H B Dunn Chemists

 

Shop-front

One of Leamington’s longest established businesses became yet another casualty of the increasing rents demanded for commercial premises when H B Dunn the Regent Street Chemist moved to alternative premises this year. The properties adjoining the old Lloyd’s Bank including the Golden Lion Inn were some of the first buildings to be erected when the ‘new’ town north of the river was first laid out at the beginning of the nineteenth century.

Pounding Post

Pounding Post

These properties in Cross Street, which became Regent Street, were built as private houses but within a few years had been converted into shops. The shop closest to the bank (now number 87) became a chemist in about 1840 [Cave] and continued as such for the next hundred and seventy-four years. For most of that time it was known as Dunns the Chemist. Some of the internal features of the original shop survived up until the recent transfer of the business.

One rather unusual item was a turned wooden column about a metre tall known as the ‘pounding post’ which was fixed to the shop floor and in earlier times was used to grind down granular substances into powdered form by the use of a pestle. There were a number of large, painted glass panels advertising Mr Dunn’s business and recording its formation in 1826.

By far the most unusual and I suspect the most valuable item, was a large beautifully painted glass jar decorated with the arms of the Prince of Wales and the word JALAP. Thanks to the internet, I learned that jalap is a Mexican plant the tuberous roots of Jalap-jarwhich can be dried and powdered for medicinal use as a purgative and diuretic. Now I think about it, some of the older generation of my family referred to  something made up by the doctor as ‘jollop’ and although I never saw the word written down, I assume that it had its origins in the aforementioned jalap.

Some time ago I thought that we ought to record the historic items in the shop and the accompanying photographs were taken in 2012. Since then I have heard a number of stories about this old property and a sealed room said to exist above the shop and containing various items of ephemera and family memorabilia. One lady told me that old Mr Dunn’s silver-topped walking cane was in this room. We shall never know but these notes will at least ensure that a little bit of Leamington history does not disappear unrecorded. If anyone can shed any more light on the property or on the Dunn family, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Glass-panels

Alan Griffin, 2014

Postscript: Henry Benjamin Dunn, My Grandfather

Henry  Benjamin  Dunn was born on 23 June 1871, in Yorkshire, where his father, Thomas George Dunn was a farmer in Winestead, a village in Holderness, to the east of Hull and north of the Humber estuary.

At the age of 9, Henry was a boarder at Edward Barber’s school in Tickhill, near Doncaster.  By the age of nineteen, he has become a chemist’s apprentice in East Retford, Nottinghamshire.

Home of H B Dunn in Hastings  ©  Tony Dunn

Home of H B Dunn in Hastings © Tony Dunn

Another decade on, and Henry, working as a Chartered Accountant, was listed as a visitor at 33 Croft Road Hastings. (Now known to many as the home of Inspector Foyle in the TV series, Foyle’s War).  That same year, he married Alys Maud Pyne, a granddaughter of the landscape painter James Baker Pyne, whose works can be found in the Tate Gallery.  Henry and Alys’ first son, Cecil Bletcher Dunn was born in Hastings in September 1901.

H B Dunn Chemist, Regent Street ©  Tony Dunn

H B Dunn Chemist, Regent Street © Tony Dunn

At some point between 1901 and 1905, the family moved to Leamington, where their second son, Kenneth Francis Bletcher Dunn was born.  (Sadly, Kenneth died of a haemorrhage aged only fourteen.)  My father, Eric Bletcher Dunn was born in 1907.

I believe that Cecil, HB Dunn’s eldest son, may have qualified as a pharmacist and worked at some time in his father’s shop, but at the time of his first marriage in 1934, he was a motor engineer living in Dudley.  He later worked in Jersey in the Channel Islands.  By the time he remarried in 1951, Cecil was a chemist’s dispenser living at 12 Portland Street, Leamington.  The brass name-plate below the letter box at that address used to bear (and maybe still does) the name Dunn.

Home of C B Dunn in Portland Street  ©  Tony Dunn

Home of C B Dunn in Portland Street © Tony Dunn

I met my uncle Cecil a number of times.  He was an engaging, entertaining man.  He used to say that he would like to be able to ride a galloping horse with the reins in one hand so that he could roll a cigarette with the other.  In his back garden he created a small fishpond, with his handprint embedded in the concrete surround. Cecil’s second marriage was to Mary Janet Harrison (nee Spencer), who had two sons by her previous marriage.  I believe that one of them was the manager of the Leamington swimming baths.

My father, Eric, told me that after a spell of working for his father he realised that if he were ever to make a future for himself, he needed to get away from home.  He went to work first at Galloway’s in Birmingham, and then at a chemist’s in Brislington, a suburb of Bristol, where he eventually became the owner.

Henry Benjamin Dunn died in May 1943, seven months before I was born.  His obituary in the local press reads as follows:

SICK MAN’S BURDEN

“Of Mr H.B. Dunn there is little to be said except that he was one of those men always regarded as bulwarks in local business circles.  A man of retiring disposition, he took no part in public affairs, but for more years than a great many of us can remember he carried on his chemist’s business in Regent Street, where he discharged a useful service to those in need of his skilled advice and attention.

In the end Mr Dunn himself fell a very sick man, and no doubt his end was hastened by the worry he experienced as a result of one of his two sons, Mr Cecil Dunn, sharing the fate of many another of his countrymen in being trapped by the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands, where he is still detained.

From time to time Mr Dunn received messages from his son, but the anxiety of having a relative placed in such a position must have proved a particularly severe on to a man in his state of heath.”

H B Dunn Chemist, Regent Street ©  Tony Dunn

H B Dunn Chemist, Regent Street © Tony Dunn

HB Dunn, Chemist in Regent Street was a Leamington landmark for almost as long as anyone could remember,  until the recent change of ownership.  Some aspects of its decoration were maintained even as the shop’s interior was modernised to bring it into line with current trends.  Leamingtonians  born and bred will remember the giant jars such as the one on the left, up on high shelves, their labels recalling Victorian remedies, and the huge dark wooden post bolted through the middle of the shop floor, thought to have been an industrial-sized mortar for preparing pharmaceutical mixtures.

 

 

 

 

Tony Dunn, August 2016

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