This week’s main article looks at the history of another of Wycombe’s iconic shops, Dring’s.

Older readers will remember their drapers and outfitters shop on the corner of Church Street and White Hart Lane.

The founder John Richard Dring was born in Sutterby, Lincolnshire in 1841, the son of Joseph, a farmer, and Frances Dring. By the time of the census in 1851 the couple had a family of 8 children, 5 daughters and three sons, and Joseph was farming 230 acres and employing 5 labourers.

Although John was the eldest son, and might have been expected to inherit the farm, he decided to leave home in his late teens to seek his fortune elsewhere. He became a draper’s assistant in an establishment at 1 Angel Street, Sheffield. In 1866 at the age of 25 he came to High Wycombe, and married Annie Weller a year later. Their first son Arthur Weller Dring was born in late 1868, followed by Edith Louisa in 1870, and Florence Gertrude in 1878. Their last child was another son, Frank Herbert, who was born in 1880 at 19 White Hart Street, High Wycombe.

Within a year or two of his marriage John had established himself as a linen draper with a shop on the corner of White Hart Street and Church Street, High Wycombe. Older readers will remember this building as The Chequers, which is reputed to have welcomed Queen Elizabeth I to stay there in 1588. Still Princess Elizabeth at that time, she was on her way from the Palace of Woodstock to Hampton Court. In John Dring’s time the building was named Victoria House, and the address was 1 & 3 Church Street and 2 White Hart Street.

In the 1871 census the sister of John’s wife’s Annie, Louisa who was a milliner, was living with the family, as well as an apprentice Alfred Thompson, a draper’s assistant Sarah Groves, and a domestic servant Unity Nash. Nine years later, in 1880, the family would have been devasted by the death of Annie on August 24th at the age of 38.

With a young family to take care of, the youngest child Frank being only 6 months old when his mother died, it was not surprising that John quickly remarried. This was to Esther Ann Almond just over 12 months after the death of Annie.

In the 1881 census three assistants were living with the family, as well as two domestic servants. Clearly the business was thriving. John was a Wesleyan preacher and held numerous posts in the movement locally. He was Trustee of many local Wesleyan chapels, at Downley, Bourne End, Booker and Holmer Green for example.

He was a manager of the Wycombe Savings Bank, whose offices were in Church Street, almost opposite to the Priory Road/Castle Street junction.

By the time of the 1891 census the family had moved to live away from the business. This was still close to the town centre, at the house named Hawarden Villa in Priory Road. Two assistants were living with them, as well as a domestic servant. John continued to live there until he died on March 15th 1915 at the age of 74.

His obituary in the Bucks Free Press stated that he ‘‘had been in ill-health for a considerable period, but was able to attend to his business to within a short time of his death’’.

It continued ‘’On more than one occasion he was approached to seek municipal and other like honours, but he always declined, preferring to devote his energies to Christian work, and other kindred organizations’’.

Following John’s death, the business was managed by his younger son Frank Herbert Dring. Frank had left home in his late teens and married Ethel Virginia Nixon on September 28 1898 at the register office in Reading.

The couple had two sons, Harold who was born in Reading on July 17 1899, and Eric born in Wycombe in 1911. In the 1901 census Frank, Ethel and Harold were living in Eccheshall in Yorkshire, at 16 Rosedale Road, and had taken in two boarders.

Frank was therefore ‘earning his spurs’ as an outfitters assistant away from the family business in Wycombe. Ten years later, the 1911 census shows that they had moved back to High Wycombe and were living in a house in Rosebury Avenue.

Ethel was probably heavily pregnant when the census enumerator called on April 2 as a month or two later she gave birth to Eric. Following the outbreak of World War I, Frank enlisted on November 24, 1915 for the ‘duration of the war’.

He was 35 years of age and living with his family at Hope Cottage, Pinions, High Wycombe. Initially, he was placed on the Army Reserve with the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. He was mobilised on April 2 1917, Private 47069 in the 16th Worcestershire Regiment. Among his still extant service papers is a form “Articles of Clothing & Necessaries in Possession’’ which lists all the usual items such as “flannel shirts – 3, socks, worsted, pairs – 3” but includes a handwritten entry “razor – 1”.

