A FEATURE article by Shruti Sheth Trivedi on May 14 reported that many readers had responded to the BFP’s We Grew Up in Wycombe Facebook group post with their reminiscences of the blues and punk-rock bands which appeared at Nag’s Head pub in the 1960s/70s/and 80s.

Although the pub, located in the London Rd opposite the Rye, has a legendary status from that period, its history is much more interesting than just hosting up and coming bands.

The Nag’s Head was first licensed as a “beerhouse” in 1842, although the names of the licensees are not known until 1865, when that was James East. He remained the licensee for some 12 years up to 1887, a period which included the construction of a new building for the Nag’s Head in 1885, there being a plaque commemorating that in the wall of the present building.

In February 1887 William Pearce took over the pub and became the longest-serving licensee, for some 25 years until 1909. He was well-known and highly respected, being a genial landlord who was mad keen on sporting activities, particularly football. His name is etched in the history of the town through the important role he played in the early history of Wycombe Wanderers.

Shortly after his appointment as licensee at the Nag’s Head he must have recognised that its location directly opposite The Rye presented a great opportunity to generate revenue. As is the case today The Rye was used at that time by local football teams for their matches. He first persuaded the Wycombe Rovers football club to base their headquarters at the pub.

Perhaps recognising they had greater potential, for the 1889/90 season he induced their rivals Wycombe Wanderers to use the pub. He enticed the Wanderers by donating £1 and offering the free use of a room (this would have been the function room on the first floor) for changing before matches, and for club meetings and dinners.

The Nag’s Head became the headquarters of the Wanderers, and the support and encouragement for the team by Bill Pearce was crucial for the early development of the club. He helped to attract influential local men to support them and to attract better players. Bill became treasurer of the club in 1890 and immediately set about raising funds.

Monthly “smoking concerts” were organised at the Nag’s Head. These events were highly popular during the Victorian era. For men only, the evening began with a dinner which was followed by the usual toasts, then the men gave their “party-pieces”. Some would give a piano solo, others would play musical instruments such as a concertina, and others would deliver a song. There would then be a “whip-round” to raise further funds for the Wanderers. This arrangement was to last until the start of the 1897/98 season. Two years earlier the Wanderers had moved to Loakes Park and the Red Lion Hotel was then considered a more convenient location.

Smoking concerts continued to be held at the Nag’s Head well into the 20th century. For example it was a popular venue for such events organised by the local branches of the Conservative Party and the 4th Squadron of the Bucks Imperial Yeomanry and the Royal Bucks Hussars. It was also used as the headquarters of the local branch of the Ancient Order of Foresters.

The next milestone in the history of the Nag’s Head came in March 1968 when local impresario Ron Watts organised his first Blues music gig there in the function room upstairs. This had its own bar and had a capacity of c.300, although that number was a “bit of a squeeze” ! These Blues Nights quickly gained in popularity, particularly when Ron managed to bring legendary American bluesmen to the venue, such as John Lee Hooker and Howlin’ Wolf.

The Nag’s Head in High Wycombe then developed as a “must” for all aspiring British bands to play a gig at – including amongst many others Jethro Tull, Status Quo and Thin Lizzy, who all appeared there before achieving fame. As the Punk Rock movement developed in the 1970’s Ron Watts brought these bands to the Nag’s Head. Gigs continued into the 1980’s, until Ron moved to other venues elsewhere.

Gigs at the Nag’s Head were revived in the early 1990s, with mainly rock and roll bands playing there in 1993. Howlin Wolf’s keyboard player appeared in September 1994.

The Nags Head pub finally closed in 2012 and was then sold. Initial plans were to convert it into a hotel but these came to nothing and the legendary building was finally converted into apartments.