavian) representatives joined the editorial board of Pharmacological Reviews which had been founded in the previous year: this arrangement remains unchanged.

In 1968 Macmillan Journals Limited undertook publication of the British Journal of Pharmacology and Chemotherapy on behalf of the Society. The Journal then changed to a new format and the abbreviated name of the British Journal of Pharmacology (BJP). From 1968 abstracts of communications and demonstrations have been pre-circulated to members and, after approval by the Society, were published in the British Journal of Pharmacology. Since 2003 basic pharmacology abstracts have been published in pA2online.

In 1974, the Society started to publish its second Journal, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology (BJCP). To mark the occasion, the format and cover of the established journal was changed so that both publications could have a similar appearance.

In 2013, the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics (ASPET), British Pharmacological Society and John Wiley & Sons launched a new open access, peer-reviewed journal, Pharmacology Research & Perspectives (PR&P). PR&P publishes original research, reviews and perspectives in all areas of preclinical and clinical pharmacology, therapeutics, education and related research areas.


A grant from the W. D. M. Paton Historical Research Fund (1992) allowed the archives of the Society to be collated and bound. These records contain full documentation of every scientific and business meeting of the Society, its Clinical Section and its committee from 1931 to recent years. Associated correspondence, photographs and other memorabilia are included. The archive of the Society is on permanent loan with the Wellcome Trust and held by the Wellcome Library. Members are welcome to visit the library and view the collection.

A brief history of the British Pharmacological Society by A Cuthbert

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An Early History of the British Pharmacological Society  by WF Bynum

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