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George Claridge Druce (1850–1932)

Mayor of Oxford 1900/1


George Claridge Druce
Portrait by P. C. Kendrick of Druce in aldermanic
gown (in Council Chamber of Oxford's Town Hall)

George Claridge Druce (GCD) was born in Northamptonshire at Old Stratford, Cosgrove, near Potterspury on 23 May 1850. He was the son of Jane Druce, with no father named on his birth certificate.

GCD's mother Jane Druce was born at Woughton-on-the-Green, Buckinghamshire in 1826 and baptised there on 3 June. She was the daughter of James Druce, a farmer, and Elizabeth Warr, but was brought up at Potterspury by her paternal uncle, the farmer William Druce, and his wife Ann, and can be seen living with them at the time of the 1841 census when she was 15.

GCD's father is very likely to have been George Richard Claridge, a single man who never married: he was the son of George & Ann Claridge and was born in Cosgrove, Northamptonshire on 4 March 1825 and baptised at the Independent Chapel in Potterspury by James Slye. The death certificate of GCD's mother Jane Druce (who also never married) stated that she was the widow of the non-existent George Richard Claridge Druce, suggesting that GCD both believed Claridge to be his father and wanted to give the impression that his parents had been married.

At the time of the 1851 census GCD (ten months) and his mother Jane (24) were living at Old Stratford, Cosgrove, near Potterspury in the home of Jane's twice-widowed 52-year-old aunt Ann (the former Mrs Druce but now Mrs Blunt, described as an annuitant): both GCD and his mother were wrongly recorded with the surname Blunt. Meanwhile GCD's likely father George Richard Claridge (26) had no occupation and was living three miles away with his parents and sister Mary Ann Claridge (23) at Passenham, where his father worked as a farm bailiff.

When he was five years old, GCD's mother took a situation in Yardley Gobion, less than two miles away from Potterspury, and they moved there with his great-aunt Ann Blunt.. The Revd James Slye (1795–1876), who was the minister of the independent chapel at Potterspury, and his schoolmaster son Thomas Barton Slye (1829–1890) helped to educate GCD. .

At the time of the 1861 census GCD (10), his mother Jane Druce (33), and his great-aunt Ann Blunt were living in a house at Yardley Gobion near the Coffee Pot Tavern. Meanwhile George Richard Claridge (35) was still living with his parents at Passenham and was now working as a farm bailiff like his father.

GCD's likely father George Richard Claridge died in Northamptonshire at the age of only 37 on 14 June 1863. His effects came to under £800, and his probate record states that he was formerly of Wakefield Farm in the parish of Passenham but late of Denshanger. One of his executors was Thomas Barton Slye, the schoolmaster of Potterspury who had taught the young GCD.

In about 1866 at the age of 16 GCD was apprenticed to Philadelphus Jeyes, a pharmacist in Northampton, with his great-aunt Ann Blunt paying the apprenticeship premium.

Ann Blunt died at Yardley Gobion on 5 August 1870, leaving effects of under £450, and GCD's mother Jane Druce and his teacher Thomas Barton Slye were her executors. At the time of the census the following spring, Jane Druce was living back in Potterspury on her own.

The 1871 census shows GCD (20) as an assistant chemist living at 6 Drapery, Northampton with a chemist's housekeeper and three apprentice chemists, while his employer Philadelphus Jeyes (57) lived at Holly Lodge in Boughton Road with his family. (Philadelphus's brother John Jeyes was to patent Jeyes' Fluid six years later.)

In 1872 GCD passed his pharmaceutical examinations and became a retail chemist. His real interest, however, was botany, and in 1876 he helped to found the Northampton Natural History Society.

118 High Street

In June 1879 GCD (who had signed an undertaking with Philadelphus Jeyes not to set up in competition within a radius of 30 miles) made a new start in life in Oxford, investing his savings of about £400 in a chemist’s shop at 118 High Street (left), where the business Druce & Co. continued until his death in 1932.

A blue plaque was placed on his shop in April 2018.

Druce blue plaque

In 1880 GCD helped to found the Ashmolean Natural History Society of Oxfordshire

The 1881 census shows GCD living over his shop in the High Street with a 17-year-old assistant. His mother Jane Druce (65), who was described as a housekeeper, had probably already come to live with him in Oxford, but on census night was paying a visit to Yardley Gobion and staying at the residence of the Master of the Union Workhouse there.

