Stephenson’s Pharmacy is a century-old pharmacy in the heart of downtown Cairo. George Stephenson, a chemist from Yorkshire, opened the establishment in 1899. He selected part of a shopping site built in 1888 by Davies Bryan. The store occupies 1900 meters squared on the corner of Magrabi (now Adly St.), Emad al Din (now Mohammed Farid St.), and al Manakh (now Abdel Khaled Tharwat St.).
The store’s façade was decorated with ornate motifs of roses, thistles, shamrocks, and leeks; remnants of which can still be spotted today. The words “Davies Bryan, 1910”, written in both English and Arabic on a plaque can also be made out. After Bryan’s death in, the megastore was broken up into several smaller stores and boutiques including Stephenson’s and the Anglo Bookstore. The wood cabinetry and store signage were custom-built in London and then shipped over to Cairo, along with all of the equipment, to be reassembled there.
George and his wife Clara (also from Yorkshire) loved to travel the world. Clara, a talented pianist and horse rider, sailed to British-occupied Egypt to join her husband soon after he set up shop. She brought her youngest children, Claude, Lionel, and Harold along with her. The youngest, Harold, was groomed to take over the pharmacy. However, at age 16 when he returned to England to study pharmacy, he ended up secretly enlisting in the British Army for World War One.
Harold eventually joined the Canberra Fire Brigade and Ambulance Service (Australia). He drove an ambulance, barring witness to nightmarish scenes and carrying charred bodies on the Western Front. Surviving the Battle of the Somme, regarded as the most painful and infamous of the global war, Harold drove headlong into the fray and helped shield younger service members. He passed away many decades later at the age of 85 and was survived by five children and 15 grandchildren.*
Ehan Samman was born in Lebanon in the early 1930s and travelled to Egypt as teenager. He settled in the Tanta governate, before moving to Cairo to study pharmacy. Upon graduating, Dr. Samman purchased Stephenson’s pharmacy sometime in the early 1940s after the Stephenson family’s return to England. He earned a reputation in the community for being a kind and honest man. Soon after, he married Eva Azzar with whom he had four children: Caroline, Zoheir, Christine, and Nour.
When Dr. Samman passed away, his son Nour took over the pharmacy. Ten years later, Zoheir assumed the role of caretaker of the family’s legacy. Zoheir is still the operator of Stephenson’s, sometimes taking the time to give passing admirers a friendly tour of the inside. The pharmacy still operates under the same name, with much of its original furnishings and equipment still intact. This includes some of the original apothecary bottles, syringes, scales, labels, medicine adverts, prescription records, and more. The pharmacy remains, a site of memory that carries with it a rich legacy of migration into modern Egypt.
* Josh Brennan, “Private Harold Stephenson: The Lost Years of World War One,” 2018.
** A Sincere thank you to Zoheir Samman for sharing your stories and the generous tour.
Christin El-kholy is a Cairophile and journalism student from Scarborough, Canada who left Egypt as a baby. This relationship to “home” has led to a lifelong investigation of diasporic identity, and a passionate interest in the ways that an urban space is storied from the inside – and out. When she’s not embarking on a derive or ranting on twitter, she’s likely convincing a friend – or a stranger – to use the public library.