We continue with the history of Davenport Vernon.

In the early 1870s Robert Davenport began to take an interest in civic affairs and joined the recently established Wycombe Volunteer Fire Brigade.

He was elected an officer in 1875, and was made Captain in 1886, a position he held until his resignation on the grounds of ill-health in 1900. In 1880 he married Gertrude Simmons in Hastings.

The couple went on to have 4 children, their eldest son Guy Davenport Vernon being born in 1888, followed by Ronald C in 1890, Alice J L in 1895 and finally Gertrude R in 1897.

In the census of 1881 the couple were living above the shop in the High Street, but by the 1891 census they had moved to a house called Bower Hayes off Amersham Hill.

New premises at 34 High Street were secured by 1883 which allowed the ironmongery business to diversify by adding a shoeing forge (for horse-shoes), a wheelwrights, and a van and cart works.

Robert senior died in 1884 at the age of 70, and Robert Davenport took on full responsibility for the business, which continued to go from strength to strength.

In the late 1880s much larger premises were acquired at 15 High Street. These were situated on the eastern corner of the High St and Corporation St, the latter being the street which links the centre of the High St with Castle St.

After extensive refurbishment a new store was opened in 1889 selling a greatly expanded range of products and services.

These were listed in a massive catalogue which was produced for the occasion. Up to 1897 the firm had been a private undertaking but in 1897 Robert converted the business into a limited company.

At this time the firm was advertising its ability to be able to erect ‘all kinds of iron and steel buildings’ (that is, buildings built around a steel frame) and demonstrated its capabilities by constructing such a building.

This was a hall able to hold some 600 people and incorporating a stage and dressing rooms. The building was located behind the firm’s store in the High Street and extended all the way along the eastern side of Corporation Street as far as Castle Street.

Over the ensuing years it served as a theatre, a cultural centre, roller skating rink, garage, billiard hall, and bingo hall !

To be continued.

Regular correspondent Margaret Davies nee Oxlade has sent in this account of her family’s experiences around the time of the Great War, under the heading THE UNSUNG HEROES.

We read of the WW1 heroes, but do not forget there were also thousands of ordinary men who returned after enduring days and years of menial duties with all their mental and visual horrors. Why did these young men rush off so eagerly?

Was their life so mundane that the chance of a great adventure spurred them to join up for King and Country? My father, Harold Oxlade, was a cattle drover, out in all weathers with poor pay, when at 24 he joined up in the Gunners. 

His part was to care for horses behind the lines which is why, probably, he returned home uninjured. Throughout my childhood the only evidence of his war service were his knife, fork and half-gallon pottle measure, still treasured. (The ‘pottle’ measure is the old word for half a gallon) The pottle is stamped GV1 in red and was used to ration out the horses’ drinking water.

When father and his brother Fred returned from the Great War to their home in the village of Wheeler End, they must have been shattered to find their life in the two-up, two-down terraced cottage in Orchard Row no longer existed.

Their father, age 52, had died of double pneumonia brought on by influenza, when waiting in Calais to come home at the end of the war. Their mother had died, and their sisters had gone to London where one had died whilst working in a munition’s factory. A younger brother George who joined at the age of 16 died in Belgium age 20, and is buried near Ypres.’

Amos was the son of George Oxlade a baker, and had married Elizabeth Piercey on December 26th 1889. Their first daughter Daisy was born the same year and Harold in 1890. In the national census taken in 1891 the family were living in Fingest.

By the outbreak of the Great War the family consisting of Amos, Elizabeth, and children Harold, Fred (born 1892), Ada (1894), Lily (1896), and George (1898) had moved to Orchard Row, Wheeler End. Amos was a chair-maker and Fred a French-polisher.

Harold was employed from school at Denham’s Farm in Wheeler End, walking miles to cattle markets at Wendover and Reading. The family would have been distraught when Elizabeth died in the summer of 1911.

On August 16th 1915 Amos, at the age of 47, enlisted in the Royal Engineers and was sent to France on September 3rd 1915. He had probably enlisted at the same time as his eldest son Harold, who was sent to France just 2 days after Amos, on September 5th.

Amos was later transferred to the Labour Corps but died November 21st 1918. His personal effects which were sent to his eldest daughter Daisy, now Mrs D Carter, were just a photo, purse, comb and a Dorothy Bag.

Margaret continues the story “My father and his brother found lodgings in the village and by 1921 both were married. For a while all four and a new baby shared a rented cottage overlooking the village common.

"When some council houses were built at Park Lane Harold and my mother were able to move there. He eventually bought some orchard ground at Wheeler End which my grandfather had rented from Lord Dashwood and had a bungalow built there.

"He also rented two allotments which kept us in fruit and vegetables all year round and he seemed content in the confinement of village life."

Fred eventually moved to High Wycombe where he had been apprenticed from school as a French Polisher. He was a very quiet and introspective man.

Neither brother spoke of the war and my cousins and I were never encouraged to discuss it. They had experienced enough upheaval for a lifetime and it seemed that they were only too content to settle down with no ambition for any further travel.

The war did affect my father. There were times when he took to bed with kidney pains soothed by a hot water bottle and bread and milk. At other times he would snap at us children and we learned to recognise the signs and keep quiet.

Because of their silences I never really knew of father’s war experiences. I have his 1914-1915 Medal which means he was in France then. I know he was in Salonika later because he did tell me that once they were going up a mountain there and smelt gas.

I wish I knew more… Or do I?

Would you like to share your local ancestor’s stories relating to the Great War. If so, I would love to hear from you.