Dancer and Hearne

Dancer & Hearne

Dancer and Hearne Brothers, furniture makers, of Penn Street.
Graces Guide, 30 August 2021. (Amended 11/2022)

In the 1860s William Hearne, a chair maker, and his wife Eliza, a lacemaker, took over the licence of the Hit and Miss pub, from James Taylor, the deeds to the Hit or Miss show that it was already a pub in 1798. There was a one-man workshop shed behind the pub where chairs or parts of chairs were made.
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By 1881 William had died and Eliza had married Samuel Dancer, from Beaconsfield. Samuel took over the Hit and Miss pub. He was recorded as “publican and chair factor”. Also living at the Hit and Miss were William Hearne’s son Alfred, age 20, a chairmaker. So it appears that Alfred was making chairs while Samuel sold them.

1895 The firm is first recorded in the 1895 trade directory. A photograph of that date shows 31 employees. The listing gives the firm’s location as ‘Penn Street and Holmer Green’. The Holmer Green factory, based in Factory Street (now Orchard Way), was used by the company until some time after 1939 but nothing more is known about it.

Dancer & Hearne grew steadily to become one of the biggest furniture factories area

1934 A series of famous photographs shows the Big Chair, a 6½-foot high Windsor wheelback chair made for the British Industries Fair.

1935 the firm took over a factory on Lindsay Avenue, High Wycombe, which it maintained until 1967. There were also premises at Fairmeadow Works, West Wycombe Road, High Wycombe, which were taken over by Chippy Heath in 1968.

By 1938 it had around 500 employees and was producing 450,000 chairs a year.

Late 1930s: orders were slow, Cecil Hearne played upon a connection with Geoffrey de Havilland the aircraft manufacturer (who had been born in Terriers on the north side of High Wycombe) and began making Tiger Moth aeroplane parts for the de Havilland firm.

WWII the Penn Street factory was given over completely to making parts for the De Havilland Mosquito The Lindsay Avenue site also made plane parts.

1949 Established the Ammanford factory in South Wales.

1952 Aircraft parts were made again when orders for chairs declined

1957 Ammanford factory closed

By the 1960s Dancer & Hearne was mainly producing wooden chairs for Government contracts and schools, and dining chairs for other furniture firms

1962-3 the company made losses; only small profits in later years.

1967 bought by Parker-Knoll. The new Production Manager at Penn Street found what he called “industrial anarchy” with out-of-date equipment and a “chaotic situation”.

1970 The Ministry of Education decided to abandon wooden chairs in favour of plastic and metal, depriving Dancer & Hearne of the core of its business. The company closed in 1970.

Graces Guide, 30 August 2021. (Amended 11/2022)

The Hit or Miss

The Hit or Miss pub is a free house in Penn Street, a village one mile from the village of Penn in Buckinghamshire. The market town of Amersham is close by. Penn Street has its own common, where cricket has been played for centuries. This indicates the origin of the curious name of this old pub referring to the local cricketing interests. (Not far away in Holmer Green there is another pub called Bat and Ball.)

© BFP, High Wycombe SWOP

The pub has a distinctive sign illustrated with a Victorian gentleman in front of two stumps. The pub’s own cricket ground is just across the road, attached to the Penn estate opposite owned by Earl Howe, whose family has owned land in this area for generations. One can imagine many merry after-game functions discussing the day’s activities at the crease or in the out-field. Inside the pub may be found memorabilia connected with the local cricketing history, and treasures relating to the inn’s other claim to fame as a chairmakers’ pub. The chairmaking business based here would have been supplied with chair legs and other turned components by local ‘chair bodgers’- woodturners working in the adjacent woodlands using primitive pole lathes.

Back in 1730, when the earliest deeds were dated, the inn was just two cottages; it was first leased as a public house in 1798 and opened on 1 June that year.

