Wycombe and the surrounding districts saw a considerable influx of people from other parts of the UK during the first half of the 20th century. This week we look at the life of one such ‘national immigrant’, Ernest Bertram Oldale.

As we shall see, Ernest served in the British Army, including in the Great War, and a comprehensive record of his service survives.

Ernest was born on December 18 1882 at 62 Nottingham Road, Derby, the fifth of nine children born to Thomas and Elizabeth Oldale.

He began work as a Lead Pattern Maker for Moorwoods Ltd at their Harleston Iron Works in Sheffield, but in 1901 decided to join the Army.

So on August 20 1901 he enlisted as a Driver in the 143rd Battery of the Royal Regiment of Artillery.

But the army life was not for him at that time and through the good offices of his previous employers, who paid the cost of £18, he was able to gain a discharge on June 13 1903 and resume his career at the ironworks. He repaid the company through weekly deductions from his pay.

In his early 20s, he met Emily Jane Elstone and they married at the Register Office in Sheffield on December 31 1904.

Emily hailed from Burnham (Bucks), where her father was a shepherd. Shortly after she was born he was told by the farmer he was working for that he was no longer required.

He was taken to the Hiring Fair in Reading where William Folley, a farmer in Sheepridge, Flackwell Heath, took him on. He was paid one shilling and six pence per week and provided with a cottage on the farm.

Ernest and Emily had four children, two sons and two daughters, and in the census of 1911 the family were living in Worksop. Ernest was employed as a ‘Lead Pattern Maker/Insurance Collector’.

Following the start of the Great War, and at the age of 32, Ernest decided to re-enlist.

He brought his family down from Worksop, initially to stay with the parents of his wife Emily at Folly’s Farm in Flackwell Heath. The Follys then let the family rent Juniper Cottage at the top of Juniper Lane in Northern Woods, Flackwell Heath.

This is the address which Ernest gave when he enlisted as a Sapper in the Royal Engineers on March 9 1915. Nine of the £18 that had been paid to gain his earlier discharge was subsequently refunded to him.

In the Royal Engineers, Ernest rose rapidly through the ranks, being promoted on August 25 1915 to a Sergeant in the 148th Army Fortress Company.

As a family man he was encouraged to make his will, which he did on September 1 1915. He appointed his brother-in-law, James Elstone, as his executor, and made his wife Emily Jane as his sole beneficiary.

After having been issued with the standard range of clothing and personal items, on October 6 1915 he embarked for the Western Front.

Just under a year later Ernest was taken seriously ill with an internal complaint and admitted to a field hospital on September 4 1916.

On October 1 he was moved for surgery to the Military Hospital at Colchester where he remained until March 30 1917.

That day he was transferred to the VAD Hospital ‘Woodhouse’ at Great Horkesley, some four miles north of Colchester.

He convalesced there and was discharged on April 17 1917, and then sent to the Royal Engineers Training Centre at Newark, Notts.

Early in 1919, Ernest returned home to Flackwell Heath. The first person he saw was his youngest daughter Winifred Pearl, aged just six, who was playing in the road by Juniper Farm in Northern Woods.

She did not recognise who he was, and was amazed when the soldier gave her a penny. Soon after, she ran home to tell what had happened and found the soldier kissing her mother!

Settling back into civilian life Ernest became a builder, and a member of the National Federation of Master Building Operatives.

He also became a prime organiser in the largest rural Trade Union in southern England, and sat on several committees associated with Technical School Education.

He was still riding his motorbike in 1965 at the age of 82 to go to work at the American Base at Daws Hill. In their old age, Ernest and Emily moved to live at 29 Sandygate in Marlow.

Ernest died on May 2 1968 and Emily passed away in 1975. Some of their descendants, from their eldest son Ernest James Oldale, continue to live in Flackwell Heath.

  • I am grateful to Janet Chapple née Oldale and her brother John Oldale, for sharing their memories with me, and for permission to publish this article.

The origins of Wycombe motor dealership Davenport Vernon

There cannot be many people who have lived in Wycombe for at least the past 25 years who do not remember the name Davenport Vernon, whose motor dealership was located at the premises in London Road, Wycombe Marsh, now occupied by BMW.

But how many of us are familiar with the origins of the company and with the derivation of the name? I am sure I am not alone in thinking the name came about because of a partnership between a Mr Davenport and a Mr Vernon. But we are all wrong!

The company’s origins can be traced back over 150 years to 1856, when Robert Davenport decided to set up in business as a coal and slate merchant.

Robert was born in Pailton in Warwickshire, a few miles east of Coventry, in 1814. Some time before 1841 he came to Wycombe and in the national census of that year gave his occupation as a ‘Banker’s Clerk’.

In late 1843 Robert married Margaret Liberty and the couple went on to have four children: Margaret, born in 1844, Walter Liberty in 1846, Robert Davenport in 1848 and Alice in 1850.

In 1856 Robert senior decided to give up his safe job in banking and set up his own business as a coal merchant, trading from premises in the railway station yard. He also supplied building materials and practised as an accountant.

In 1871 his son Robert Davenport Vernon returned to Wycombe after a spell working in the ironmongery trade in Birkenhead and joined his father in the business.

With the town rapidly expanding at this time, and the more wealthy residents moving from their homes in the town centre to newly-built houses up Amersham Hill or along the West Wycombe Road, further diversification of the business seemed sensible.

In January 1872 the pair opened an office at 23 High Street, on the corner with Crendon Street. Robert senior continued to trade in building materials, but within a month or two Robert junior, trading as R Davenport Vernon, had established a well-stocked ironmongery business.

  • The history of Davenport Vernon will be told in instalments over the next few weeks. It is the second in a series of articles which will look at the history of some of the iconic businesses which have helped to establish High Wycombe as we know it today. If any reader would like to suggest any such businesses, I would love to hear from you.