James Woolley (1811-1858) started his working life as apprentice to Samuel Dean, druggist of 4 Piccadilly, Manchester, before setting up his own business as a chemist in King Street, Manchester in 1833. In 1840 he acquired R H Hargreave's business in Market Street, which had been established in 1796. Woolley was a founder member of the Manchester Pharmaceutical Society, formed in 1841 and became a Council member in 1843. On his death the business was taken over by his sons. One son, George Stephen Woolley (c.1837-1918) was responsible for developing the manufacturing side of the business. His brother, Herman was placed in charge of the manufacturing side in 1868, with another brother, Harold (1850-1889) responsible for the manufacture of scientific and surgical equipment. The business now traded as James Woolley, Sons & Co. In 1872 a fire forced the firm to relocate to Knowsley St. Cheetham, which housed its drug mills and laboratories. By 1889 the business was largely concerned with wholesale distribution of drugs and further warehouse accommodation was acquired at Victoria Bridge.
In 1895 it was incorporated as a limited liability company and in 1936 it took over J C Arnfield & Sons Ltd., a retail and wholesale chemist of Stockport, which had been established in 1786, although this continued to trade as a separate business. In 1950 James Woolley, Sons & Co. Ltd was converted to a public limited liability company. In 1962 the company was acquired, along with its subsidiary, by British Drug Houses Group Ltd., whereupon the two companies merged to form BDH (Woolley and Arnfield ) Ltd. In 1966 the wholesale distribution interest of British Drug Houses Group Ltd. and Evans Medical Ltd. merged to form Vestric Ltd.; a company with 36 trading branches including Lofthouse and Saltmer Ltd., Duncan Flockhart Ltd., and Bradley & Bliss Ltd. BDH became the Manchester branch of Vestric and ceased to trade under its established name.