William Charles Barber was born in 1859 in the village of Halesworth in Suffolk, England.
He married Bessie of Nether Wallop, Hampshire in London during 1887, and by 1891 they are found living at Rodney Street in Clerkenwell, London. The couple are joined here by their two children Eva and William, and William’s brother Thomas Barber a ‘Cabinetmaker‘ of Swaffham, Norfolk. At this time, William is noted as a ‘Printer – Compositor‘, the same as his neighbour John Willis, and is likely working for a large London printing company.
By June 1898, William and his wife Bessie have moved to Littleport, where their son Ethelbert was baptised at St. George’s Church. William is still noted as a ‘printer‘, but this time he’s perhaps working on his own accord, often credited as ‘William C. Barber’. When the 1901 census arrives the couple appear alongside their six children living in Victoria Street, Littleport, just a couple of properties along from the Alexandra Hall.
William’s annual publishing of ‘Barber’s Littleport and District Directory and Almanack, Diary and full budget of local information‘, which is perhaps better known by the catchier title of simply ‘Barber’s Almanack‘ from 1898 onwards was a hit, and stood as a much anticipated compilation of the previous year’s events.
William died on 21st April 1929 aged 70 and was survived by his wife Bessie. His death did not bring the annual Almanack to an end (although the 1930 edition that would otherwise have covered his death appears to have been missed), and it continued until 1966, printed by George T. Watson, a bookbinder and stationer also of Victoria Street. Sporadic editions followed until 1985 – the last few co-compiled by Miss. Eileen Gill, a former Littleport Society President, and schoolteacher.
Understandably, the almanack has since proven an invaluable source of local historical record.
The Society holds a large collection of these original almanacks, but we are indebted to the work of Adam Strawson who has painstakingly extracted many Littleport references from 46 editions of the publication. These extracts are freely available on the Littleport Town Council website.
Postcards of Littleport
During the 1900s, William saw a business opportunity to collaborate with the photographer David Spencely of Main Street, and so with David’s photographic skills, William set about producing scenic postcards, each credited as ‘Printed by Wm C. Barber, Littleport‘ and ‘Photo by D. R. Spencely, Littleport‘.
These were highly popular in the early 19th century, and the postcards would be sent all around the world to loved-ones. The Society holds some examples of these ranging from 1904-1906.
William also produced a range of other items, including a compliments card from the Peake family with a wonderful photo of them sat in a car, and a List of Christmas Services at St. George’s Church combined with a Christmas message from Rev. Frederick Eagle Rogers in 1915.
Sometimes William gave his services to good causes, including in September 1921 when he donated the cost of printing materials for a charity concert on behalf of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, the Littleport Nursing Association, and the Hunstanton Convalescent Home.
The 1921 ‘Kelly’s Directory of Stationers, Printers, Booksellers, Publishers and Paper Makers‘ lists him as a ‘Stationer – Retail’, but sadly does not show his entry marked with an asterisk that would otherwise identify him as a ‘fancy’ one.
He was also a member of The Littleport Show Committee, captured in this photograph from 1923, identifiable thanks to his large white beard.
William Barber’s legacy
William’s legacy is one that contributed to the businesses within the Littleport community. His printed stationery and publications are undoubtedly strewn around the world; carefully tucked in boxes and drawers, lovingly cherished in photo albums, hidden inside books in lofts, sitting in archive collections, or turning up on eBay.
His ‘Barber’s Almanack’ is likely his biggest achievement, giving us that snapshot of local life in Littleport.
You’re welcome to visit our Archive to view the range of work of William’s work, or alternatively you can browse the items in our online catalogue.
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