Edmund Stone

Edmund Stone

Reverend Edward (Edmund) Stone (1702-1768) was a Church of England Reverend who discovered the active ingredient of Aspirin.


Edward Stone was born in Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England in 1702 into a family that had been farming in Princes Risborough since 1580. His parents were Edward Stone (Gentleman Farmer) and Elizabeth Reynolds.

He went to Wadham College, Oxford University in 1720 where he later became a Fellow. From 1738 he held livings at Horsenden, Buckinghamshire and Drayton near Banbury, Oxfordshire. He married Elizabeth Grubbe in Mercers Hall Chapel, Cheapside Non-Parochial, London on 7 Jul 1741. In 1745 he became chaplain to Sir Jonathan Cope at Bruern Abbey and served various curacies around Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. He was also a Justice of the Peace (JP) for Oxfordshire, actively enforcing the Poor Law.

He once lived on the site of the Hitchman Brewery in West Street, Chipping Norton, where an Oxfordshire Blue Plaque has now been erected, and was buried at Horsenden in 1768.


The use of salicylic acid and its derivatives dates back at least to 400 BC when Hippocrates (440-377 B.C.) prescribed the bark and leaves of the willow tree (rich in salicin) to reduce pain and fever. In 100 AD Dioscorides mentioned willow leaves and a hundred years later Pliny the Elder and Galen also mentioned them. It was forgotten by doctors in the middle ages but lived on in folk medicine. The pain-relieving effects of Salix (willow) and Spiraea (meadow sweet) species was known in many cultures.

Walking one day through a meadow near Chipping Norton, while suffering from various ‘agues’, Stone was prompted to detach and nibble at a small piece of bark from a willow tree and was struck by its extremely bitter taste. Knowing that the bark of the Peruvian cinchona tree - from which quinine (used in the treatment of malarial fevers) is derived - has a similarly bitter taste, he surmised that the willow might also have therapeutic properties. Stone's interest in willows was due to the ancient "Doctrine of Signatures" — whereby the cause of a disease offers a clue to its treatment.

According to Stone:

"As this tree delights in a moist or wet soil, where agues chiefly abound, the general maxim that many natural maladies carry their cures along with them or that their remedies lie not far from their causes was so very apposite to this particular case that I could not help applying it; and that this might be the intention of Providence here, I must own, had some little weight with me".

He experimented by gathering and drying a pound of willow bark and creating a powder which he gave to about fifty persons: it was consistently found to be a ‘powerful astringent and very efficacious in curing agues and intermitting disorders.’ He had discovered salicylic acid, the active ingredient in aspirin. On 25 April 1763 he sent a letter announcing his discovery to Lord Macclesfield, President of the Royal Society. The letter survives to this day.

A more digestible compound of acetyl chloride and sodium salicylate was developed by Felix Hoffman and Arthur Eichengrun and later marketed by Bayer under the name Aspirin which was registered as a trade name on 23/1/1899.


* "An Account of the Success of the Bark of the Willow in the Cure of Agues. In a Letter to the Right Honourable George Earl of Macclesfield, President of R. S. from the Rev. Mr. Edmund Stone, of Chipping-Norton in Oxfordshire" published in the Philosophical Transactions Volume 53 by the Royal Society of London 1763
* Aspirin: The Remarkable Story of a Wonder Drug by Diarmuid Jeffreys published by Bloomsbury Publishing PLC 2005
* Bayer Health Care at [http://www.aspirin.com]
* Oxford Dictionary of National Biography at [http://www.oxforddnb.com]
* Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board at [http://www.halarose.co.uk/blue/p_REVD_EDWARD_STONE.html]

NAME= Stone, Reverend Edward (Edmund)
PLACE OF BIRTH= Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire, England
PLACE OF DEATH= Horsenden, Buckinghamshire, England

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