JUNE 2022: LOCAL HISTORY - Memories of Downend in the 1950s

May 23 2022

Downend in the 1950s. Picture: Bristol Archives

Downend in the 1950s. Picture: Bristol Archives

AS we celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee, local voluntary group CHAP, the Community History and Arts Project, is finding out what was happening in Downend and Emersons Green all those years ago in the decade of the Coronation. 

Local people have already shared some amazing memories.  

Diane was a teenager at school in 1957 when she and her friend Jenny were called into the headmistress’s office and told that an aeroplane – the Britannia – had crashed near to their homes in Downend.  They were given permission to phone home to check that all was well and to do this, they had to go out of school and find the nearest phone box.  Her mum had heard both the plane flying very low and the crash, but thankfully none of their relatives were harmed.  Diane notes how amazing it was that the pilot managed to avoid landing on any houses, since the area was relatively tiny.

Clarissa reflects on how social attitudes have changed since the 1950s, as everything was about appearances – you had to wear the right clothes, go to church, be seen to do the right thing.  She remembers attending Christ Church in her best clothes, including lace gloves and a hat.  After her father died, her mother was told that she must need a man and received a few ‘offers’ from local upstanding men. However, she chose not to remarry.  Clarissa and her mum became very independent, and turned their hands to any house maintenance that needed doing.  She thinks that times are better now than back then, when everyone was so judgemental, and if you were different in any way you were not accepted.  

Barb describes the shops in Downend village back then – at least three banks and the ‘flower bank’ on the corner.  There was the Downend Drapery, Masons the butchers, a lovely ironmonger down one side and on the opposite side, Youngs the newsagent.  There was also Horsemans, a TV and radio rental shop, Brittons, two greengrocers.  The Downend Press and a garage stood on the corner of Cleeve Hill, with a bench outside on the corner where teenagers would meet their friends at the weekend.  The Enterprise Hall was where the Co-Op car park is now.  She used to go to a youth club there before it moved to West Park Road.

Jennifer recounts moving into one of the first of the new houses in Bromley Heath Road, built by Doug Leonard, in 1953.  From the back room, her family could see Friesian cows grazing the fields, where eventually more houses and the Sandringham pub were built.  She recalls that a brightly-coloured macaw used to watch passers-by from its perch outside a cottage in Cleeve Wood Road, and that there was a dairy in Downend village.  This was spotlessly clean and run by two sisters, who made and sold the most wonderful clotted cream with a thick creamy crust – delicious!

Please keep sending your words and images of our local area in the 1950s for CHAP to share, by contacting us via email at downendchap@gmail.com or by letter at  CHAP, 49 Overnhill Road, Downend, Bristol, BS16 5DS. 

CHAP will also have a stall at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebration in Page Park on June 4.

The CHAP web page about the 1950s is at downendchap.org/Downend-1950s

CHAP is a not-for-profit voluntary organisation, established in 2018, that aims to produce a community history resource and encourage the local community to take part in all its activities.


Helen Rana