Sylvia Chandler



The following piece of writing was part of a talk that Sylvia had given on many occasions and kindly allowed me to add to the website.



George Claridge Druce was born on 23 rd May 1850 at Yardley Gobion in a cottage in what was then botany Bay but is now called Chestnut Road. He was the son of Jane Druce who was the daughter of farmer James Druce and Elizabeth (nee Warr) of Woughton on the Green, Bucks.  Jane seems to have lived with her aunt and uncle Ann and William Druce at Potterspury, she was there aged 15 when their address was High Road also known as London Road or Watling Street). William died in 1847 and in 1849 Ann married Robert Blunt, farmer of Alderton who died the same year. In 1861 Jane, George and Ann were back in Yardley Gobion, their address being near the Coffee Pot.   Ann and Jane were members of Potterspury independent church and George was educated by Rev. J. Slye the minister and his son. He decided early in life that he wanted to be a chemist and when he was 16 he went to Northampton to be apprenticed to Philadelphus Jeyes at his shop in the Market Place. Ann Blunt paid the apprenticeship premium. In those days chemists made not only pills and potions on the premises but also vetinary remedies and much else. There is an alarming account by George aged 19 of being left in charge of the workshop when the foreman became ill. How he avoided blowing up Philadelphus Jeyes premises and the centre of Northampton is little short of a miracle. He was promoted at the end of his first year when an assistant left and at the end of his second year he became senior assistant. When he was still only 19 the manager left and he was given the post temporarily, he held it for the next eleven years. The apprentices lived over the shop, in the 1871 census there were four young men and a housekeeper Sarah Foll. Philadelphus Jeyes lived in a splendid Victorian folly he had built for himself and his family at Boughton about four miles north of Northampton and George often recalled in later life how he would rise at six and walk to Holly lodge to have breakfast with his employer and discuss the business of the day, while he walked he studied the wild flowers on the way. He also studied Latin in his spare time and passed the pharmaceutical examinations. He was on the upward path which he would follow all his life. The Jeyes treated almost as a member of the family, George and Theophilus who was two years younger than George were on several occasions given money by Philadelphus to go on holiday to Wales and Scotland where they walked, climbed, botanised and ran out of money. All his life George travelled and surely these early journeys gave him a taste for it.   Philadelphus had eleven children but only one showed any interest in going into the business. George was in charge in Northampton and may have had hopes of taking over but this was not to be. Arthur Jeyes qualified as a chemist and in 1879 joined the family firm. George decided it was time to move on, he was longing to be in charge and get going on his own and in 1879 he bought a chemists business at 118 high Street, Oxford, for £400. There was no rancour between him and the Jeyes family, although he loved Northamptonshire the terms of his employment probably meant that he couldn’t set up within a certain distance of Jeyes shop and business.   Oxford was just the place for George and he soon became immersed in city and university life. He had already helped to set up the Northamptonshire Natural History Society and in Oxford he was in his element making contact with just the sort of people who would form the Botanical Society of the British Isles and other local societies which were the forerunners of todays Naturalist Trusts. He never stopped writing, he published floras of Northamptonshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire and other places including the Shetland Isles. He presented papers on many and various subjects, studied for his doctorate of Science and travelled all over the world with his many friends. He even wrote a book The Dubious Plants of the British Isles At first he lived over the shop with his apprentices and servants, just as he had done at Jeyes but in 1907 he moved to Yardley Lodge, crick Road, which is just off the Banbury road at Oxford. It was probably built for him and there he was looked after by his cousin Annie and her husband Arthur Juggins who acted as housekeeper and chauffeur. Arthur was strictly instructed not to drive over 20 miles an hour so that George could identify plants as they went along. His shop was well patronised by undergraduates, George was reputed to have cure for everything including his famous blue pills. In Brideshead Revisited mention is made of the chemist in the high street who will cure your hangover, it has to be George, Evelyn Waugh must have known him. In 1905 he was able to retire from his business and this gave him more time for activities with Oxford City Council and university. In 1900 he became mayor of Oxford (he was already an Alderman and had been Sheriff). In 1895 he had become Special Curator of the Fielding herbarium and in 1899 his work was acknowledged by Magdalen College with an honorary M.A. He passed the examination to become a Doctor of Science – no mean feat for someone largely self taught – and in 1930 St Andrews awarded him an honorary Ll.D. (Doctor of Law). The crown of his academic achievements was his election as fellow of the Royal Society in 1927. He was a member of Oxford City Council until his death and he continued travelling, botanising and writing all his long life. He was always kind and encouraging to children and amateur botanists. He had many friends and on his 80 th birthday extra staff were employed at Oxford Post Office to deal with the telegrams, letters and cards, these are in his birthday book which is kept at the Department of Plant Studies. He died on 29 th February 1932 and left the bulk of his considerable fortune after personal bequests (you will be pleased to hear that Arthur got the car) to Oxford University. Jane appears on the 1871 census in Yardley Gobion, she was living alone as Ann Blunt had died in 1870 and George was in Northampton. At some point she moved to Oxford to live with George but on the 1881 census she appears under the heading Yardley Gobion workhouse but she hadnt fallen on hard times, she was a visitor and obviously a friend of the matron and master. She died in 1892 and like George is buried in Holywell Cemetery in Oxford. There is a memorial tablet to her in Yardley church and George gave the land which is now Druce’s Orchard in her memory.  More about this here


Sylvia K. Chandler

January 2009




 A typical 19th century chemist shop



George R Claridge born March 4th 1825 was baptised in the Potterspury & Yardley Gobion Independent church on 5 June 1825 by James Slye.



1861 Census, Passenham


Wakefield Farm George Claridge Head Widower 75 Farm Bailiff Buckinghamshire, Stony Stratford
George R Claridge Son  Unmarried   35 Farm Bailiff Northants, Cosgrove
Emily Warstill Visitor 18 Middlesex, London
Pheobe Harding Serv. Unmarried 20 Servant Oxon, Middleton


George Richard Claridge   Death 14th June 1863   Probate 23rd July 1863


The will with a codicil of George Richard Claridge formerly of Wakefield farm in the parish of Passenham but late of Denshanger both in the county of Northampton gentleman deceased who died 14th June 1863 at Denshanger in the parish of the aforesaid was proved Northampton by the oaths of Alfred Scrivener of Denshanger in the parish of the aforesaid, gentleman and Thomas Barton Slye of Potterspury in the county aforesaid, schoolmaster, the executors.


Effects under £800