MOST history, especially local history, is about people. The way they make a living, find somewhere to live, meet a partner. In this sense, the latest edition of Lookback at Andover published by the Andover History and Archaeology Society is a jewel. Much of it is about characters that flesh out the past, making their way in a small place before it became a significant industrial town.

There is Frederick Pearse the photographer and anti-vaccination campaigner, George Clark the bookseller and musician, whose widow Beryl discovered a surprising treasure, and a host of ‘local ladies’ who faced up to the phoney war of 1940.

George Clark, whose story is told by Lookback’s editor, David Borrett, could have been just another of those many apprentice engineers taken on by Taskers, the manufacturers of agricultural machinery. But it didn’t suit him. He preferred to play the violin and one of the ways he could earn an honest penny was accompanying silent films in Andover’s Electric Picture Hall.

He was also a bookaholic, and after a while had so many books in his house that he had to find somewhere else to put them. The solution – a fine example of lateral thinking – was to buy a shop and open a bookshop. It became a landmark in the town – the sort of bookshop that scarcely exists now, where customers were greeted and words exchanged about the latest offers and the rare finds that George had made.

On one occasion the late John Spaul, a prolific local historian, was looking for a copy of a rare publication of 1898 on local villages by Rev Robert Clutterbuck, who had been rector of Knights Enham and then Penton Mewsey and worked on Andover’s town records. George told him that there was a copy for sale in the catalogue of a London bookseller in Charing Cross Road – that part of the capital that most closely resembles Hay-on-Wye.

John was so excited that he immediately caught a train and rushed to the shop, only to be told that unfortunately the book had just been sent … to a bookseller in Andover. The conversation he had with George when he got back is not recorded.

Selling books has rarely been a way to make much money and after George’s death his widow Beryl faced a difficult time. But amongst the piles of books that he had left – reckoned to number around 50,000 titles – was a collection of old letters that he had never quite got round to looking at.

It turned out that they were by Captain Arthur Philip, written aboard HMS Sirius in 1787-8 on his way to found a prisoner colony in Botany Bay. He was governor-designate of New South Wales and it was he who chose and named the site of present-day Sydney. The price that Beryl Clark received at a London auction kept her in comfort for some while.

The life of the photographer Frederic Pearse, a born entrepreneur and a man of very definite opinions, has been researched by David Howard. In 1869 in his early twenties he started a photographic studio. It was only nine years after Queen Victoria and family had first sat for their portraits.

His stock in trade, especially for local gentry, was the carte de visite patented in France in 1854. He also produced ‘cabinet cards’ with his ‘signature’ elegantly printed at the foot. An early advertisement from a local trade directory bubbles with the enthusiasm of a novice businessman.

He was obviously keen to get any sort of trade and – presumably on the principle that ‘it’s never too late’ – offered “posthumous portraits taken on the shortest notice”. And, if the subject had not actually died, he proposed “invalids waited on at their residence”.

He was a keen user of the penny-farthing bicycle – one of his photographs taken in about 1885 in Andover High Street shows what was probably his own machine. And he undertook trips on it that were not for the faint-hearted, on one occasion riding to London and back on the ill-made roads of the time.

The story of Frederick Pearse’s photography could be replicated in many towns. But there is one way in which his life reflects something very modern: he was an avid and unrepentant anti-vaxxer.

The problem arose at a time when 30 per cent of those who caught smallpox died and others were left blind or scarred. The Vaccination Act of 1853 required all infants under three months of age to be ‘jabbed’. Fourteen years later the age limit was increased to 14.

As today, many people objected, but “when they were brought in front of the local magistrates they mostly relented and had their children vaccinated”.

David’s study has shown that Frederick was not amongst these. In fact, he was a serial offender, and in 1897 faced yet another charge from the Andover Board of Guardians. He had previously received no less than 60 fines, adding up to more than £40, “the equivalent of about £5,300 today”.

On this occasion, the magistrates no doubt wanted to set an example and sent him to Winchester prison for three days. When he was released, he was welcomed at Andover rail station by like-minded locals who processed to the town hall to argue in favour of those who refused to “allow [their] children’s blood to be poisoned by impure matter”.

Frederic undoubtedly suffered for his anti-vax views, but 45 years after the passing of the enabling act it was the government who eventually relented, allowing people to exercise ‘conscientious objection’.

As time passed, Frederic’s studio morphed into Andover Bazaar, selling an Aladdin’s Cave of fancy goods. After his death in 1929 the business was carried on by his wife and then his daughter, who died in 1972. David recalls that “the shop that traded for 100 years is fondly remembered by Andoverians, who still recall the joy of purchasing and looking at toys in the Andover Bazaar”.

This edition of Lookback also includes an article by Martin Coppen on burial practices and local cemeteries, including charnel houses, and by John Isherwood on the patriotic behaviour of ladies in Penton Mewsey. This is demonstrated in letters from 1940, when an otherwise ‘safe’ village was threatened by the proximity of an RAF aerodrome. There is much humour, but also fear: one letter-writer confesses to ‘spyitis’ and says: “I do not think strangers should come into this village”.

And, showing how some projects take some while to complete, Andrew Hobley, after nearly 30 years’ research, tells the fascinating story of Lancaster Close, named after two of the eponymous bombers paid for by the town with a Wings for Victory Campaign.

There is much more in Lookback in Andover, including an important new study by Diana Coldicott on the enclosure commissioner George Barnes (1738-1832), who negotiated the deals and drew the maps for landowners wishing to ‘rationalise’ their holdings. He is credited with no less than 62 enclosures, starting in 1788 in association with another surveyor in Headbourne Worthy.

As might be expected from one of the county’s best local historians, it is a meticulous piece of original research that more than justifies buying a copy of Lookback at Andover, available price £4.50 from Andover museum, Waterstones in the Chantry Centre and the AHAS website.

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