From September 1881 GCD was acting as an agent for Cobden's Quinine and Phosphorous pills, stated to be infallible in all nervous diseases and to provide strength, energy, and vigorous vitality. Simultaneously with dispensing, he must have been writing The Flora of Oxfordshire (Oxford and London: Parker & Company, 1886): online here.

On 24 May 1887 GCD attended a meeting in the Town Hall held for the purpose of reviving the Oxfordshire Natural History Society and Field Club. It was duly refounded, and GCD was elected President of Section 3 (Botany), sub-section (b) Phanerogams.

He was appointed an Examiner for the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain for the years 1888 and 1889.

On 4 June 1889 the degree of Honorary Master of Arts was conferred by the University of Oxford upon GCD. The Guardian reported, “Mr. Druce is a local chemist who has compiled a well-known handbook to the flora of the county, which is admittedly a model of its kind.” At the same Encaenia, Dr Salmar Schönland, the Sub-Curator of the Fielding Herbarium, was also awarded an honorary degree.

On 1 February 1890 Jackson's Oxford Journal reported that GCD would succeed Schönland at the Fielding Herbarium (which was renamed the Claridge Druce Herbarium and Institute in 1934, and is now the Fielding-Druce Herbarium):

THE FIELDING HERBARIUM.— Mr. George Claridge Druce, hon. M.A., has been appointed by the Fielding Trustees, Sub-Curator of the Fielding Herbarium, in succession to Dr. Salmar Schonland, M.A.

When on 2 December 1890 at the age of 39 GCD was initiated into the Alfred Lodge of Freemasons in Oxford, he was simply described as a pharmaceutical chemist.

Druce bottle

At the time of the 1891 census his mother Jane Druce was living with GCD at 118 High Street: this is the first census in which she is described as a widow rather than single (possibly because it was the first census for which her son George would have filled in the form). They had one servant, and also lodging with them over the shop were three assistant chemists. She died upstairs at her son's shop at the age of 66 near the beginning of the following year. Her funeral was at All Saints’ Church on 28 March 1892, and she was buried in Holywell Cemetery (Plot E.196). GCD put up a memorial to her in St Leonard's Church, Yardley Gobion, and gave the land which is now Druce's Orchard in that village in her memory.

In August 1892 GCD provided a university extension course in botany, and Jackson's Oxford Journal of 27 August 1892 reported that he directed a course of 23 lectures, followed by a botanical excursion in the vicinity of Oxford.

In October 1892 GCD was nominated as one of the three Liberal candidates for the election to the city council in the South Ward. As the Conservatives put forward no candidate, he automatically became a councillor. He served on the council from 1892 until his death, and was Chairman of the Public Health Committee for thirty years.

Around this time GCD started to deal in cameras and photographic plates:

Advert for Druce's chemist's shop

On 13 May 1893 GCD brought an action in the Vice-Chancellor's Court against the Hon. Anthony M. Henley, an undergraduate of Balliol and the son of an Irish Peer, to recover £14 6s. 6d. (the price of a Kodak camera and accessories supplied to him the previous year). GCD stated that he did a large photographic business with members of the University, and that cameras were very much used in connection with the study of a great many scientific subjects. The defendant pleaded “infancy” (he was aged 18), and GCD not only lost his case, but was told that it was “a lesson to tradesmen that they must not supply things to young men in this way that were not absolutely necessary to their maintenance”, and they could not expect the Vice-Chancellor's Court to protect them.

In 1895 GCD was promoted to Curator of the Fielding Herbarium.

GCD continued to run his chemist's shop at 118 High Street, and frequently inserted advertisements in Jackson's Oxford Journal. The two below date from 28 February and 31 August 1895:

Druce advert 23 February 1895

Druce advert

GCD served as Sheriff of Oxford in 1896/7, and to commemorate Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897 he presented the City with the gold chain and badge still worn by the Sheriff today. .

In 1897 the Clarendon Press published two more of GCD's books: The Flora of Berkshire, and (in collaboration with Sydney Howard Vines, the Sherardian Professor of Botany), An Account of the Herbarium of the University of Oxford.

In 1899 GCD became a member of the Oxford Camera Club.

GCD was one of the first people in Oxford to have a telephone line installed: in 1895 it had the simple number “Oxford 12”.

