Marian Miller, a trustee of the Buckinghamshire Historic Buildings Trust, has kindly written this article on the history of the building at Nos 2&3 High Street, High Wycombe, which was formerly the Wheatsheaf public house.

Part 1 of the article appeared on October 30, we now resume our story on the night of July 1, 1903, when a fire broke out at the Wheatsheaf pub.

Police Constable Brinkman had been patrolling in the High Street when at 4.40am he had seen smoke issuing from the Wheatsheaf. He first raised the alarm with the landlord and then Deputy Captain Miles of the Volunteer Fire Brigade who lived next door.

The brigade were summoned and arrived on the scene at 4.44am. The occupants of the house, widower David French and his 12 year old son Alfred, could not escape down the stairs because of thick smoke. They were rescued via a second floor window which overlooked the High Street.

The fireman now got to work with their steam engine. “Human life having been saved, the firemen began to play upon the building, which was rapidly becoming enveloped in flames, and although it seemed from the beginning unlikely that anything would be saved, it was possible to prevent the adjoining properties from destruction.

That on the left-hand – the corner shop – is occupied by Mr. G. T. Miles, jun., and that on the right by Messrs. Leadbetter, wine and spirit stores, these premises having been formerly known by the sign of the Grapes.

Four jets of water were played upon the structure, and this was sufficient to prevent the spread of the flames, but the whole of the building was damaged from roof to floor. Damage was done to the adjoining premises, including those of Mr. W. H. Butler, chiefly by water.”

The fire appeared to have begun in the cellar and ran up the stairs, the flames being fed by paraffin from a stove upstairs. The house was gutted and the contents entirely spoilt, but the cause was never established. The building was insured for £565, and the contents for £340.

Without making any attempt to repair the fire damage Wheelers Brewery immediately put the property up for sale by auction at the Red Lion Hotel. Despite the condition of the building there was strong bidding. The successful bidder, at £865, was Thomas Thurlow the architect who had remodelled the pub back in 1895.

This time he must have been acting as agent for William Harsant Butler, who had a chemist and stationer’s business around the corner at 5 Church Square.

William was the son of the William Butler who had founded the Bucks Free Press back in 1856. He had also been Captain of the Volunteer Fire Brigade when they had attended the fire!

The Wheatsheaf was duly de-licensed in October 1903 and Butler’s plans for a new shop front were approved the following month. “The Old Wheatsheaf Pharmacy” was soon up and running as a chemists and stationers with shops either side of the central door, a showroom on the first floor and a warehouse on the top floor.

The whole building was designated No.2 High Street.

The advertisement from “The Homeland Handbook” of 1907 shows how the building had been altered to give the front a “Tudorbethan” look.
After the fire there was nobody residing on the premises, as Mr Butler lived at No.22 Priory Road with his wife Mary and daughter Gwendoline.

In the mid-1920s Mr Butler appears to have retired and closed the chemists and stationers business, so that by 1928 more changes had been made to the Wheatsheaf building.

The ground floor was divided into two separate shops and the upper floor became Cyril Roberts photographic studio. On the ground floor, No.2a was occupied by Mr H J Cox as a tobacconist’s, called “Ye Olde Wheatsheaf Tobacco Shop”, and No.2b by Johnsons Bros dyers and cleaners.

Mr Roberts died in February 1929 and the building passed to his daughter Gwendoline, who worked as a school secretary. She continued to live at 22 Priory Road with her mother Mary.

The shops in the Wheatsheaf building did not change until at least 1939, although in the mid-1930s the numbering was changed. The premises occupied by H J Cox (Mr Cox had died in 1933 but the shop remained in his name) and Cyril Roberts became No.2, and Johnsons was No. 3 High Street.

In 1939 Cyril Roberts was also living there with his wife Winifred, in addition to his photography studio.

Sometime early in the second world war Mr Fred Fine took over the tobacconists’ shop at No. 2, and shortly after the end of the war in 1945 Eric Wakefield moved his ticket agency into No. 3.

A reader recalls buying a ticket for the 1948 Olympics there and other readers may remember Eric Wakefield for his dance band. The band had a regular Saturday evening gig at The Swan in Tetsworth and was renowned for having a one-arm drummer.

This was Vic Beeney, who became something of an impresario in the town in the late 1940s.

Gwendoline Butler, who never married, died in April 1962. Probate of her estate was granted to two lady friends, one of whom, Norah Kelsey, had been living at no 22 Priory Road since at least 1939.

By the later 1960s the tobacconist’s shop was run by Peter B. Harris and number 3 was the Bernatone Hearing Centre. It was Bernatone who installed a new shop-front with aluminium window frames. That probably would not have been allowed after the building was listed in 1973.

In 1980 Reed Employment got consent to change number 3 into offices but had moved out by 1983 when it was changed back to a shop where Sidney Mallet sold costume jewellery.

You may remember the Temptations shop selling lingerie in number 2, and Rings and Things at number 3. The last business, Annabelle’s, has just moved out so that work can start on the restoration of the building.

The freehold of Nos 2&3 has for many years been owned by a succession of companies who seem to have been interested in the building only as an investment.

Fortunately, with the Bucks Historic Buildings Trust now having a long lease from the current freeholder, Buckinghamshire Council, the long-term future of the building has been secured and it will be restored to its former glory.

Many readers will have memories of the building, either shopping there or having a photograph taken in Cyril Roberts studio. Some may have worked there and we’d love to have your memories so that we can fill in the gaps in the story of this remarkable building.

Please send your recollections to Mike Dewey by email or phone him 01628 525207.