June 2023: Local History

One of Downend’s colourful characters

DOWNEND’S shopping streets have been filled with colourful places and faces for centuries. 

One well-remembered local man was John U’ren, who moved here from Cornwall with his wife (a teacher) in 1939 to become the pharmacist. 

Intending to stay for about three years, they ended up running the chemist shop on Badminton Road and living above it for over 50 years!  They both enjoyed playing bowls in Page Park and reached a high standard.

His niece, Ann Edwards, who moved from Cardiff to help her Uncle John in the 1960s, shared some memories of this playful character with local history group CHAP. 

She explained that he was famous for the ‘A board’ which sat outside his shop, on which he would write witty comments about a local or national news items to make people smile. 

Passers-by would see John sweeping his bit of pavement outside of his shop every day and would sometimes shout across the road to tell him about their ailments, not taking any notice of the people around them or worrying about confidentiality!

Ann clearly recalled how the inside of his pharmacy looked when she was a child, with all the jars and potions, the wooden shelves and drawers containing various liniments and tablets. She remembered two particular large glass jars, full of medicinal concoctions. 

One contained a white liquid, which John would prescribe for tummy upsets, while the other held a brown liquid, which he gave customers to ease their chesty coughs – or cure pimples in private places!

John was a very flamboyant man, who often complained to Mangotsfield Rural District Council about how many times workmen kept digging up the road for various reasons (little seems to have changed over the years!).  To make a point, he had some fun with them by floating plastic ducks in the holes when they were full of water.

Other shops in Downend included Brodrick’s garage, two newsagents, Sperring and Max Young, Don Burland’s shoe shop, Mrs Brodribb’s greengrocery, Jack Barnes’ ironmongery and Powells’ dairy. 

Downend Community History and Art Project (CHAP) is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation. CHAP welcomes your memories and photographs of the people who lived and worked here in the past, so please get in touch to share your local history, via email to big.gin@talktalk.net or by post to CHAP, 49 Overnhill Road, Downend, Bristol, BS16 5DS.

Helen Rana