On 27 July 1900 he was elected President of the British Pharmaceutical Conference.

By 1900 GCD was chairman of the council's Sanitary Committee, and Jackson's Oxford Journal of 11 August 1900 reports the speech he made on the opening of the Long Bridges bathing place.

Boundary stone in Headington

Later in 1900 GCD was elected Mayor of Oxford (for 1900/1).

A stone marking the boundary of Oxford was erected in Pullen's Lane, Headington during the year of GCD’s mayoralty and is inscribed with his name (right). He is likely to have walked past this stone many times on his visits to Professor Vines at his house in Pullen's Lane (The Vineyard) when collaborating with him on An account of the Morisonian Herbarium in the possession of the University of Oxford together with biographical and critical sketches of Morison and the two Bobarts and their works and the early history of the Physic Garden 1619–1720 (Clarendon Press, 1914).

His name is also on a 1901 stone opposite the Victoria Arms in Marston

Less than a month into his Mayoralty, on 28 November 1900, GCD made a speech (at the opening of the Methodist Chapel in Rectory Road, then called Pembroke Street) giving his impressions of the role of Mayor of Oxford:

The Mayor, in reply, said there were two things which had struck him very forcibly since he had been Mayor. The first was the amount of work the office involved. Only on Monday he had seven committee meetings, two interviews, etc., while on Tuesday he had to go to London to choose a casket which the City were going to present to Lord Valentia [then Member of Parliament for Oxford], and in the evening attended a dinner to the newly-elected Mayors, and did not get home till 2.30 the next morning. The second thing was the unbounded enthusiasm with which the Mayor of Oxford was everywhere received.

At the time of the 1901 census, which fell in his mayoral year, GCD was paying a visit to the physician and surgeon John S. Griffith at 25 Redland Park, Clifton, Bristol.

On 17 May 1901 GCD gave a luncheon as Mayor at the Town Hall in honour of the volunteer company of the 1st Oxfordshire Light Infantry on their return from South Africa. His term of office ended on 1 November 1901.

On 18 March 1902 GCD was formally matriculated at the University of Oxford by Magdalen College.

9 Crick Road

The last entry for “Druce George Claridge M.A., F.L.S, pharmaceutical chemist” is in Kelly's Directory for 1907, and around this time he retired from his business and ceased to live over his shop in the High Street, moving to 9 Crick Road (above), a large house with 13 rooms in north Oxford. He named this house “Yardley”, presumably after Yardley Gobion in Northamptonshire, the village in which he grew up. His cousin Annie Juggins (née Druce, the daughter of his mother's brother Frederick Alexander Druce) and her husband Arthur Juggins acted as his housekeeper and his chauffeur respectively.

The chemist Clement James Victor Bellamy took over GCD's shop at 118 High Street, and from 1908 to 1920 he is listed in directories as the chemist there. He was living over the shop at he time of the 1911 census and described himself as a chemist and employer, working from home. From 1921, however, he ran the business at 118 High Street under the name Druce & Co., and it continued to operate there under that name until 1937 (five years after GCD's death).

At the time of the 1911 census GCD was away from home, probably abroad. Arthur Juggins (48), described as the joint occupier of 9 Crick Road and of private means, was here his wife Annie (47), described as the housekeeper, and a general servant.

GCD plays a small part in Max Beerbohm’s Zuleika Dobson, published in 1911. When the Duke of Dorset trips on some orange peel at the corner of Turl Street while running away from Zuleika, he goes to GCD's shop with his injuries, and GCD personally bathed and plastered his abraded hands, balmed and bound his right knee and left shin, and sold him some cold mixture.

GCD was granted an M.A. by decree in 1919. On 4 July that year he was also awarded an Honorary LL.D. by St Andrew's University.

Arms of Druce

 

In 1920 GCD was made an Alderman, and his arms (left) were added to the wall of the Mayor’s Parlour when he was Chief Magistrate.

In 1921 GCD added the Second bell to All Saints’ Church, which was then the City Church. It is inscribed:

THE GIFT OF
ALDERMAN G. CLARIDGE DRUCE, J.P., D.Sc., LL.D.,
EX-MAYOR OF OXFORD,
CHAIRMAN OF THE FEOFFEES OF ALL SAINTS.
MAY 23, 1926.
MEARS & STAINBANK, FOUNDERS, LONDON, 1927.

