On Wednesday 6th January 1915, Salisbury Cathedral was flooded, Oxford was surrounded by water, and residents of Maidenhead were stranded on the upper floors of their homes. In light of last year's events, you might think not much has changed in a century! But, if you were to ask Herbert Druce, who was born in Penn upon that day, you'd find that so much has.
Aged 14, choirboy Herbert joined our automotive company, itself then a mere stripling of seven. Well, he actually started working at what was then known as Slades Garage and Forge, here in Buckinghamshire. There was more than one type of horse-power in those days, and the young Master Druce soon learned how to introduce a heavy hammer to searing hot iron. As well as shoeing the workhorses of those days, the company also produced many pieces of metalwork such as barn door hinges. Although it sounds like part of a famous old card game, Herbert and the others actually produced braces for “Mr Perfect, the local builder”!
Within a year of joining, Herbert was riding sidecar through the night as his boss, George Slade, took his motorcycle from Maidenhead down to Cornwall to take part in the Land's End Trial - a journey he can still clearly recall eight decades later! In fact, the original Mr Slade was an enthusiastic motocrosser. His daughter Bluebell was a regular in the sidecar during events, until her father grew too old to control the bike. Then, they simply changed positions! Incidentally, she met a competitor called Len Gibbs, who lived in Stoke Poges. After they married, Len took over the running of our garage, where Herbert had progressed to the trusted position of head mechanic. We know, you couldn't write a TV script like this!
Looking round our showroom as we write this blog, we have some superb classic cars for sale here at Penn in Buckinghamshire, such as a 1958 Jaguar XK150 DHC, a Ferrari GTS from 1989, the 1965 Porsche 356 C Coupe, 1967 Austin Healy MK III, and the magnificent Jaguar MK V Drophead Coupe from 1951. Herbert would have seen all these, and so many more, all now readily accepted as classic cars in the UK, when they were the latest in motoring excellence. Mind you, many folk think they still are!
Back to Mr Druce. Over 60 years ago, he had to hack his way through overgrown brambles into a barn in Denham. There, on his own, he had to manoeuvre the cylinder block from a 1926 3 litre Sunbeam into his van. Back at the garage, he replaced this and then rebuilt the engine, a job still etched in his remarkable memory. We guess Slades, nowadays offering classic car sales to people right across the UK, have always believed in delivering outstanding customer service!
A couple of days before Herbert raised his bat to celebrate a superb century and a full and well-lived life, a celebration was held at Holy Trinity Church here in Penn. As he stepped outside, the remarkable Mr Druce had the chance to say hello again to YP 7363 - that very same Sunbeam. Just in case you aren't convinced - here's the photo:
In a time of instant fame and easy celebrity, everyone here at Slades Garage knows who our hero is. With the greatest of respect, happy birthday to Mr Herbert Druce.