He worked in the business until he was 18 years of age and then he went to London where he was apprenticed without formal indenture to Dr. Matthew Coleman of 265 Whitechapel Road. Here he learned about blood-letting, the application of leeches, the raising of blisters and the extraction of teeth. He progressed no further however for the family pushed him into training as a pharmacist in the School of the Pharmaceutical Society in Bloomsbury Square. There was a great deal of public debate at the time concerning education and the licensing of pharmaceutical chemists. If the retail pharmacy activity of Down Brothers were to continue it might be necessary to have a pharmaceutical chemist in the business. Langdon Down threw himself into the practical and theoretical studies on a course which catered for only 80 students out of the national total of 3,000 who were engaged in the study of pharmacy. He won the prize in organic chemistry, his first major academic distinction and he passed the two examinations of the Society in quick succession in the months of June and July, 1848. He was still reluctant to commit himself to life as an assistant in a striped apron and behind a counter. He never registered as a member of the Pharmaceutical Society. One month after he had taken his final examination his brother Richard was admitted a member of the Society without examination, probably on the basis that he was the head of Down Bros. and that there was a qualified pharmaceutical chemist in the business.
Theophilus Redwood, the Professor of Chemistry in the Pharmaceutical Society head- hunted John Langdon Down and he was offered an appointment as Laboratory Assistant. His duties in the main were to do with assisting students of the following year with their laboratory bench work.