(Another former mayor, Frederick Ansell, presented the Treble bell at the same time.)

On 24 May 1924 GCD was awarded a D.Sc. by the University of Oxford, and in 1927 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society.

His eightieth birthday in 1930 was celebrated at a reception in London given by the Botanical Society and the World Flower Society. In May 1931 it was reported that he had gone out for the first time for over six months after a serious illness, and that he was back at his work. His last book, The comital flora of the British Isles, was published by Buncle in Arbroath in 1932.

Druce's gravestone

† George Claridge Druce died at home at Yardley Lodge, 9 Crick Road, Oxford at the age of 81 on 29 February 1932, and was buried in Holywell Cemetery in a different grave from his mother (Plot E.332).

His original headstone fell over and was removed, but a new one (right) was erected on a special memorial day on 18 May 1996. It reads simply:

GEORGE CLARIDGE
DRUCE
1850–1932

FLOREAT FLORA

Geranium x oxonianum “Claridge Druce” was planted around the stone.

 

Druce Way in Blackbird Leys, Oxford was named after him in 1967, and there is also a Druce End in Yardley Gobion.

 


Will of George Claridge Druce

The validity of his will was the subject of the action The Westminster Bank Limited v. The Chancellor, Masters, and Scholars of Oxford University. Probate was granted by decree to the Westminster Bank on 18 June 1934. His net effects came to £91,250, and the bequests were as follows:

  • £100 to the Botanical Society of Edinburgh
  • £100 to the Acland District Nurses, Oxford
  • £100 to the Nazareth Home, Oxford
  • £100 to All Saints' Church, Oxford, for a stained-glass window or windows with the inscription “Bequeathed in memory of his mother, Jane Druce, who with George Claridge Druce, D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.S., once Mayor of this City, resided in this parish for many years”
  • £250 to the Mayor and Aldermen of Oxford for a piece of English silver plate, to be inscribed, “Bequeathed by Ald. George Claridge Druce, D.Sc., LL.D., F.R.C.S., J.P., sometime a Sheriff and Mayor, and for many years a representative of the South Ward on the City Council”
  • £100 to the Benevolent Fund of the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain
  • £12,000 and his residence, with his herbaria, library and furniture not otherwise bequeathed, to the Chancellor, masters, and scholars of Oxford University, to be kept as an example of a dwelling house of the twentieth century; and he desired that a curator should be appointed to see that the collections were kept in good order and to carry on so far as possible work at British field botany; that his housekeeper Annie Juggins, and her husband, Arthur Juggins, should be allowed to occupy the house as caretakers without salary; and that the curator should be chosen by the Director of Kew and a representative of Oxford University; “and I now make my present librarian, Mr. J. Chapple, the first curator at a commencing salary of £200 a year, rising by yearly increments of £25 to £400 a year,” desiring that he should undertake to give adequate assistance to the Botanical Society and Exchange Club of the British Isles, this bequest to be known as the Claridge Druce Herbarium and Institute
  • £1,000 to be paid to the Bodleian Library for the purchase from time to time of works relating to Botany.

He left the residue of his property as one half to the University of Oxford for the maintenance of the Claridge Druce Herbarium and Institute, and one-half to the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, desiring that it should be used for the acquisition of land which had some interesting specimens of plants growing on it so that their safety should be secured.

He declared that any beneficiary who should be discontented or who should enter into any litigation in reference to his will should forfeit all interests thereunder.


Obituary of GCD published in The Times of 1 March 1932

DR. CLARIDGE DRUCE
A GREAT FIELD BOTANIST

Dr. George Claridge Druce, Curator of the Fielding Herbarium, who died at Oxford yesterday at the age of 81, was, especially in the two decades before the War, a notable figure in both University and City. He carried on a successful chemist's shop in “the High,” and was a leader in the City Council, but it was as a botanist that the University honoured him, and that he was elected F.R.S., a distinction not often conferred on men with no academic training.

Druce, in fact, came to be recognized as the first English field botanist of his generation, and the leading authority on British flora. In the annals of the Botanical Society and Exchange Club of Great Britain, of which he was for many years both the secretary and the moving spirit, are many articles of his announcing new discoveries and additions to the knowledge of British flowering plants and ferns. He was president of the Ashmolean Natural History Society, a corresponding member of the National History Society of Northants — the county of his birth — a member of the executive of the Society for the Preservation of Natural Areas, and an honorary fellow or member of various other botanical societies both home and foreign.

