OXFORDSHIRE BLUE PLAQUES SCHEME

George Claridge DRUCE frs (1850–1932)

Botanist, pharmacist, mayor

118 High Street, Oxford

George Claridge Druce is a major figure in the history of field botany. He was born at Potterspury, Northamptonshire, the illegitimate son of Jane Druce. Claridge may have been his father’s name. He attended the village school in Yardley Gobion and was given educational support by ministers of the independent chapel, J and T. B. Sly. From an early age he was drawn to the study and collection of plants. In 1866 he was apprenticed to Philadelphus Jeyes & Co., retail and manufacturing chemists in Northampton and rose in the firm, passing his pharmaceutical examinations with flying colours. Meanwhile he began to form a herbarium, to write on local flora, and to help found the Northamptonshire Natural History Society.

118 High Street

In 1879 he ventured to set up his own pharmacy in Oxford at 118 High Street (above) and maintained the business there, known as Druce & Co., until 1932. He turned his attention to the flora and natural history of Oxfordshire, helping to found the Oxfordshire (now Ashmolean) Natural History Society in 1880 and publishing Flora of Oxfordshire in 1886. Floras of Berkshire (1897), Buckinghamshire (1926), and updated editions of the Oxfordshire and Northamptonshire volumes (1927 and 1930) followed. He travelled widely in Britain, adding records of new species, and abroad, including a visit to Australia with the British Association. Always he collected assiduously, creating a herbarium eventually of 200,000 specimens. He presented herbaria to Oxford University and catalogued existing collections, becoming the honorary Fielding Curator and receiving an honorary MA. Other recognition followed: an MA by decree in 1919, a DSc by examination, and election to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1927, a singular achievement for an amateur scholar. The University of St Andrews honoured him with an LLD. His networking in the field of plant sciences created what was to become the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland. He collaborated with his friend Charles Rothschild to found the Society for the Promotion of Nature Reserves, ancestor of today’s Wildlife Trusts. Locally he negotiated the purchase of Cothill Fen in 1903.

He was also a great communitarian, serving as a Liberal on Oxford City Council from 1892 until his death. As sheriff for 1896–7, on the occasion of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee, he presented the gold chain and badge still used for that office. He became mayor 1900–1901 and later alderman. He headed the public health committee for thirty years. He also served on the council of the Pharmaceutical Society and was president of the British Pharmaceutical Conference. He remained a bachelor and in c.1905 moved from the accommodation over the shop to an ample residence at 9 Crick Road which he named Yardley Lodge after his boyhood village. He died in 1932 and is buried in Holywell Cemetery. The main beneficiary of his wealth (£91,250) and collections was the University of Oxford.

Sources:

  • Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, article by D. E. Allen;
    Druce's page on the Oxford History website (Mayors and Lord Mayors)

The plaque was inaugurated at 118 High Street, Oxford, on 28 April 2018, followed by a gathering in the Lord Mayor’s Parlour, Oxford Town Hall. The main speaker was Serena Marner, Herbarium Manager at the OU Department of Plant Sciences. Among those attending were the Lord Mayor, a number of botanists, and some lateral descendants of Druce.

Photographs taken at the ceremony:

Speeches made at the ceremony:

Oxford Mail, 3 May 2018: “Blue plaque honouring former Oxford mayor unveiled

Picture awaited

Oxfordshire Blue Plaques Board

GEORGE
CLARIDGE DRUCE
FRS

1850–1932

Botanist
Pharmacist
Mayor and Alderman

lived here at his shop
1879–1905

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