Obviously Frank was a fastidious man! He was medically graded B2 so is unlikely to have seen active front-line service. He was discharged on February 11 1919. The elder son of Frank and Ethel,Harold, had a very different war experience. Although only 5ft 5 1/2 inches tall, Harold enlisted on July 1 1916, just 16 days before his 16th birthday.

He joined the Royal Navy, being first sent to the boys’ training ship HMS Powerful. After six weeks he was transferred to HMS Impregnable, an on-shore training establishment at Devonport. Here he passed his Telegraphist examinations, before moving on to another training establishment HMS Vernon, and then to HMS Pembroke 1,a base before active service.

His first active service was on HMS Brilliant which was an Apollo class cruiser commissioned in October 1901, but converted to a minelayer in WWI. In mid-1917 Harold was transferred to HMS Partridge and in December his parents received notification that he was missing.

On December 11, HMS Partridge together with HMS Pellew and four trawlers left Lerwick in a merchant convoy bound for Bergen. At 11.45 hours on December 12, the convoy was attacked by four German destroyers.

HMS Partridge was hit almost immediately by a shell that severed her main steam pipe and so completely disabled. The Captain Lt Commander R H Ransom gave the order to abandon ship but Partridge was then hit by two torpedoes, and quickly sank.

The German destroyers sank all the merchant ships and the trawler escorts, leaving the damaged Pellew as the only survivor. Early reports of the action stated that there were no survivors from HMS Partridge, and one later report stated that all the crew had been killed instantly from the first shell.

As it turned out the casualties were indeed heavy, five officers and 92 ratings being confirmed as killed. The officers included the Captain Lt Com Ransome and the Chief Medical Officer Surgeon Lt Kenneth C Jeffrey.

Three officers and 21 ratings were picked up by the Germans, and so became prisoners. Harold Dring was one of those taken prisoner. He was eventually repatriated and returned home to High Wycombe.

In our look at the effect of World War I on High Wycombe and the surrounding area we have not so far considered the impact of the evacuation of people from other regions. In fact if you mention the word ‘evacuees’ to most people they would associate that with the second World War.

Although not quite on the same scale as WWII there were two main periods when evacuees arrived in High Wycombe during the Great War. The first occurred not long after the start of the war on August 4th 1914. This was when people from Belguim were fleeing as the German army invaded their country. The Wycombe area welcomed several groups of these Belgian people. One group were housed in a ‘large country house’ in Downley, almost certainly Plomer Hill House. This was situated to the west of Plomer Hill Road, at the bottom of the hill. The house was subsequently acquired by the entrepreneurial Wycombe businessman Alek Stacey. A second group took up residence in a house called ‘’Borshams’’ in High Wycombe.

It was the practice for the residents of High Wycombe to make gifts to ‘’Our Belgian Guests’’, who when fleeing from the troops would have had little opportunity to take much with them. For example the Bucks Free Press reported on April 2nd 1915 that the following gifts had been made:

Tickets for the operetta at Wycombe Abbey

A garden wheelbarrow, spade and fork

Oranges, sugar and tea

Beef, tea, sugar and eggs

Also ‘underclothing’ by the Belgian Workroom Committee, and ’soldiers mittens’ by Spring Gardens School.

‘The Belgians’ themselves, as well as expressing thanks for these gifts, also said that ‘the loan of a watering can for the garden would be much appreciated. It is not known how many of the evacuees from Belguim returned home to their mother country after the war, but certainly some remained in the Wycombe area.

It is also known that a Belgian lady was visited by her Uncle, a soldier in the Belgian Army who had been captured by the Germans. When he was liberated in 1917 he visited his niece Celina, then living as an evacuee in Beaconsfield, see the story in the panel below.   

The second wave of evacuees to the area took place from October 1917, when unusual names started to appear in the Admission Register of schools such as that in Back Lane (now Kingsmead Road), Loudwater. Names such as Samuel Muscovitch, son of Lazarus Muscovitch, and Joseph and Henry marks, sons of Harry Marks.

