We still very much miss our dear friend and museum colleague Peter Homan, who died in March 2021.
We all met Peter while working for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) Museum, where he was the longest serving member of the team, having been volunteering two days a week since his early retirement as a Boots manager in 1994. Peter helped catalogue the collections, give guided tours, and answer historical research enquiries. He was an essential part of the team and his contribution to the museum’s work over a quarter of a century is incalculable. Whenever we had a question about an obscure pharmaceutical object Peter would invariably know the answer.
And he shared this knowledge widely through giving talks and writing information sheets and articles, textbook chapters and as co-author of Popular Medicines (Pharmaceutical Press, 2007). He also regularly provided support for other museums with queries about identifying objects, worries about hazards, or queries about their local pharmacy history, often spending significant time translating Pharmaceutical Latin labels or transcribing obscure recipes. We were also all his apprentices for demonstrating historical pharmacy techniques from pill-rolling to cachet-making.
Peter’s in-depth knowledge and passion for British pharmacy history was inspiring and evident to anyone who met him. Visitors fortunate enough to be on one of his museum guided tours came away both informed and entertained. Giving museum tours gave him great pleasure, which was always mirrored by his visitors. Many a time you could walk through the museum while Peter was giving a tour and hear a ripple of laughter as he told one of his anecdotes. He made a lasting impression, and groups from all over the world would ask after him when booking a return visit. It was the same with his colleagues; with a joke or a song for every occasion (even via email during lockdown!) he would never fail to brighten the day.
As well as volunteering at RPS, he was a liveryman of the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries, regularly attending history lectures and latterly volunteering as a library steward. He served as honorary secretary of the British Society for the History of Pharmacy (BSHP) for 20 years, and as its president from 2018-20. He received their Leslie Matthews Medal for outstanding contribution to British pharmacy history in 2015. Peter was also awarded runner up in the long service category of the inaugural London Volunteers in Museum awards in 2009, thoroughly enjoying a drinks reception on HMS Belfast with the other nominees.
The world of pharmacy history has lost one of its great figures, and we have lost a dear friend, but his memory – and cheeky grin – will never be forgotten. He leaves a more material legacy with the bequest of his extensive personal object collection to the RPS Museum, and his book collection to the BSHP, which is sharing it with appropriate libraries including that at the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries.
The BSHP is also working on a small grants scheme in his memory, with the aim of encouraging broader engagement with pharmacy history. It will be open to museums as well as schools and individual researchers.