As early as 1879 he issued his “Flora of Northamptonshire,” and this was followed by the Floras of Oxfordshire, Berkshire, West Ross-shire, and Buckinghamshire, “Mosses and Hepatics of Oxfordshire,” “Comital Flora of the British Isles,” “British Plant List,” “The Dubious Plants of Britain,” and “North African Experiences,” among other works, and many articles on botany in the Victoria County History series. A special charm of his books is the skill with which he often illustrates his main theme from literature, especially poetry.

In 1893 his attainments were recognized by the University, and he was appointed Curator of the Fielding Herbarium, and attached as Hon. M.A. to Magdalen College. With the help of Mr. H. E. Garnsey of Magdalen, he largely rearranged the historical collections which are the great feature of the Herbarium. In conjunction with Mr. S. H. Vines, then Professor of Botany, Druce published in 1907 “The Dillenian Herbaria,” and in 1914 an account of the Morisonian Herbarium. A general account of the Fielding Herbarium was also issued by them in two parts, in 1897 and in 1919. Druce was elected F.R.S. in 1927; he had already received the honorary degrees of D.Sc. from Oxford and LL.D. from St Andrews.

The work of a field botanist is naturally open to much controversy; animosity is easily aroused by questions of priority in discovery or naming new plants. But Druce by his quiet, unassuming methods seemed always to hold the respect and indeed affection of his fellow-botanists, and by his enthusiasm did much to inspire others to the systematic work which was his ideal. Naturally modest and unwilling to press his own claims in any sphere, the recognition which he won was almost forced upon him. He was fond of travel and had visited most European countries, always prosecuting his botanical researches, so that, though he would not have claimed special knowledge of any but British flora, he had in fact a wide practical acquaintance with the flora of the whole Mediterranean littoral. He will be greatly missed by many personal friends in Oxford, and by a much wider public of practical botanists.

Born on May 23, 1850, at Potters Pury, in Northants, Druce was educated privately and qualified with honours as a pharmaceutical chemist. Going to Oxford in 1879, he carried on his business in “the High” and won a high reputation. He was president of the British Pharmaceutical Conference in 1900 and in several later years. He was elected to the City Council in the early nineties, becoming one of the leaders of the Liberal Party in municipal affairs. He was Sheriff in 1897 and mayor in 1900, and took his full share of committee work. At his death he was senior alderman.

On his eightieth birthday, in 1930, Dr. Claridge Druce received congratulations from universities and botanical gardens all over the world, and from many English societies. He was presented with a cheque by Lord Grey of Fallodon, on behalf of the Botanical Society and Exchange Club of Great Britain. With this gift he proposed to acquire a plot of land on which some plant now rare in the British Isles might be preserved. He had formed one of the largest collections of plant specimens in this country, and had expressed an intention of leaving this, together with his house and botanical library, for the purpose of a botanical institute.

See also Biographical Memoirs of the Fellows of the Royal Society, 1932: George Claridge Druce, 1850–1932


See also:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (full entry)
  • Yardley Gobion History: Talk on George Claridge Druce given by Sylvia Chandler (January 2009)
  • Ernest Gaskell, Oxfordshire Leaders, Social and Political (London, 1907), pp. 209–11
  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 8 September 1915, p. 9: Photograph of Councillor Druce
  • Oxford Journal Illustrated, 20 October 1920, p. 4: Photograph of Alderman Druce
  • Transactions of the Oxfordshire Archaeological Society, 76 (1931), 354–6
  • Oxford Times, 29 May 1931, p. 17b (81st birthday)
  • Oxford Times, 26 June 1931, p. 24d (82nd birthday)
  • Oxford Magazine, 1931–2, p. 562 (obituary)
  • Oxford Monthly, March 1932, p. 7
  • Oxford Times, 19 January 1934, pp. 27 and 32
  • The Times, 30 June 1934, p. 17: “Dr. G. C. Druce's Estate”
  • 1881 Census: Oxford (All Saints), 1501/60
  • 1891 Census: Oxford (All Saints), 1167/73

©Stephanie Jenkins

Last updated: 12 June, 2022

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