To me, Boots is a merely a place I go to for day-to-day necessities like deodorant, hair spray, and the occasional £3 meal deal. When I came across Karni’s Seven Legged Bar Crawl Facebook page, I didn’t expect to read a mini history lesson about how the founder of Boots, Jesse Boot, supported the occasion as he believed it was “a unique night once a year where students could forget their studies and partake in an event so unique, so frivolous and so Nottingham”. Maybe I was alone in being surprised at the possibility of such a strong relationship between Boots and the University – but it grabbed my attention. Was I to take this description literally? Or was it just a joke? Nevertheless, following my curiosity I decided find out a little more about the connection between the University of Nottingham and Boots.
Speaking to Professor Gerry Pattenden, former Sir Jesse Boot Professor (1988-2005) at the University of Nottingham, I was told “when people think of Nottingham, they usually think of Robin Hood and Boots”. This remark surprised me, as before coming to university here, Boots had never crossed my mind when I thought of Nottingham. However, Professor Pattenden, somewhat amazed and perhaps a little disgusted at my ignorance as a third year, informed me that the University and Boots have a rich history together going back a hundred years or so. An obvious physical connection between the two are the stores we now see on campus, which date back to the early 1900’s – this was when the Boot family owned the land that University Park is on now. Ultimately, the family wanted to create a village for their employees here. Nottingham Council had refused an original request to build on the land, but eventually agreed on the condition that they worked with the University. Agreeing to this, the family continued over time to offer generous amounts of money to the School of Chemistry within the University.
Boots has always held a particularly strong bond with the School of Chemistry. Sir Gordon Ivan Hobday – the distinguished scientist who worked on penicillin with Alexander Fleming – headed up the Boots research team that worked with the School of Chemistry to discover ibuprofen, and later became the fourth ever Chancellor of the University of Nottingham. Pharmaceutical companies together with the chemistry department have always worked alongside Boots to develop many household drugs that we are familiar with today.
Painkillers such as aspirin were one of the reasons Boots became a world famous company, dating back to the production of aspirin in Germany at the outbreak of World War One. Once Germany stopped making aspirin available to the people in the west, Jesse Boot took the opportunity to open a chemist in Beeston, Nottingham and make it available for people everywhere in England. Suffering from acute arthritis himself, Jesse could easily understand the need to help relieve others of their pain.
As the years went by Boots developed and diversified so that it was no longer just associated with pharmaceuticals, and so started to fund other university departments (in particular the Business School on Jubilee campus). This explains why the Boots we know today is a brand not just associated with drugs, but also with cosmetics, electrical goods, photo printing and much more.
Lastly, the most obvious connection between the Boots Family firm and the University is shown through various bequests made over the years to Halls of Residence. Boots has sponsored and donated a generous amount of money to various halls, in particular Florence Boot Hall (named after Boot’s wife). In addition, a portrait is held in the council chamber of the man himself.
Whilst Boots has many links to the University of Nottingham, the ‘historical account’ of Jesse Boot supporting the Seven Legged Bar Crawl is, perhaps unsurprisingly, completely false. Nevertheless, I admire Karni for trying to encourage more people to partake in the evening’s events and feel less guilty about avoiding work through the use of Jesse Boots’ illustrious name.
So, next time you head to Boots on campus have a think about how the Boots Family and firm really do have roots deeply embedded into our university. Alternatively, think fondly back to the Seven Legged Bar Crawl, take the Karni approach and pretend you were paying tribute to Jesse Boot!