The pub’s connection with chairmaking began with William Hearne, a young agricultural labourer, born in Chinnor, Oxfordshire, who is said to have sold his first carefully made Windsor chair made from local English beech and elm in 1840. In 1846 he made what turned out to be a useful marriage. His wife was Eliza, daughter of William Taylor who had taken over the pub the 1840s, and most likely sister of James Taylor, a wheelwright and timber merchant who continued to run the pub until sometime in the 1860s or early 1870s when William and Eliza took it over.  (Note: It is almost certain that James Taylor had a workshop behind the pub in the 1850s and 60s where the 1851 Census shows him as a Wheelwright with and apprentice and also living on-site a blacksmith and a bricklayer).

William had his small workshop behind the pub, where he made chairs. His original workshop apparently was still in existence behind the pub until quite recently.

The manufacture of these wooden chairs was a distinct local industry and the resulting chairs were easily sold to the rapidly expanding London population, the city being only a day’s journey away from the Buckinghamshire villages. William’s wife Eliza was a lacemaker (Buckinghamshire lace being another distinctive local craft).

William died on 28 August 1876, and only one year later, his widow Eliza married Samuel Dancer, who in 1871 was living in nearby Coleshill and working as a chair hawker. On her marriage, Eliza transferred the licence of the Hit or Miss to her new husband and in the 1881 census Samuel was recorded as a publican and chair manufacturer.

When they were old enough, all three of William Hearne’s sons joined the business. By 1891 it seems likely that the eldest, Alfred, then aged 30, was manufacturing the chairs and Samuel, his stepfather, was selling them. The furniture firm of Dancer and Hearne was first recorded in a trade directory in 1895.

Dancer and Hearne grew steadily to become one of the largest furniture factories in the area. By the time Samuel died in 1898, 20 men were employed at the firm making Windsor chairs and cane-seated chairs. The firm continued to be run by William Hearne’s sons and a factory was acquired about three miles up the road in Holmer Green. Eventually another factory was established in High Wycombe. By the turn of the 20th century, the workforce had increased to 60 men.

The three brothers Albert, Frank and Alfred ran the business until the late 1920s when Alfred and his three sons took over the company. Intense reconstruction and modernisation of the manufacturing process began in the early 1930s. By 1935 the chair manufacturer was a public company and in 1938 it produced almost half a million assorted chairs.

The advent of World War Two brought great changes and Dancer & Hearne Bros. Ltd was one of the first companies to become involved in the war effort. With their highly skilled workforce they were ideally suited to manufacturing wooden components for the de Havilland Mosquito fighter-bomber. These were produced at both the High Wycombe and the Penn Street factories.

Screwing plywood trim to Mosquito Wing

Eventually, after peace resumed in the world, the company returned to manufacturing furniture. The fourth generation of the Hearne family was still involved in the two modern factories until William Hearne retired in 1960. What a fascinating journey from William Hearne’s first Windsor chair of 1840 so carefully made behind the Hit or Miss pub, to one of the largest manufacturers of chairs in Europe.

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Original Article: Chiltern AONB website: by Meriel Johansen, Date: 18th June 2021

The Hit or Miss: History of a Chairmaker’s Pub in Penn Street

The Hit or Miss, Landlords & Deeds

© BFP High Wycombe SWOP


1845 PO Book – Mrs Sarah Taylor
1847 Kelly’s – Mrs Sarah Taylor
1853 Musson & Craven – James Taylor Victualler
1854 Kelly’s – James Taylor, Hit or Miss & wheelright
1864 PO Dir. – James Taylor, Hit or Miss & wheelright
1869 PO Dir. – William Hearne
1871 Mercer & Crockers – William Hearne
1877 PO Dir. – Mrs Eliza Hearne
1883 – 1895 Kelly’s – Samuel Dancer
1899 – 1924 Kelly’s – Alfred Hearne
1931 & 1935 Kelly’s – Albert E. Lacey

Deeds: From Messrs. Linklaters & Paines records – 26th January 1953

The earliest deed else is dated 8th April 1730 and is a Conveyance of a cottage by William Coldwell to his son William Coldwell and daughter-in-law Mary Coldwell; the price paid was 5/-. The Conveyance also refers to various stables yards and outbuildings usually known as Robins Wick: the property is shown as being in the County of Buck.
William Coldwell the younger would appear to have made his will in 1751 and died the same year. We have a copy of the equivalent of a Probate to his Will which states that the whole of Mr. Coldwell’s affects including the cottage had a total value of £20. The property was bequeathed to William Macqueen a labourer and his wife Martha.

