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Gregory and Wrenn, Chemists

Gregory And Wren Chemist Taunton c 1908 Taunton Somerset 1

The photograph shows Gregory and Wrenn’s chemists at 15 East Street. They had another shop in Taunton in Bridge St. where the stamp shop is now.

Inside some of the original chemist’s fittings remain, They also had branches at Wellington and Langport. This image dates to around 1910 two years before the death of Mr W. A. Wrenn. He was twice mayor of Taunton and formed the partnership with Mr G.H.Gregory in 1885. Taunton had eight chemist shops in 1902 including Boots old shop in North St. Richard Woollat was another Victorian chemists at 18 Fore Street, in later years Adcocks. Now a travel agent the name Woollatt can still be seen on the floor in the doorway. The window display at East St. features Odol a tooth preparation.

It’s strange how history interweaves itself with one’s own life. The manager of Adcocks gave me private lessons when I joined Boots as a pharmacy technician though in those days I was called a dispenser. When the cellar was cleared out some 40 years ago lots of old Woollatt memorabilia came to light including the delivery boy’s cap. There were boxes for Woollatt’s “ Wonderful Embrocation “ and “ Cough Drops “ and a complete stock of tops and bases ( pot lids ) for cold cream and tooth preparations. I have some in my collection today. I dug up more local chemist’s bottles and pot lids in old Victorian rubbish pits around the town.

My first job was a trainee dispenser at Boots new shop where Lloyd’s Bank is now. Boots are now in the High Street. I was straight from school working with dozens of young ladies who chased me all over the basement. One eventually caught me and we have been married 50 years this year. Pharmacy was an art back then as you made up most things. I learned to make pills ( for the pedantic a pill is round a tablet angular.), mixtures and suppositories. You were in trouble if the latter had air bubbles in. Prescriptions ( scripts ) were written in Latin and directions abbreviated. N.P.Nomen Proprium meant that the proper name could be used. I still use a small “c” for the Latin word “cum” which means “with”. Having outlived my usefulness at Taunton I was moved to Boots in Wellington which at that time was an Edwardian shop where Shauls are now. We had a big refit there and all the old stuff went down a huge well the builders found in the back yard. If you look at the window display in the image above you will see how immaculate it was. Boots had a professional window dresser who came around to do the display.

You learned a lot about human nature as a chemist assistant. Initially Boots would not sell Durex but finally relented. They were kept under lock and key in the manager’s office. It was an awfully embarrassing procedure for the prospective buyer. “Excuse me sir. I must fetch the manager”. I dispensed soda mint tablets to a client at Wellington.    “Best sleeping tablets I ever had.” Such is the value of a placebo. I must have had 60,000 scripts through my hands at Wellington. It was not to last for me. I found shop work much too claustrophobic so eventually moved on to other things.

By Nick Chipchase

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