I THINK it’s safe to say that of the thousands of people born in Penn over the centuries, Herbert Druce is the longest living.
He celebrated his 108th birthday at his care home last month and was particularly pleased to receive a personal message of warm wishes and congratulations from King Charles and Queen Consort Camilla.
Charles’ great grandfather, George V, was on the throne and the First World War was still in its first year when Herbert was born at the family home in Beacon Hill, Penn on 6 January, 1915.
Herbert, known as Drum to his friends, celebrated his 100th birthday at the Crown pub eight years ago where he regaled fantastic memories – and some saucy stories – of a lifetime in the village to an enthralled audience.
It was outside that very pub where, as a boy, he would tend the horses of visiting customers.
Cars were a rarity when he was a lad – “only one or two a day would make it up the rough road from Beaconsfield to visit some posh house in Penn,” he recalled. But, nonetheless, for as long as he could remember, he was fascinated by motor vehicles.
In his early teens he took a job with Slades – still on the corner of Beacon Hill but in those days a blacksmith’s. However, as motor cars become more popular in the 1920s and 30s Slades converted into a garage and Herbert trained as one of its first motor mechanics.
At the outbreak of the Second World War he volunteered for the RAF but was rejected. Instead he put his engineering skills to good use at Heston Aircraft Company, based at the Heston aerodrome at the time, and was involved in modifying and repairing Spitfires. Later he moved to their factory in Wycombe.
He returned to Slades after the war and then later to the Wycombe garage Davenport Vernon. His uncle, Fred “Wedger” Druce, one of the village’s great characters, had an exciting war, escaping from a prisoner of war camp in Italy and being sheltered by Italian partisans.
Drum married Gwen in 1945 and they moved to the original Coppice Farm in Hazlemere Road, which was subsequently demolished to make way for Coppice Farm Road. They later lived nearby in Hazlemere Road.
For 60 years he was a bellringer and a member of the choir at Penn’s Holy Trinity Church and some members of the congregation keep in touch with him. He and his brother Ernie were at Penn’s Alde House old people’s home for a number of years, but now Herbert is resident in a home in Leicestershire, nearer his family.
A lovely bloke with a ready smile and a glint in his eye, I once asked him to what he attributed his long life. “Contentment,” he replied, with a wink.
*See Herbert’s romantic memories – Cupid at the village hall – at the end of this blog
Specialists brought in to deal with dramatic collapse of the Penn Road
UPDATE – The road reopened late on Friday 17 February.
SPECIALIST draining consultants have been called after the water mains under Penn Road, near its junction with Curzon Avenue, kept springing leaks without an apparent explanation.
The road, the main Hazlemere to Beaconsfield Road, has been closed since the first leak on 4 January and it could remain closed until the end of February. (Update – it reopened on 17 February),
Affinity Water described the collapse of the water main as “large and unexpected”, causing “significant damage” and collapsing the verge.
Work on repairing the drains was suspended several times during January as further leaks occurred on adjoining pipes. Several drains have been removed so specialists can concentrate on the mains and discover the cause of the recurring leaks.
A pond, known locally as Rushmoor Pond, was situated on the corner of Curzon Avenue and Penn Road before a house was built over it around 15 years ago.
In fact there used to be a number of small ponds along the Penn to Hazlemere Road and over the years there have been isolated incidents of sudden subsidence.
There’s speculation that last summer’s drought followed by this winter’s heavy continuous rains has affected the sub-structure of the land.
In the meantime the closure has meant a significant increase in traffic on Rose Avenue, Ashley Drive and Gravelly Way as motorists find a way round the road block.
Solicitors forced to close – Browns, the solicitors which had an office at Hazlemere Crossroads, has been closed down by the Solicitors’ Regulation Authority. Details have not been released but the authority said the drastic action was in the interests of current and former clients.
The company was taken over by a larger group nearly two years ago and it’s reported that the group, Metamorph, is in financial difficulties. Clients of the firm can discover more on https://www.sra.org.uk looking under the news section for 12 January and following the links.
Heritage bid – The B474 road from Penn to the beginning of Beaconsfield new town is being considered as a ‘heritage asset’, which could protect the area from intensive development in the future. Buckinghamshire Council says it is a “high quality example of woodland road” and identified it as an area of special character.
Non-starter – A suggestion to make the Rays Lane track around the back common, Tylers Green one-way to traffic looks like a non-starter after 15 of the 19 households affected voted against it. Three were in favour and one undecided.
