1984-Apr-pg83-84_Whitby & Son’s Bookshop & Yeovil Almanack for 1886

1984-Apr-pg83-84_Whitby & Son’s Bookshop & Yeovil Almanack for 1886

This article came from the Chronicle published April 1984. Pages 83-85



Author: ‘Geriatricus’


A photograph in “Yesterday’s Yeovil and its Traders”, the latest book by Leslie Brooke, shows Princes Street in the early years of the century, with Whitby’s shop situated opposite the Assembly Rooms. Older residents doubtless remember the elegant Victorian-period shop, set well back from the pavement, with two tall gas lamp standards marking the boundary between pavement and forecourt. The shop front vanished during a period of “improvement” in the 1960’s.

E.Whitby & Son were not only booksellers and stationers, but also printers, and publishers of “The Yeovil Almanack, Trade Advertiser and Diary“, from the mid 1870’s until 1919 when paper and staff shortages due to the 1914-18 war caused its demise.

Many of the advertisements reproduced in “Yesterday’s Yeovil and its Traders” appeared originally in “Whitby’s Almanack“, which also contained much local and general information of interest to anyone following local and social history. In Victorian times “Whitby’s  Almanack” was often the only reading matter other than the Bible in many cottage homes.

My 1886 copy of the Almanack – price one penny – shows that Whitby & Son believed in diversifying their business interests. They were Secretaries of the Yeovil and Sherborne Permanent Building Society (est.1857), the solicitors being Messrs. Mayo and Marsh, and Trustees Major J.R.P.Goodden of Compton House and G.Troyte Bullock, Esq., of North Coker House. (By an odd twist of fate the site of Whitby’s shop is now occupied by a Building Society Office). Whitbys were also agents for the Sun Fire Insurance, estd. 1710, total sum insured in 1884, £318,599,316, claims paid during the last ten years, upwards of two millions sterling.

A two-page line drawing shows a primitive type of gas-engine and a printing press, to authenticate their claim, “Printing Machinery Driven by Gas Power”. Customers of their stationery department were advised in a full-page advertisement to write their letters on Hieratica Vegetable Parchment, “the ancient writing paper of priests”, and to use Field’s Ink”, which never moulds or deposits mud.

Whitbys at this time operated a Circulating Library in connection with Mudies, and the almanack included a 60 page list of books “lately published, many kept in stock, others obtained by return. Periodicals such as Magazines etc., on the day of publication”.

Not only the minds of Yeovilians were catered for, as patent medicines were recommended for various ills of the flesh, such as “Ross’s Homoeopathic Medicines”, tinctures reduced from 1/- to 9d, pilules from 9d to 6d, or “Neuraline” for toothache, rheumatism, etc., 1/1½d. per bottle, or “Glykaline” for colds, catarrh, asthma etc., 1/1½d per bottle. If none of these were applicable to your ailment you could have your “Prescriptions Carefully Made Up”, or buy a booklet “Plain Directions for Common Complaints” – price one penny!

This enterprising business also had “a large and varied stock of paper hangings” and “Patent Cedar Felt” “for laying under carpets, covering steam and water pipes, and lining roofs etc., 60 ins wide 6 pence per yard”.

Looking through the pages of advertisements by local traders, one which stood out as an outstanding example of copywriting was that of The Golden Canister Supply Stores, Middle Street, Yeovil, who offered “Hooks Famous Tea, which possesses grip, ftagrance, and draws a full dark liquour, particularly brisk and refreshing – 3 lbs for 5/6d”.

The game of billiards must have had its devotees in Yeovil in 1886, as G.J.Dolton of 50, Vicarage Street advertised that he could “adjust Ivory Billiard Balls, and make Cues, Table Legs and Trusses to order”.

Local information on postal services, national and district goods carriers, medical officers, magistrates, clergy, aldermen, borough councillors, and members of committees ran to fourteen pages. The dimensions of the Town Hall were given as 34½ ft. by 58½ ft., 22 ft. high, for the benefit of anyone wishing to hire it “for list of charges apply to the Hall Keeper, H.Jesty, South Street”.

Many voluntary organisations which helped to alleviate the poverty-and hardship of those Pre-Welfare-State times were listed e.g., Yeovil Soup Kitchens, Coal Charity, Women’s Clothing Club, Penny Dinners, Flannel Clothing Society (!!), Dorcas or Laying-in-Society, and of course the recently established District Hospital in Kingston.

Those who were able and willing to insure themselves against mis-fortune and old age-poverty, could do so through The Old True Blue Friendly Society, The Church of England Temperance Society, or the United Temperance Committee.

Men wishing to serve the community in an active way could join the Volunteer Fire Brigade (Captain Robert Damon), or “F” Company 2nd Battn. Volunteers, Somerset Light Infantry, (Captain W.Marsh). The headquarters of “F” Company were at the house which still stands in The Park, known as The Armoury, now a restaurant.

Those interested in athletics could join the Yeovil and Mid-Somerset Athletic Sports Association, The Yeovil Cricket and Lawn Tennis Club or The Yeovil Quoit Club. No mention of a Football Club was made, however. Both men and women could swim at the Corporation Baths, but as different times and “no person allowed to bathe without Bathing Dress or Drawers” (Hire of Bathing Dress 2d). No mention of Skittle Alleys is made in any of the advertisements by hotels, but the Three Choughs and Mermaid both advertise public billiard rooms. The Red Lion, however, advertises “well aired beds” which must have been an inducement to a weary traveller.

Citizens interested in gardening and agricultural pursuits could join the Yeovil Agricultural Society (estd.1883); the Somerset Chamber of Agriculture; Yeovil Floricultural and Horticultural Society; The Chrysanthemum, Flower and Fruit Show; The Yeovil and County Poultry Show; or Yeovil Angling Association.

The Arts were catered for by the Yeovil Pickwick and Amateur Dramatic Club, and the Instrumental Music Society. No mention is made of Choral or Operatic Societies, which presumably had not yet been formed.

Evening classes in Science and Art were held in the Reckleford Board School and the British School in Vicarage Street.

Whitby’s Almanack ceased publication 65 years ago, at about the same time as the similar Year Book published by the “Western Gazette“. It is strange that in Yeovil we now have no annual publication listing elected represntatives; salaried Government Officials; public and private services and amenities; or cultural organisations.

There must be many members who, like me, can recall going to Whitbys in the 1920’s for their school books. No matter what obscure title was requested “young Mr.Whitby” could always find it, even though he had to climb a ladder to search the topmost shelves in the room behind the shop.

Due to the death of the last of the proprietors the business was closed about 25 years ago, the shop demolished, and the site “developed”.

[Memories of Whitby’s Bookshop are particularly poingnant, following the sad news of the closing of Badger’s Bookshop. Much will therefore depend on the success of the new venture opening in Princes Street.-Ed]