City chemist celebrates 200th anniversary

Lindsay & Gilmour staff photographed in the 1860s. Picture: contributed
Lindsay & Gilmour staff photographed in the 1860s. Picture: contributed
Have your say

IT has survived two world wars, two warehouse fires and can count Charles Darwin among its past clients.

Now one of Edinburgh’s oldest businesses is celebrating its 200th anniversary.

Raimes, Clark & Co. – better known by its modern day trading name Lindsay & Gilmour – was founded in 1816 and is one of the oldest pharmaceutical businesses in the country.

Company Chairman Nigel Cumming, who is the third generation of his family to be involved in the business, said: “Keeping the business working and growing throughout all that time has taken a lot of work, imagination and seen a lot of change.”

The company was established on the High Street in 1816 by Yorkshireman John Raimes as a “commission agent” to supply pharmacies or “druggists” across Scotland and the north of England.

By 1920, with the help of his brother Richard, the expanding business was on the move, setting up home in Union Street, Greenside Place, Fife Place and then finally in a Georgian town house at the end of Smith’s Place, off Leith Walk. It remains the company’s headquarters to this day.

Nowadays, Lindsay & Gilmour has 28 branches throughout the country, one of which was opened at 11 Elm Row in 1826, by Robert Lindsay, and is understood to be the oldest pharmacy in Scotland still trading from its original location.

Mr Cumming said: “The business started off in manufacturing and wholesale, moved away from manufacture to focus on wholesale, and in the more recent decades moved from wholesale into retail through our chain of community pharmacies.

“But in all of that time, one constant has been that the company has been involved in the provision of medicines to the people of Scotland, and that commitment has extended to the way we have dealt with our own people too.”

One of the company’s most famous customers was Charles Darwin, whom archivists believe may have been a regular at the Elm Row pharmacist, owing to information found on a label on a very early medicine bottle.

Between 1825 and 1828 he studied medicine at Edinburgh University and may have been living in the area around the business at the time.

He forms one of many fascinating details of the company’s history, which also includes two devastating fires in 1850 and 1961, both of which gutted the warehouse at Smith’s Place. The latter fire caused £90,000 of damage, with the Evening News reporting that canisters of air-purifying liquids began “shooting out of the window like sputniks”.

To mark the 200th anniversary of the company, staff and their families were treated to a fun day at Meadowbank Stadium, similar to original ones held back in the 19th century.

Yet where the modern-day staff enjoyed human table football, sumo wrestling and bouncy castles, original company workers would have delighted in throwing a cricket bat and the “married men’s race”.