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Photograph of Ernest Saville Peck

Ernest Saville Peck
© Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain


Ernest Saville Peck (1866-1955)

Born in Cambridge in 1866, Ernest Saville Peck was the son of the respected chemist George Peck and attended The Perse School and Fitzwilliam House, both in Cambridge. He then became an apprentice to his father’s pharmacy at 30 Trumpington Street, Cambridge, and studied pharmaceutical chemistry in the science schools in Cambridge. Peck passed his Minor examination in 1888 and his Major examination in 1889. Academically inclined, he also studied for a BA (1896) and MA (1897) at Cambridge University. Active in pharmaceutical affairs, Peck was a founder member of the Cambridge Pharmaceutical Association in 1893, spoke at the British Pharmaceutical Conference in 1898 and 1899, and subsequently served the conference as Secretary and President. In 1899, he was also appointed examiner for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Peck took over the Trumpington Street pharmacy after his father’s death in 1904, by which time he was married and had two sons and a daughter.

Shop sign of Peck’s pharmacy

Shop sign of Peck’s pharmacy on Trumpington Street, Cambridge

A member of the Territorial Division of the Cambridgeshire Regiment, Peck was called up on the outbreak of World War I. In charge of the regiment’s depot in Cambridge, Captain Peck was instrumental in the formation of a 2nd Reserve Battalion to replace casualties in the 1st Battalion in France. Promoted to the rank of Major in 1915, he put his scientific training to military use, developed an expertise in chemical warfare and established the Anti-Gas School at Halton Camp. In 1918, Major Peck travelled to the United States and advised the US Army Gas School on training troops in anti-gas measures. He later was awarded the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain’s Harrison Memorial Medal in recognition of his work on chemical warfare.

After the war Peck took a personal interest in the future of pharmacy. He assisted with the foundation of a new School of Pharmacy, advised on the retraining of demobilised troops and promoted apprenticeship schemes for young people. A member of the council of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain from 1922 to 1943, he also served the society as Vice-President from 1933 to 1935 and President from 1935 to 1936.

Despite his commitments at the national level, Peck never neglected Cambridge. President of the Cambridge Rotary Club from 1922 to 1923, he was elected to the City Council in 1924. One of the representatives of the Fitzwilliam Ward, Peck served on the Public Health, Maternity and Child Welfare Committee and the Library Committee. In 1936, he was one of the founders of the Cambridge & County Folk Museum and from 1937 to 1938 he was mayor of Cambridge.

Mortar by Petrus van den Ghein Maiolica pharmacy jar Much interested in the history of pharmacy and a keen collector of mortars and pharmacy jars, it was also in Cambridge that Peck made one of his most exciting discoveries. In 1922, he chanced on a cabinet that had long been forgotten at Queens’ College. Its drawers included crab eyes, a scorpion, ‘Venice vipers’ and a woolf tooth. Further research revealed that it was the specimen cabinet of Giovanni Francisco Vigani, also known as John Francis Vigani, the first Professor of Chemistry at Cambridge University (see E.S. Peck, ‘John Francis Vigani and his Materia Medica Cabinet’, Cambridge Antiquarian Society, 34 (1934):34-49). Visiting Newark-on Trent some years later, Peck found a bound copy of Vigani’s lectures held at Trinity College in 1707, later presented to Queens’ College. But he also kept some treasures at home – writing for the Cambridge Independent Press in 1931, Mildred Marley reported:

‘In his charming house with its old-world garden he has what I am sure must be an almost unique collection of pestles and mortars. Councillor Peck knows the history of each one, its period and the uses to which it was put. Almost priceless, they have come to him to a very great extent through friendliness. People knowing his interest have remembered him when chance brought them up against a specimen of note. … Before I had the pleasure of meeting him, a pestle and mortar were to me but the necessary utensils for the concoction of unpleasant pills. I now know that wrought in metal, encrusted with silver and delicately chased, they are not only utilitarian, but objects of historic interest and great beauty.’

Mildred Marley
‘Pen Pictures of Cambridge Men:
Councillor E. Saville Peck MA’
Cambridge Independent Press,
20 March 1931, p. 4

In 1952, Peck presented a selection of mortars and pharmacy jars to the Fitzwilliam Museum. A year later, he assisted the Museum of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain to acquire an outstanding delftware drug jar dating to 1647. For many years a member of the society’s History of Pharmacy Committee, Medicine bottlePill silvererhe bequeathed most of his 250 mortars to the society’s museum and many other items – including the medicine bottle and pill silverer seen here – to the Cambridge & County Folk Museum.

Ernest Saville Peck died in Cambridge in 1955. His Trumpington Street pharmacy continued in private ownership until 1977, when it was bought by Savory & Moore. It is now part of the Lloyd’s group of pharmacies, but still holds old dispensary books and pharmacy jars and hangs an alligator, a tortoise and an ill-shaped fish – a reference to Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.


Selected Bibliography

M. Archer and C. Haley (eds.), The 1702 Chair of Chemistry at Cambridge: Transformation and Change, Cambridge University Press, 2005

S. Ellis, ‘A Century and a Half of Pharmacy in Trumpington Street, Cambridge’, Pharmaceutical Historian, British Society for the History of Pharmacy, 32 (4):61-63 [December 2002]

B. Hudson (ed.), English Delftware Drug Jars: The Collection of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain, 2006

L. Wagner and B. Callingham, ‘Vigani and His Cabinet’,
Queens’ College Record 2003;

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Mortar by Petrus van den Ghein

Mortar by Petrus van den Ghein
Flanders, 1580
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Maiolica pharmacy jar

Maiolica pharmacy jar
Italy, from Deruta in Umbria, 1673
The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Photograph of Skittles - Blunt's mistress in Bordeaux

Medicine bottle
Britain, c.1850
© Cambridge County & Folk Museum

Pill silverer

Pill silverer
Britain, 19th century
© Cambridge County & Folk Museum