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Jesse Boot

Taking on his father’s legacy, Jesse Boot transformed a small family business into the nationwide chain we know today as Boots.

Jesse, the legacy of his father

Jesse Boot

Jesse’s father, John Boot, was born in Radcliffe-On-Trent in 1815. Herbal remedies were often popular cheap medicines within the labouring poor who couldn’t afford physicians. Throughout his early life, John was actively involved in chapel affairs and local schemes in the lace market area of Nottingham to improve living conditions within his community.

John opened the British and American Botanic Establishment in 1849 at 6 Goose Gate, Hockley, in a poor area of Nottingham, and provided alternative herbal remedies and affordable healthcare when physicians were too expensive.

Although not formally educated as a chemist, John learnt his trade through his mother. He was familiar with the fundamentals of medical botany and remedies published in John Wesley’s Primitive Physic. The knowledge he had built since childhood equipped him with the ability to provide consultations three days a week and change the lives of many. 

Staying true to humble beginnings

Unfortunately John died in 1860 but left his son, Jesse, as his legacy. In partnership with his mother and using what his father had taught him, Jesse began to collect herbs and manage the shop. His real ambition was to expand the business. From herbal remedies to medicines, Jesse saw the importance of bulk-buying stock in order to drive down costs to his customers. Using the slogan “Health for a Shilling”, Jesse stayed true to his father’s orginal aim of providing affordable healthcare to the community.

With an increase in sales, Jesse was able to grow his business on Goose Gate and in Nottingham. In 1884, he made a huge breakthrough and opened his first shops in the nearby towns of Lincoln and Sheffield, as well as employing his first qualified pharmacist to dispense medicines.

Advertisement from John Boot's store

“We declare-
For Pure Drugs
For Qualified Assistants
For First-class Shops
For Reasonable Prices
For your Good Health
For our Moderate Profits
We minister to the comfort of the community in a hundred ways”
(Jesse Boot)

Boots continued to grow and, between 1890 and 1914, 540 shops opened throughout the UK. With this, staff training and healthcare remained at the heart of the business. Jesse employed welfare professionals and set up a surgery to ensure the health of his employees as well as a Day Continuation School, later named Boots College, that extended the academic and vocational education within their younger employees.

“Fellowship in recreation, fellowship in ideals, common hopes, common sympathies, and common humanity bind us together; and whatever fosters this happy union is valuable.”
(Jesse Boot)

The family tradition

In 1920, Jesse retired and with his arthritis proving progressively debilitating, he sold Boots to the United Drug Company of America, which saw the 1000th store open in 1933.

With Jesse being John’s legacy, he left his legacy in his own son, John - presumably named after his grandfather. John followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps and continued in the Boots’ family tradition. In 1933, the United Drug Company sold Boots to British financiers led by John and, as chairman, he saw the first shop in New Zealand open in 1936. Despite the growth of the business overseas, John strongly believed in the underlying principles of excellent customer service and staff welfare.

“People cannot regulate their illness to fit in with definite times; prescriptions must be dispensed sometimes during Sundays and holidays.”
(John Boot)

Announcing 24-hour opening times, John also improved working conditions for staff by reducing the number of working hours and giving pensions for his employees. It is clear that Jesse and John kept their father’s and grandfather’s values at the heart of their business to ensure affordable healthcare in the UK and overseas.

Words by Jenny Lovell
Images © The Alliance Boots Archive & Museum Collection
Published December 2014

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