John Langdon Down was a very bright pupil at school, but at the age of 14 years he was put behind the counter to learn his trade. Dividing lines in the retail trade were not clearly defined. Many grocers sold drugs and many chemists sold groceries. The shop opened at 7.00am and closed at 9.00pm. This acclimatization to a long working day stood him in good stead when he was older. Among his contemporaries he was renowned for his energy and endurance. Joseph Almond Down, his father, was of good family but he was not a good businessman. The diverse nature of the Torpoint business gave an opportunity to his very talented wife Hannah to prove her worth. Richard was the eldest of the family. He was 18 years older than John and he with his mother built up, expanded and diversified the business. Richard had gone to London for one year to learn about retail pharmacy. He returned in 1832. The business was now Down and Son, and they added the description of woollen draper to their repertoire. The name of the business changed again in 1847, for by now it was Down Brothers. The brothers were Richard and Kelland and they were wholesale and retail grocers, tea dealers, coffee roasters, provision merchants, chemists, druggists, oil and colour men, ironmongers, stationers, booksellers, linen and woollen drapers and agents for the Norwich Life and Fire Insurance Office.
Langdon Down had no taste for the retail trade. At the age of 18 years he had, by his own account, what could only be described as a providential experience. On a family picnic in Devon, heavy rain forced the family to take shelter and they were served tea by a girl with a developmental disability. This was something new in Langdon Down’s experience. Seeing her, in a moment of inspiration, he formed a resolve to make the care of the disabled his life’s work. He made this experience public in 1879 when he spoke at the opening of Normansfield Theatre.