Nostalgia: The life and service of Rupert Mealing: soldier, newsagent and hairdresser

Nostalgia: The life and service of Rupert Mealing: soldier, newsagent and hairdresser

Rupert Mealing with his wife Rosa

A tinted post card showing the eastern side of Frogmoor c.1910. A set of 12 postcards of different views of High Wycombe in a purpose-made envelope - marked Published by R Mealing and Hand-coloured - was found in the basement of Mealings shop in Frogmoor.

First published in News by

Older readers might just remember the Mealing’s newsagent’s/tobacconist’s/fancy goods shop in Frogmoor.

The founder was Rupert Mealing and this week we will consider his life, which included service in the Great War.

Rupert was born in 1879, the youngest child of Horatio and Emma Mealing who had four sons and two daughters.

Horatio was a chairmaker, who from around 1877 also became the licensee of the Lion in the Wood public house in Queens Square, High Wycombe.

So Rupert would have been born there. By 1898, at the age of 19, Rupert had established his gent’s hairdressing business, also in Queens Sq.

After a year or two he moved to premises in Desborough Road. In the census taken in April 1901 he was still living at home with his parents at 18 Remington Terrace in the town.

His father had given up the Lion in the Wood pub and had reverted to his occupation as a chairmaker. He died on March 23 1906.

On August 4th 1901 Rupert married in Rosa Oxlade at All Saints parish church. The couple went onto have 3 children, a daughter Kathleen Rosa born early in 1903, and sons Horatio Rupert who was born in 1904 and Sidney Thomas Mealing born in 1911.

Rupert was always known as a resourceful man and an incident which occurred in early May 1904 illustrates this. The family were still living in Desborough Road and at 11 o’clock one evening fire broke out at the butcher’s premises of H J Stevens at No. 218.

The local policeman happened to be nearby and summoned the Volunteer Fire Brigade. But Rupert acted immediately by obtaining a length of hose.

The report of the incident continues “and playing it on the flames, which were found to have got a good hold of the interior of the premises, thus prevented their further spread.

The Fire Brigade were soon on the spot, but so successful had the user of the hose been that the Brigade found it unnecessary to turn on the water’!"

The fire was found to have originated at the gas meter under the stairs. Around 1905 the family moved to take up residence at No. 19 Frogmoor Gardens, by which time Rupert had diversified the business by becoming a tobacconist and newsagent in addition to gent’s hairdressing.

In May 1906 it was reported that Mealing’s newsagents had been responsible for providing the Royal Garrison Artillery camp, numbering 475 men, with newspapers. The RGA were in town for military exercises.

By the census of 1911 the business had taken on a live-in assistant Charley Cowley, and Rupert’s mother-in-law Faith Oxlade was also living with the family.

Charley was an orphan and the Wycombe Poor Law Union had arranged for him to be apprenticed as a hairdresser to Rupert. Around 1912 Charley emigrated to America.

For service in the Great War Rupert was called-up on January 5th 1917 and joined the South Staffordshire Regiment as Private 42529.

After extensive training at different locations in England, from where he sent a series of postcards back to his wife and children, he moved to the Western Front early in 1918.

After only a few months he was badly gassed in action and in August 1918 was transferred back to England to become a patient at Bethnal Green Hospital.

In Bethal Green at that time it was the practice of the local Mayor to send ‘goody bags’ to recently arrived wounded soldiers. Rupert duly received his, which consisted of an envelope containing writing paper and envelopes, a packet of cigarettes, a bar of chocolate and a hankerchief.

He was discharged on September 18 1918, less than a couple of months before the Armistice. He was awarded the Victory and the British medals, as well as a Silver War Badge.

The latter was awarded to service personnel who had been honourably discharged due to wounds or sickness. The main purpose of this badge was to prevent the serviceman being branded a coward and ‘presented’ with a white feather.

During the war years Rupert’s wife Rosa, with the support of her children, had continued the newsagent’s side of the business, but suspended the hairdressing. When Rupert returned home he was never able to fully regain his health after his experiences in the war.

He was able to continue to work in the shop, but did not resume the hairdressing side. As well as selling newspapers and magazines to the public, he developed a wholesale business.

This necessitated a very early start every morning, except Sunday, meeting the ‘milk train’ at the railway station, and then distributing bundles of newspapers to other retail outlets around the town.

The business prospered and in 1925 Rupert and Rosa were able to purchase a bigger house at 50 Frogmoor, The Cottage, opposite the old Technical & Arts College. Rupert passed away on September 30th 1937 in the War Memorial Hospital.

He had suffered a ‘seizure’ at home and a second in hospital from which he died. His funeral was held at All Saints parish church on Monday October 4th.

Rosa and her eldest son Horatio, always known as Rish, continued to operate the business until Rosa herself died in February 1962. After that Rish continued until he sold the business in 1968, when the Mealing name disappeared, and the building was demolished a few years later.

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