In 1872 a 14 year old boy named William Barrell took up employment at the printing business run by Henry Lewis at No. 114 High Street, Portsmouth. It was to be the beginning of a long and successful career in the printing and stationery business which culminated in the establishment of one of Portsmouth's foremost printers.
William Henry Barrell was the youngest son of William Henry Barrell and Mary Ann Fellows. He was born on the 17th February 1858, at 9 Ivy Street, Portsea, and was baptised on the 25th June 1858 at St. Mary's Church, Portsea. He was educated at the Royal Patriotic fund Boys School, East Hill House, Wandsworth.
When he joined Henry Lewis at 114 High Street he was entering a business that had been in operation since 1817 when it had been established, primarily selling books, by Michael Comerford under his own name. The site was well chosen, being a few doors from the Governor's residence and almost opposite one of the most fashionable hotels on the south coast - The George Hotel, where Lord Nelson had breakfasted before leaving for Trafalgar. It is not surprising therefore that the shop front should feature in several drawings dating from the mid 19C which are used to illustrate the sophistication of High Street, Portsmouth (see right).
Around 1845 Michael Comerford retired and the business was taken over by Henry Lewis who steered the business to greater fortune. Lewis is perhaps best remembered as the printer of many important local history books to come out of the period, several of which were written by the renowned local historian William Saunders who lived next door to Lewis at No. 113 High Street. It was into this environment that the young William Barrell ventured. That he flourished there is evident by the fact that by the age of just 20 years he was acting as manager for Henry Lewis, and as such secured some important contracts such as supplying all the stationery needs of the Borough Council from 1888.
William took full control of the business in 1897, a time that it was expanding beyond the confines of No. 114. In 1901 a large factory was built at Nos. 38 and 39 Thomas's Street and in 1905 in order to create more shop and warehouse space he purchased No. 115 High Street. In 1909 the business was formed into a private company with members of the family on the board. Further expansion both before and during the Great War consolidated the firm's pre-eminent position.
After the war the business began to look beyond the confines of Portsmouth, opening an office equipment and Typewriter Department to serve South Hampshire. Branches were soon to open in Southampston, Salisbury and Brighton but William Henry Barrell would not live long enough to see it as he died on the 27th January 1922. He was buried in a family plot in Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth, (Plot G, Row 3, Grave 10).
On 30th January 1922, Portsmouth Evening News ran an obituary headed "The City He Loved" in which was written:-
"By the death of Mr William H. Barrell, on January 27, 1922, a very prominent figure passed from the business life of Portsmouth. Besides leading an active life in his own business, he found time to associate himself with many other laudable efforts on behalf of the City he loved and in which he was born. He was Hon. Treasurer of the Eye and Ear Hospital, Hon. Treasurer of the Hospital Sunday Collection Fund, Churchwarden of St Thomas Church and a member of the Diocese, a Mason for many years, a Rotarian, and a keen worker on behalf of the unemployed. My last recollection of him is both pleasing and typical. I gave him an order to obtain for me a beautiful edition of the Bible, which he did, and then refused to accept payment for the same. It was a parting gift."
The name of the author is not recorded, but whoever it was they could also have mentioned that William Henry was a prominent member of the YMCA, the Beneficial Society and the Swimming Club.
After the death of William Henry Barrell the business was taken over by his son William who with manager Brian Woodhams expanded into Southampton, Salisbury and Brighton. By 1939 the business was so successful that the family could afford to demolish No. 115 High Street and rebuild it on four floors in order to accommodate the very modern machinery needed for specialised Commercial Stationery and Office Equipment. The outbreak of war put a halt to the expansion when the main premises in both Portsmouth and Southampton were completely destroyed. After the war these were replaced by premises at Elm Grove in Southsea, 35 Commercial Road, Portsmouth and Portswood Road in Southampton.
'W.H. Barrell, Printer & Publisher' remained a byword for all forms of stationery products and services for many years after the war until in 1964 the younger William saw an opportunity to sell the family interest in the business. The purchasers were United Lubricants after which Barrell's gradually faded from view.
William Henry Barrell & Family
On 26 June 1880, just two years after taking over as manager for Henry Lewis, William married Laura Maria Kemmish Bellinger at St. Judes, Southsea. She was the second child of Edward William Bellinger and Eliza Ann Kemmish and was born on 30th August 1862 at Wilton Place, Southsea. She was baptised on 14th September 1862 at St.Judes church. They lived at 114 High Street for over 30 years during which time they had six children.
