In January 31 edition the Bucks Free Press included a short article announcing the death of Wycombe businessman Jack Needham.

From conversations with his sister Doris Payne further details have been established about his colourful life.

Jack Robert Needham was born on January 9, 1931, in the Poplar district of London. He was one of the ten children of Arthur, a master tailor, and Emma Needham, seven boys and three girls.

The family lived at 148 High Street in Poplar. When they were old enough all the children were expected to assist their father in his tailoring business.

The staple product which Arthur made was boy’s school-trousers and each child had their own specific job in the making and selling process.

The older boys for example had their own “round” in the local area, selling the trousers to other householders. Wife Emma had her role too, which was to sell items Arthur had made at the London Bridge market and other markets in the city.

Following the outbreak of the second world war in September 1939 five of the eldest children who were aged between four and eleven, which included Jack, were evacuated to Truro in Cornwall, the others remaining with their parents in London. In Truro the children were all billeted in the same street and so able to meet regularly.

Following the failure of the German Luftwaffe air force to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain between July and September 1940, Hitler decided to launch night-time bombing raids against London and other large cities – the Blitz.

London was subjected to Luftwaffe raids on 76 consecutive nights.

So every night families had to take shelter from these attacks in the Underground and other Air Raid Shelters.

This included the Needham family, who used the underground station at Poplar Park.

One morning they emerged from the station to find the whole area covered in acrid smoke and the police had closed the street where they lived due to an unexploded time-bomb. They were told to leave the area immediately and caught a bus to Windsor, where they spent a few days in temporary accommodation.

During that time they were visited by Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother, who gave a second-hand pram to Emma for her youngest child.

Their father Arthur decided after a few days that they should return to Poplar to see what the situation there was.

They found that their house was too damaged to be lived in, so Arthur took them all to Marylebone railway station. There he went to the ticket office, put all the cash he had with him on the counter, and said “how far will that take me, my wife and four children”. He was given single tickets to Beaconsfield!

On arrival at Beaconsfield, Arthur took them to St Mary and All Saints parish church. The parish council then found them a house in Horseshoe Crescent.

This was up for sale at the time, so the council commandeered it temporarily for the family. The house was eventually sold, when the family were rehoused at No.3 Hyde Green, off Maxwell Road, in Beaconsfield.

After they were settled in Beaconsfield the children evacuated to Truro were reunited with the family.

After Arthur arranged for local removal’s company A H Tripp to collect his tailor-making equipment, which fortunately had not been damaged or pilfered, from the house in Poplar. He was then able to resume his business at their new home and found a regular customer in the War Office officers stationed at nearby Wilton Park.

The family thrived in Beaconsfield and all the sons of the family qualified as different tradesmen – Jack as a carpenter, his brothers in bricklaying, electrical work etc.

In 1958 all the brothers acquired land about half-way up Cryers Hill, and built a new home for the family there.

Jack married in 1952 to Joyce M Izzard, and the couple went on to have three children, Denise, Robert and Susan. In about 1960 Jack set himself up as a builder and he was never to look back.

On September 25, 1963 he registered the company J.Needham Builders Ltd, with the Head Office at Triangle House, 47 Desborough Avenue, High Wycombe.

At the time Jack’s main relaxation was ten-pin bowling and as there was no bowling alley in Wycombe he and his brother Arthur would go to the one in Southall.

They would get there about six in the evening, and get on a lane immediately. But on one occasion they had to wait 5 hours because the bowling alley was so busy. So Jack decided there and then that he would build a bowling alley in High Wycombe!

Jack soon identified a suitable site, almost on his doorstep in Wycombe.

The Gomms’ factory at the western end of Desborough Road, just before Green Street school, was no longer required by the company. In 1961 they agreed to sell it to Jack for “a good price”.

He converted one part of the large building into the bowling alley – the Needham Bowl - and the other part became a nightclub – the Chiltern Rooms – on the first floor, with a Volkswagen dealership on the ground floor.

The Chiltern Rooms was very popular in the 1960s, often having “gigs” when up and coming bands would appear there. There was a very thriving music scene in the town at that time, with gigs also taking place at the Town Hall and the Nags Head pub in the London Road, opposite the Rye.

Ever resourceful, when the demand for ten-pin bowling dropped off in the early 1970s, Jack converted his bowling alley into a Bingo Hall. When the Chiltern Rooms were no longer popular that was changed to a Snooker Club.

Among the many other developments in and around Wycombe by J Needham Builders Ltd were:

  • Needham Court – the redevelopment of buildings on the north side of Desborough Rd near the junction with Desborough Road, a parade of shops still known as Needham Parade, with flats above. Jack acquired the site from Wycombe District Council in 1977 on a 99 year lease.
  • Wesley Dene, off Priory Road – 14 flats
  • Oak View, Gt Kingshill
  • Bailey Close, off Lucas Road
  • Rye View, off Rectory Avenue
  • Wentworth Close, off Lucas Road

Jack also diversified his business, establishing a cleaning company and an engineering company.

When a shop became vacant in Needham Parade Jack used it to sell children’s toys. The most popular item was “Beanie Baby’s”, different animals filled with small beads, which sold like hot-cakes.

In 1970 Jack was able to buy Beamond End Farm near Holmer Green, which he renamed Beamond End Ranch, so as to be able to pursue his passion for farming. He restored the run-down farm and initially started with beef cattle, then changed to rearing pigs, before market conditions became bad when he turned to rearing chickens.

He was a generous man - for example in December 1980 he presented each member of Holmer Green Derby & Joan Club with a bag of groceries at their Christmas Party that year.

Jack died just short of his 89th birthday on New Year’s Day 2020 in Miami whilst holidaying on a cruise with his third wife.

His funeral was held at Amersham Crematorium on Monday, February 10, and was attended by a large number of family members, ex-employees and friends.