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The Changing Face of Thornbury High Street

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December 2009

At the Society’s December meeting Tony Cherry gave a talk on the changing face of Thornbury High Street.

Thornbury is recorded as the site of a market in the early Middle Ages, and it was probably this which prompted the Earl of Gloucester in 1252 to grant borough status to the village, meaning that it became a town. The market remained the focus of the town’s existence for many centuries and was held in the High Street until 1911, at which point it moved to the recently developed site between Bath Road and Rock Street.

The presence of the market encouraged the growth of other trades. The butchery trade, of course, thrived alongside a busy livestock market. One such business in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was that of the Trayhurn brothers which was located in the premises now occupied by funeral directors L.J. Gulwell.

Among other crafts and trades in the town were a number of tailors (one of which, J.H. Williams, occupied the shop which is now T.J. Owen, the florist), a pony and trap rental in what is now the High Street Dental Surgery, and the “Gas and Electricity Showrooms” (now Adrian’s Unisex Hair Salon).

The building now occupied by the PDSA was once the premises of a dentist and his wife, a dispensing chemist. According to the story that has been passed down, the dentist would spend his days in one of the pubs until (having suitably anaesthetised himself) he was required to pull a tooth. Having done so, he would return to the pub and – if he had pulled the wrong tooth – would buy his patient a drink to commiserate.

Perhaps one of Thornbury’s most well-known shops is Savery’s of Thornbury. Savery’s was a highly successful maker of ploughs and agricultural instruments, and the Savery Plough proved to be a great success nationally and was even exported abroad.

The oldest business still trading on Thornbury High Street has remained in the same family for over 100 years. It began as Prewett’s Stationers but the name changed when the business was taken over by the founder’s daughter and her husband, Percy Horder: it is now Horders Thornbury Press.

In bygone times the High Street was also an important venue for public meetings. The mop fair was one such, where employers would seek to hire new workers. The aspiring employees would carry the tools of their trade as an indication of the work they were seeking; unskilled labourers would carry a mop, hence the name. And in the days before broadcast media, important public announcements would be proclaimed in the High Street by the mayor. Other instances of gatherings in the High Street include annual fêtes held by Friendly Societies, the celebrations to mark Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and at the end of the First World War, and the annual Boxing Day meet of the Berkeley Hunt.

From the establishment of the town by charter in 1252 up until the 1950s Thornbury’s High Street, like every other in the country, was occupied largely by those engaged in the manufacture and sale of goods. The last 50 years or so has seen a shift in favour of providers of services. The changes Thornbury has seen are merely a reflection of those which have occurred across Britain and, compared to many towns of a similar size, we are lucky that our town centre continues to thrive. Nevertheless, it is a shame that we have lost so many of the skilled trades and family-run businesses: it is certain that they are not coming back.

The Thornbury Local History and Archaeology Society always welcomes new and occasional members. Details of our programme can be found on this website, the library or the Town Hall. Our meetings are on the second Tuesday of the month, held at St Mary's Church Hall beginning at 7.30pm. Visitors are always welcome at the society for the small charge of £2.50.

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