These were children from London and appear to be mostly from the Jewish/East European community in the East End. The reason for their evacuation is almost certainly the impact which German bombing raids were having on the civilian population in southern England. However it was only a few weeks before they returned home to London.

The first German bombing raid actually occurred very early in the war. On December 24th 1914 a Zeppelin airship dropped a bomb over Dover. It did not do much damage but the blast knocked gardener James Banks out of the tree he was pruning !!  For the next two years these airships made spasmodic bombing raids, inflicting some damage and causing casualties. The German tactics changed in late 1916 after the development of their long range heavy bomber aircraft, the Gotha and the Giant. On the 28th November a lone German Gotha aircraft dropped six bombs on London. Massed air-raids then commenced in 1917.

On the 25th May 1917, the Germans carried out a massed air-raid on targets in Southeast England deploying 23 Gotha heavy bomber aircraft.  The bomber aircraft raid caused even more concern to the British civilian population than did the early airship raids. This was because the only two bombers that reached their targets did more damage than any of the Zeppelin raids that proceeded it. A total of 95 people were killed and 192 wounded including soldiers and civilians.

The first of the London bomber air raids took place on the 12th June 1917 with 14 Gothas. Over 100 bombs were dropped from 12,000 feet. But many missed their strategic targets and 162 civilians were killed: the capital's highest death toll in the German Great War air-raid campaign of Great Britain.

Soon London was ringed with anti-aircraft guns and barrage balloons, and considerable numbers of children were evacuated to the countryside away from the bombing threat.

On the 31st October 1917, 22 Gothas carried out their first incendiary bomb raid over London using a total of 83, two kg, bombs. Although many of incendiaries failed to activate, ten civilians were killed.

The first series of Gotha daylight raids - eight in all - was on the City of London and Southeast England; it lasted three months, although the physical damage to London was again quite small. The last German air raid of the war occurred in October 1918, when 6 bombers were shot down. The total number of Gotha air raids over London in 1917-18 was 27.

In total some 500 people were killed in England by German bomber raids. The British response to these raids was the subject of much debate in the country, many arguing that it was immoral to bomb the civilian population. We now know of course that massed bombing raids became a widely used tactic of waging war. 

the Methodist Church. They were married in Capetown on September 2 1898, and had five children, one of whom died in infancy. Their first home was in Middleburg during the Boer War. They returned from South Africa in about 1902 and settled in England, in Birmingham. 

John Richard Dring died on March 15 1915, his life having been devoted to his business and to Christian work through his Wesleyan faith. Shortly after that, on November 24, his youngest son Frank was called-up to serve in the British Army, and was not ‘demobbed’ until February 11 1919.

Frank, who lived at Clarendon Villas in Roseberry Avenue with his wife Ethel née Nixon and two sons Harold and Eric (born 1911), had taken over the business on his father’s death.
At this time the business had capitalised on the experience that members of the family had acquired by diversifying as a ‘Shipping, Emigration and Tourist Agent’.

They advertised ‘Ocean Passages Booked at Lowest Fares’ and ‘The Comfort of all Passengers Carefully Studied’.  
Only a year after Frank’s return from military service, Ethel died and in 1921 he married again, to 
his housekeeper Minnie Williams. They had one daughter Betty, born in 1926. The business continued to thrive, a shop in Oxford Road next to the Rex Cinema being opened, which was managed by Frank’s younger son Eric. 
Eric eventually managed the whole business. Frank died in the early months of 1960 and shortly after that the business closed.

The main shop on the corner of Church Street and White Hart Street was sold by auction for the sum of £75,000 and Cromby’s menswear took it over. At that time part of the premises, address No.1 Church St, were occupied by the shoe retailers J.Farmer Ltd. 
In the early 1970s the building was partly demolished and entirely renovated, and was occupied by the Cheltenham & Gloucester Building Society.   

* I am indebted to Mrs Wendy Shearman, granddaughter of Frank Dring and his second wife Minnie née Williams, for much of the information contained in the three articles tracing the history 
of Drings, drapers and outfitters. 
Contact Mike Dewey at