Vicar report – The Oxford diocese says its “learning review” about the period when former Tylers Green vicar Michael Hall was at St Margaret’s will be published in a few months. The Rev Hall, who died in 2020, was accused of serious allegations involving financial and spiritual abuse and ‘sexualised behaviour’ during his tenancy between 1981 and 2000.
School meals – Penn’s MP Sarah Green has added her support to a motion in the House of Commons calling on the Government to provide funding to enable free meals to be provided in all state primary schools.
Minister’s objection – Pastor Peter Simpson, minister at Penn Free Methodist Church, has condemned the Church of England’s decision to allow the blessing of same-sex marriages in churches, describing the decision as “a craven conformity to the fashion of the moment.”
Coronation celebrations – Tylers Green Middle School parent-teacher association is planning a Kings and Queens themed ball in July as part of the Coronation celebrations.
Busy weekend – The Open Gardens charity event in Penn and Tylers Green, in aid of Village Care, will be on Sunday 11 June, the day after the Penn and Tylers Green Penn Seven and Fun Run.
Too little, too late for the Gomm Valley
NATURAL England, a Government quango, has appointed a consultancy to examine the boundaries of the Chilterns Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) in a move that could have a significant impact on the future of Penn and Tylers Green.
Penn’s late MP Cheryl Gillan was a tireless campaigner to expand the AONB boundary, particularly in this area, to prevent over-development. After expansion she wanted the AONB to be upgraded to a National Park to give it even greater protection.
After Mrs Gillan’s death, Boris Johnson, then prime minister, promised in the by-election campaign for Chesham and Amersham, which includes Penn, to start the process. Consequently, in July 2021, Natural England was told to investigate the practicalities and come up with a plan for public consultation.
As ever the wheels of Government turn slowly, but now Natural England has appointed an environmental consultancy, LUC, to assess the Chilterns and produce an expansion plan. It’s expected their ideas will be published next year as part of a public consultation.
The existing AONB boundary wriggles through Penn and Tylers Green offering increased countryside protection on the side in the AONB and less on the other.
Hence, for instance, on the left hand side of Hammersley Lane, going towards Wycombe, there’s open countryside with no likelihood of major development because it is AONB. On the other side there’s more development and, of course, the Gomm Valley, the subject of a current controversial planning application to build over 600 houses and other facilities.
These latest AONB expansion moves, assuming they will be eventually agreed, will come too late to stop any development in the Gomm Valley. But they should at least draw a line in the sand (or in this case the grass) preventing any remaining undeveloped and currently unprotected areas of countryside bordering the AONB from future major development.
A financial reckoning…
BUCKINGHAMSHIRE Council is tightening its belt as increased costs and more pressure on its social services means cut-backs in most areas in the coming year.
In Wycombe it is moving staff out of the old library offices and seeking a commercial tenant, while in Amersham it has started a process which will result in the council offices being sold off for housing while staff move to smaller premises in the town.
There’s planned savings on a host of activities from reduced cutting of grass verges to slashing funding for local community boards, which in turn means less for local projects.
In total the council plans savings of £10m in its services while anticipating an extra £21m in income from fees and charges, including parking.
In addition the council is increasing its council tax rate by the maximum 4.9 per cent permitted without calling a local referendum.
A financial survivor…
LLOYDS Bank at Hazlemere crossroads has survived the latest round of bank high street closures making it the only physical bank for miles.
Who would have thought that towns like Beaconsfield and Amersham would ever be without an on-street bank. How times change.
…and respect for the past
MEANWHILE, elsewhere at Hazlemere Crossroads, the tyre company Meritts is expected to produce expansion plans soon following its acquisition of the old Royal British Legion hall, which served Hazlemere, Penn and Tylers Green,
The company has been in touch with the legion and is hoping to mark the presence of the community hall on the site with a plaque or some sort of memorial on the new building.
The hall played a central role in the community for many years. In the Second World War it was a British Restaurant, a place where people could go for a cheap but nourishing two course meal, usually served by retired school dinner ladies, used to mass catering. After the war it was transported to the Hazlemere site.
High fashion from our local villages
THE summer exhibition, opening next month at Wycombe Museum, is called “Hidden Hands: Women at work in the Chilterns”, and features some of the intricate and highly skilled work carried out by women in villages such as ours in the 19th and early 20th century.
There’s quality lacemaking, of course, but also lesser known skills such as chair seat rushing; straw plaiting and, pictured above, Tambour Beading, a specialised form of high fashion embroidery centred in Holmer Green and Hazlemere. The exhibition also looks at the hard conditions these skilled women in our local villages endured. It opens on 9 March and runs to 10 September. Admission is free.