On the 4th October 1769 Mr. and Mrs. Macqueen mortgaged the property to a Mr. Edward Clark for £80; this mortgage refers to the County as Bucks.

On the 9th February 1775 Mr. and Hrs. Macqueen conveyed the property to Charles Clark for one year. 2 Cottages “hereto: called but one Cottage for tenement” the property was apparently in the occupation of Daniel Grove at that time the Conveyance also included a piece of Meadow Land known by the name of Robins Wick otherwise called Cold’well’s Orchard; no purchase price appears to be disclosed in the Deed.

On the 1st June 1798 Charles Clark leased the two cottages to Thomas Wethered (a grandson of Edward Wethered of Penn) a Cottage tenement or publichouse called — “The Hit and Hiss” now in the tenure — of .James Mealing the rent was £20 per annum but the lease also included the Red Lion, Penn.

On the 20th January 1813 By a Conveyance dated 20th January 1813 the “Hit and Miss” together with other property was sold to Thomas Wethered, (Wethered’s Brewery, Marlow), in this Conveyance it is stated that the “Hit and Miss” was formerly occupied by William Coldwell the elder. William Coldwell the younger, William Macqueen, Daniel Grove, James Mayling, William Bobbington.

The deeds do not appear to show any buildings erected on the property but throughout the deeds mentioned above it would appear that the same cottages are referred to and that they were in being in 1730 to 1813.

Miles Green, December 2022

Hit or Miss/Dancer & Hearne Family History

William Hearne 1825–1876,
James Taylor 1815/16-1884,
Eliza Hearne
née Taylor 1829-1889

1841 Census
William Hearne, Age 15, Farmer, Weedon Hill Farm, Amersham Common
(Woodside Lane is next entry)

1841 Census
James Taylor, Wheelwright, 24, Longwick.
Sarah Taylor, 24
Ann Taylor 3, Jane Taylor, 1

1841 Census – Penn Street
William Taylor, 52, Publican
Sarah Taylor, 45
Henry Taylor, 16
Sophia Taylor,  10
Ann Taylor, 7
John Wooton, 50, Carpenter?

1846 (Oct-Dec) Marriage
William Hearne, to Eliza Taylor, born Penn Street

1851 Census, Penn Street, Penn Bottom
William Hearne labourer 27 born Chinnor Oxon
Eliza Hearne 22 Lace maker born Penn
William Son age 3, who died 1860 (Jan/Mar)

1851 Census Penn Street, Hit or Miss
James Taylor, 32, Wheelwright
Sarah Taylor, 32, Domestic Duties
Ann Taylor, 11, Scholar
Sarah Taylor, 7, Scholar
Susan Taylor, 5, Scholar
John Taylor, 2,
Sarah Taylor, 60, Mother
Sophia Taylor, 19, Sister
Mary Little, 14, House Servant
James Hodgkins, 23, Bricklayer
William Marlow, 17, Appr (Wheelwright)
Thomas Strange, 32, Blacksmith
Samuel Strange, 11, Visitor

1861 Census – Penn Street
James Taylor 46, born Penn Street
Inn Keeper and Wheelwright, Timber Merchant employing 16 Men

1861 Census London End, Beaconsfield
William Hearne, 36 Chair Maker, Eliza Hearne, 31 Lace maker
Several daughters, Alfred Hearne 4 months, born 1861

Post Office Directory 1864, Publicans,
Hit or Miss: J Taylor, Penn Street

1871 Census Hit or Miss Public House.
William Hearne 46 Licensed Victualler (born: Chinnor Ox)
Eliza Hearne 42 Lace Maker,
Alfred Hearne 10,
Albert Hearne 3,
Frank Hearne 6 months