Laura survived William by 27 years, living on until 4th April 1949 when she died at 237 Ballards Lane, Finchley, Middlesex. Her address at the time was recorded as Avon Villa, 9 Campbell Road, Southsea. Kelly's Directory also records her living at Belmore, Eastern Parade, Southsea between 1920 and 1923 when she moved to Campbell Road. Her body was returned to Portsmouth where she was buried in the Family Grave at Highland Road Cemetery, Portsmouth. She had been known for her work with several charities including the NSPCC, of which she was the Honourable Secretary and was a good enough amateur artist to have one of her oil paintings accepted as a wedding gift for Her Royal Highness Princess Elizabeth.
Their children were as follows:-
William Henry Barrell
He was born on 25th February 1882 at 114 High Street, Portsmouth and baptised on 4th June 1882 at St. Thomas's Parish Church. He had a career in the Territorial Army in which he received an OBE. He was a director in the family business and a Deputy Lieutenant of Fareham. He married Beatrice Grant Page on 11th June 1904 at St. Judes Southsea. Beatrice was born in 1883 and died in 1954. They had one son, Stuart William Page born 26 Aug 1905 in Portsmouth.
Gladys Laura Mary Barrell
She was born on 21st February 1886 at 114 High Street and was baptised on 18th April 1886 at St. Thomas's Church. Gladys was born handicapped - she had no hands, and a short deformed leg - but this didn't stop her running her own business in one of her father's buildings in the High Street. She was involved with many charities including St. John's Ambulance and was a Sunday school teacher and spent 45 years in the Girl Guide Movement, as well as working in the family business. Gladys never married despite a proposal from a captain in the Church Army. Her residence from 1951 until death on 20 February 1969 was 10 Walberton Avenue, Cosham, Portsmouth. She was cremated at Portchester and buried in the family plot at Highland Road Cemetery.
Henry Lewis Barrell
He was born on 5th November 1891 at 114 High Street and was baptised on the 9th December 1891 at St. Thomas's Church. He died at the age of just 6 years of age, on 19th December 1897, following a tragic accident at the family home when his night clothes caught fire. He was buried in the family plot at Highland Road Cemetery and a plaque was erected in his memory at St. Thomas's church. In honour of Henry's memory the family never celebrated Bonfire Night after his death.
Phyllis Muriel Constance Barrell
She was born on 6th June 1895 at Portsmouth. She was baptised on 25th August 1895 at St. Thomas's church where she married Robert John Carter on 23th January 1918. They had 2 daughters:- Thelma Phyllis Laura Carter born 1920 and Rosemary Gladys Etrenne Carter born 1922, they were both born at their grandparents house at 9 Campbell Road, Southsea. Phyllis died on 31st October 1988 at Trevallon Nursing Home, Portsmouth and was cremated at Portchester.
Aubrey Lewis Barrell
He was born on the 26th March 1897 at 114 High Street and was baptised on 27th June 1897 at St. Thomas's. He worked in Family Printing firm and married Lilian Caroline Kinch on 14 August 1926 at St. Thomas's. They had two children:- Patricia Laura Lilian Barrell and David William Aubrey Barrell, five grandchildren - Sandra, Mark, Caroline, Helen and Rachel and 10 great grandchildren. Aubrey died on 14th January 1973 at 17 Walberton Avenue, Cosham, Hampshire and was cremated on the 19th January 1973 at Portchester Crematorium, Hampshire.
Etrenne Gwendoline Sybil Barrell
She was born on 7th January 1902 at 114 High Street. She was baptised on 13th April 1902 at St. Thomas's Church. She married Vivian Dottin Joll on 17 April 1926, also at St.Thomas's and they had a son John who died in a go-cart accident aged 15. She was well known for Miniature Flower arrangements, for charity and on TV, and wrote a book on the subject. She died on 22nd June 1990 at Petersfield Cottage Hospital, Hampshire and was cremated at Winchester.
The Family Grave
The Family Grave is at Highland Road Cemetery, situated in Row 3, Grave 10 of Section G.
By Tim Backhouse (December 2012)
With thanks to Sandie Kilpatrick for the information and permission to use the photographs.
The plaque to Henry Lewis Barrell, Henry and Martha Lewis in Portsmouth Cathedral
The plaque to William Henry Barrell in Portsmouth Cathedral