Mrs Collier’s class – the full cast!
THANKS TO all those who responded to the appeal for information about this picture of Mrs Collier’s class at Tylers Green First School in 1959/60 (see previous blogs), including Pat White who not only has a copy of the photo at home but has, on the back, all the people in it – many from families still in the area today.
For the record, they are: left to right, back row: J. Hunt, P. Norman, T. Harris, K. Prynn, S. Kerfield, D. White, A. Brooks and D.Hawes. Second row: S. Woods, A. Pollard, K. Beckley, P. White, W. Harris, R. Buckland, J. Tilbury, R. Long, L. Wilko and D. Higginson. Third row: D. Crowther, L. Cowdry, P. Chivers, C. Payne, B. Trendle, R. Oliver (slightly hidden), M. Dennis, S. Beale,and C. Brindle. Front row: D. Lishman, T. Meeks, M.Meeks, P. Mickelson, E. Thanthem, J. Harris, J. Knobbs and J Keen.
Good schools – Last year nine out of ten pupils in Buckinghamshire attended schools ranked as good or outstanding by Ofsted, said a report by the county’s education department. The number of early years providers in the county rated as good or outstanding was 97.5 per cent.
Supermarket warning – Police are investigating a number of what are termed “distraction thefts” from shoppers entering and leaving the Waitrose car park in Beaconsfield.
Theatre sold – The Adelphi Theatre/cinema/bingo hall in Slough has been sold by the council to help pay off its debts.The new owners say they want to convert it into a banqueting suite for weddings and events.
Wanderer returns – James Corden, the 44 year old former Hazlemere schoolboy turned actor and TV host, has received planning permission to build a new six bedroom mansion in Henley for when he and his family return to this country from the USA where he hosts TV’s The Late Show.
Soaring cost – A Freedom of Information request by New Civil Engineer magazine has revealed that HS2’s four main contractors have asked 3,000 times (yes, three thousand) for more money or time on a project since work started in September 2020.
Parliament has been told the cost of building HS2 has more than doubled from the £800m quoted two years ago. Nick Smallwood, head of the Infrastructure and Projects Authority told MPs last month that HS2 did not have public support because it was neither “well developed” nor “well planned” before it was advanced.
River sewage – The Times reported that a blend of raw sewage and rainwater was released into the River Misbourne for nearly 12 full days in January. The Misbourne, running from Great Missenden, is a rare chalk stream and acknowledged as one of the most precious habitats in the UK. Thames Water said it had a temporary permit from the Environment Agency to discharge the sewage, but environmental campaigners say conditions surrounding such permits are “woefully inadequate”.
Cupid at the village hall
IN 2016, on the occasion of Tylers Green Village Hall’s 80th anniversary, we asked for any memories people had about the village hall. We received this letter from Herbert Druce, who was aged a mere 101 at the time…
“I hope you will be able to understand this letter as I am 101 and my fingers have a will of their own.
“I have very fond memories of time spent in the village hall.
“I remember it being opened and in the evening a dance. I am not sure of the band – Piccadilly Band? – but the MC was Mr Weedon, a big man, ex Met policeman. Mr W. announced the dance and being keen dancers my girl-friend, later to become my wife, and I took to the floor.
“During the interval our names were called and we were presented with a painting by Mrs Beecher. Unfortunately it was stolen from our chair just before the end.
“There was also the Thursday social club. I think Cupid must have had a room at the village hall as I could name 12 or more couples who met there and later married.
“We had some really enjoyable evenings. We had two long nights: one at Christmas and one at the end of the season when the ladies were all in long frocks and the men in their best (no jeans). The Piccadilly Band’s signature tune was “Somebody Stole My Gal”, which was also the start for a “Paul Jones” where the ladies formed an inner circle and the gents an outer circle..
“I still remember a lot of the music and the words. The last dance was always a quickstep – Good Night Sweetheart – followed by a waltz, Time To Say Goodnight and When I Grow Too Old To Dream. Being a chorister at the time I used to sing all the words and still remember them.
“Happy times and happy memories.”
*Herbert is pining a bit for Penn in his care home in Leicestershire. So if anyone who knows or knew him would like to contact him with any memories or simply to send good wishes, drop me an email and I’ll send you contact details of those seeing him regularly.
You can contact this blog at email@example.com. The next scheduled update will be on 1 March.