1871 Census, Coleshill
Samuel Dancer Age 34, Chair Hawker

Death 1876
William Hearne Apr 1876, Age 51, Penn Street. Buried Penn Street

 1877 Apr-Jun, Marriage
Eliza Hearne, Samuel Dancer

1881 Census Hit or Miss Public House.
Samuel Dancer, 43, Chair Factor & Publican, born Wendover.
Eliza Hearne 50 Dress Maker,
Alfred Hearne 20, Chairmaker,
Evalina Hearne 14 Dressmaker,
Albert Hearne 12,
Frank Hearne 10,
Alice Dancer 3.

Death 1884
James Taylor, May 1884, Age 66, Holmer Green. Buried Penn Street.,

Death 1889
Eliza Dancer Oct 1889, Age 60, Penn Street. Buried Penn Street.

Death 1898
Samuel Dancer Feb 1889, Age 60, Penn Street. Buried Penn Street.

Penn Wood – some memories

I began my working life in 1960 with Whately, Hill & Co, based in West Wycombe. They were old- fashioned Estate Agents who ran country estates including all those owned by the Ernest Cook Trust, plus West Wycombe (for the National Trust) and Shardeloes, Amersham for ‘the Squire of Amersham’.

The favourite estate for both Ernest Cook and Whately, Hill’s boss. Captain John Burrow Hill, was The Penn Woods Estate. I believe Captain Burrow Hill was buried at the Penn Street Church. I have two main memories of working in Penn Wood.

Firstly the effort that went in to it looking its best in June usually when it opened to the public to enjoy the display of Rhododendrons and Azaleas. The quality of the wood’s management was recognised by The Forestry Commission who used to take their trainees to see and learn how a private woodland should be managed.

The other and more personal was the selection of standing beech for sale to the local furniture manufacturer Dancer & Hearne. This entailed myself and another young chap (Roger, a Penn Street resident) going through the wood with our boss John Millbourn and Mr Fred Hearn and his assistant Jack selecting trees for felling. The care taken to ensure little damage to the canopy was paramount and we had to say no to many of the finest trees which Mr Hearn coveted. We would estimate the height of the usable wood in the tree and then measure its girth using a ‘quarter girth tape (I still have mine). We would then return to the office with the list of trees and calculate their volume using Hoppus measure tables. I seem to remember that the Hoppus system allowed for taper in the tree and resulted in a volume measure in ‘Hoppus Feet’. A price was agreed per Hoppus Foot and our schedule was then submitted to Mr Hearn for checking. All these calculations were done by the two of us youngsters without any calculators etc and were checked by Dancer & Hearn’s comptometer operators; we were proud to know that we were always correct.

Other memories include the fact that Ellen Wilkinson MP, who led the Jarrow March, lived on the estate, at Little Inkerman Farm I believe. The Estate Manager was Peter Hickman who lived at the Keeper’s Cottage, well protected by seriously cantankerous geese. We updated cottages on the estate to include bathrooms, one being Snowdrop Cottage, a location I still covet. Another was off the Penn Road and I think is now part of the Golf Course. The farmer of that area wanted us to cut down the rows of limes which I hope still survive to this day. Common Wood was always part of the estate in our day but somehow didn’t have the same attraction.

I assume that the Trust sold off the estate as there was insufficient revenue from the farms to keep the estate profitable. What happened after that I found somewhat distressing driving through the area and seeing what a mess the new owners made of it. The best thing that happened to it was its acquisition by The Woodland Trust.

I remember that Mr Ernest Cook lived at The Crescent, Bath and was somewhat of a recluse. His Trust was set up to take on badly run estates and develop them so that they were financially stable then they would be handed over to The National Trust. The last estate to be handed over was Bradenham Manor after which there was a falling out (apochryphally an argument about the colour of the 40ft curtains hung at the renovated Bradenham Manor House). The Ernest Cook Trust still exists to this day but I doubt that anything was loved more by Ernest Cook than Penn Wood.

© Neil Herbert-Smith