The man who became known as ‘Southampton’s Dick Whittington’ was born at Bishop’s Sutton, near Alresford, on 18 December 1798. His father, Thomas Andrews, was a working wheelwright in the village of Bramdean, a trade to which he was apprenticed by Madame Venables of Woodart House. He never received other education than that, from about five to eight or nine years of age, at a dame’s school at 2d a week. He was afterwards taken by his maternal uncle to work as a farm boy – thatching, turnip-hoeing, thatching, et al - at 3d a day. From the age to twelve to fourteen he laboured as an under sawyer at Itchenstoke, working 12 hours a day and walking daily to and from work ten miles and so on foot or in the saw-pit from 4 am to 9 pm. He worked here at a shilling a day. Andrews later described the emotions he received going to the forge to get the tools put in order – it might be from the flying sparks, or the free swing and ring of the hammer, or the warm look of comfort of the forge fire on a winter’s day, or the pleasure of seeing the iron beaten out to any shape – and how this led his desire to become a smith. He began to try his hand at heel and toe tips and hobnails and showed such skill at iron and spoke with such desire to learn the trade that Mr Beaumont, a great coachmaker employing 100 hands, gave him employment as hammerman under one of his smiths. Here he so impressed his master that he had his wages raised from 5s to 6s, 7s, 8s, 9s a week. In three years – four years before the end of his apprenticeship- he had a fire to himself and a hammerman under him. During the last four years of his apprenticeship, Andrews was considered the first hand in the shop. He made all the heavy coach axles, then wrought from well0used wheel tyres – and he also made the whole of the tyres for the coach factory.

Richard Andrews met his future wife, who was living at Alresford, at a dance at Tichborne Down. She soon went home to Hounslow, Richard walking the 47 miles there and back to visit her. Three or four months afterwards, his seven-year apprenticeship being ended, they were married in Hounslow, the occasion marked in traditional style with the hideous noise of pokers and tongs, tin kettles and cow’s horns. His apprenticeship ended, and now 21 years of age, Beaumont offered him a guinea a week. He knew he was worth more and so he left the shop to seek a better fortune. Andrews and a companion workman set off for Chichester at 2 am in the depth of winter. There was no work to be had at Chichester, so Andrews walked back the following day. His former master now offered 23s a week to engage with him for a year. Not wishing to be bound again, the next day, starting at 4 am, he walked to Southampton, arriving at 9 am with just 2s 6d in his pocket. He found employment in the coach manufactory of William Jones at 24s, afterwards 2 guineas, a week. In three weeks he had saved £2 and returned to Itchenstoke to bring his wife and child home to Southampton. Every week he put some money in the savings bank, and having gathered £75 he started, in a little back street, on 1 October 1832, as a master coachmaker with two workmen. The £75 was gone, in first expenses, within three weeks. Repair jobs however came in fast, were well and punctually done, so that a name was earned and trade grew.

The most impassioned part of Andrews’s autobiography concerns his first political experience. “In the same year [1832] came on the general election, at which the Tories fought their great battle against Reform. The most influential canvassers came to Andrews. They promised him that that he should make his fortune by the support of the surrounding gentry if the Tory had his vote. They urged that his was a business depending solely on the gentry, and if he went against them he must look for ruin. Southampton was then but a fashionable and invalid watering-place, a whole day’s fast stage-coach journey from London; it had neither dock nor warehouses; the Peninsular and Oriental Company was not formed; there was no railway, no West India steam-boats; no one thought, then, of such a town of trade and manufacture as is now increasing every day in Southampton Water. The odds seemed dead against the man who should go against the gentry. “Give me,” said Andrews, “an hour to make up my mind. Come back then, and you shall have your answer.” They came, expecting to tick his vote against Reform. Andrews looked up from the forge – “I believe,” he said, “Reform to be right, and I will vote for it. I have so far worked my own way without any other help than my skill as a workman, and I have no doubt of getting on in the same way without selling my conscience”.”

There were abundant grumblings and threats against him, but his first year in business for himself brought him in over £2,000. Within ten years of that election he had laid out £10,000 on the ground and buildings of his factory, and in 1845 he earned more than £22,000, selling upwards of 300 new and secondhand carriages. “Travellers by the overland route to India cross the desert in Andrews's omnibuses; he built the state carriages for Mehemet Ali and the Sultan; has a large trade with the colonies, Mexico, Valparaiso and Porto Rica; carries on every part of the manufacture of carriages, with the exception of patent axles, on his own premises; and employs upwards of 200 men, a large number of whom are electors of the borough.”

Andrews also stood by his opinion on the Corn Laws against his apparent interest. “He was one of the first members of the Anti-Corn-Law-League, belonged to its council; gave a handsome pony carriage to the League Bazaar in 1845; and in 1842, when the Mayor refused the Town Hall, and a public meeting was violently broken up, Andrews cleared his carriage bazaar, which held from 2,000 to 3,000 persons, his workmen mounted guard at the entrance, wheel-spokes in hand, and so Free-trade had a place for its advocacy in the home of a business said to depend solely on the favour of those who were strong monopolists”. There were many threats of supporting others and of setting up fresh opposition in coachmaking. Andrews used to reply: “Set up as many as you please; coachbuilding has already grown to be the staple business of the town; the more makers, the more name the place will have for carriage building, and I am certain of getting as good a share of it as I deserve. Andrews has been always ready to help others into business with both material and patterns.

He sold extensively to the aristocracy and gentry, and he built three small carriages, to be drawn by Shetland ponies, for Queen Victoria’s use at Osborne House (image 4).

Despite his great wealth, Andrews seems to have been a good employer, who “devoted himself wholeheartedly to promoting the self-reliance of the working man”. He was active in local politics being a prominent Liberal and achieving the mayoralty on five occasions. In 1851 Louis Kossuth, the famous Hungarian freedom fighter, stayed at Andrews’s house in Winchester during his visit to England. Kossuth was met at the docks by a mayoral party and large enthusiastic crowds and was then taken by carriage to the coach factory in Above Bar Street where he gave a speech from the balcony overlooking the street (image 3 below).

Richard Andrews died on the 28 March 1859, his last severe illness lasting five months. The pallbearers at his funeral were, at his request, twelve of his workmen who had been in his employ twenty years. A statue of him, designed by fellow Liberal Philip Brannon, was erected by public subscription and sited in East Park, afterwards alternatively referred to as Andrews' Park. The foundation stone of the monument was laid on 1 October 1860 and it is a measure of Andrews’ popularity that four thousand people assembled to see the stone laying ceremony.

1. Richard Andrews

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A fine portrait of Richard Andrews as a young man, c.1838

2. Small Pony Carriage Built by Andrews

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Queen Victoria in her pony carriage at Osborne House, 1890.

3. Andrews Coach Factory, Above Bar Street, November 1851

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An engraving of the coach factory on the occasion of the visit of Louis Kossuth in 1851. The engraving is from the Illustrated London News of 1st November, 1851 p545.


See also:


Further reading:

Southampton People, by John Edgar Mann. (HS/t)
Familiar and Forgotten, by Southampton Art Gallery. (HS/t)
Illustrated London News, 1 November 1851 p550
History of Southampton, Volume 2, by A. Temple Patterson, p9-10, 30-31. (HS/h)
A tribute to the memory of Alderman Richard Andrews delivered on occasion of his decease, at the chapel, Upper Canal Walk, Southampton, on Sunday evening, April 3, 1859; with a brief memoir, by the Reverend Edmund Kell (HS/h)


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