Thomas Baker is first recorded in Southampton in 1767. For nearly 40 years he ran an extensive business as printer, publisher, bookseller, bookbinder, newspaper agent and library proprietor from premises at 142 High Street. Over 40 titles are recorded as coming from his presses between 1774 and 1800, an output rivalled locally only by James Robbins of Winchester. He specialized in guide books for the new generation of visitors and residents attracted by the development of Southampton as a spa town. A member of the powerful Congregational church in the town, he published several of the sermons of the Reverend William Kingsbury, minister of Above Bar Independent Chapel. A radical politician, he similarly put his press at the disposal of his political allies. In his early days he was connected with both the Salisbury Journal and the Hampshire Chronicle as journalist, agent and (briefly) as part proprietor of the Chronicle. His circulating library was reported to hold over 7,000 volumes in 1798.
He became free of the Stationers' Company in June 1789, and three of his sons were subsequently bound to him as apprentice booksellers: Thomas (1791), Edward (1792) and Alfred (1793). Thomas junior became a partner in the firm in 1802. Thomas senior quit the business in 1805 and died the following year. His eldest son and (after c.1826) eldest grandson - both Thomas Baker - continued as printers, publishers, bookbinders and stationers in Southampton and London. The family's business interests in Southampton ended in 1830, poisoned by the collapse of the Southampton Mercury, printed, published and edited by his son and grandson. The true legatee of Thomas Baker was his son-in-law Isaac Fletcher. In parallel with his booktrade interests, Thomas was also a Baltic trader in timber, iron and hemp.
A Check-list of works printed by Thomas Baker, the High Street, Southampton, 1774-1805 (typescript bibliography submitted in part requirement for the University of London Diploma in Librarianship, May 1955), by Diana M Marshallsay. (HS/x/BAK)
Benjamin Collins and the provincial newspaper trade in the eighteenth century, by C Y Ferdinand. (072.0903)
Printers, booksellers and libraries in Hampshire, 1750-1800, by John Oldfield. (H/y)
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