Gilbert Barber was a solicitor in Southampton between c.1849 and his death in April 1857. In politics he was a partisan Conservative.

Gilbert Barber was born in Gosport on 31 March 1804. He grew up in the County Bridewell at Gosport, where his father, William Barber, was governor for upwards of 25 years. Two of Gilbert's brothers maintained the family connection with the prison service. An elder brother, William, was governor of the County Bridewell in Winchester between October 1832 and March 1839, and then governor of the County Gaol until his resignation in January 1849. His wife (whom he married in January 1836) was the daughter of the late John White, a third-generation governor of the county gaol. A younger brother, Henry, was assistant keeper of the County Bridewell (under his brother), keeper of the County Bridewell at Odiham, 1834-9, keeper of the County Bridewell at Winchester, 1839-49 and keeper of the new County Gaol at Winchester, 1850-65.

We first find Gilbert as a solicitor in Winchester in 1837, originally in partnership with Frederick Caiger. His marriage, on 3 October 1837 at Gosport, to Caroline Meare (ten years his junior) brought Gilbert into the sphere of an old established Winchester family. Caroline was the second daughter of Edward Meare (1786-1837), solicitor of Winchester and close relative (younger brother?) of John Meare, another Winchester solicitor, alderman, mayor in 1812-13, steward of the Hospital of St Cross and registrar of the Peculiar of St Faith. On his death in 1837, Edward Meare owned valuable property in the centre of Winchester, in St George's Street and Middle Brook Street.

Gilbert's family seem to have left Winchester c.1845, living in Lambeth before moving to Southampton c.1849. Still practising as a solicitor - and as a master in chancery - Gilbert is recorded at a variety of addresses in Southampton: Winchester Terrace (1849), 14 Portland Terrace (1851-3), 12 Portland Street (1855 as a tenant paying £40 per annum) and 20 Portland Street (1857). In the mid 1850s he took Rutland Lodge in Shirley as the family residence. He died here on 14 April 1857, aged 53 years. He was buried in St Michael's church in Southampton.

Gilbert's wife, Caroline, outlived him by nearly 30 years, dying on 9 October 1885 aged 71. She was then living in Shotterville Terrace, Avenue Road, having previously lived in Spear Road, Beavis Mount and Netley Cottage in Newtown.

Five children have been found to the marriage: Gilbert (born late 1838 in Winchester); Albert William (born 1842 in Winchester); Caroline (born c.1845 in Lambeth); Louisa May (born c.1847 in Lambeth but baptized at St Mary's church, Southampton on 27 June 1857); and Alfred George (born in Southampton on 26 September 1854 and baptized at St Mary's on 2 September 1857). Caroline's unmarried elder sister, Mary Ann Meare, lived with the family until her death in 1880. Caroline's brother, Edward Meare (born September 1815) also spent the latter part of his life in Southampton, living in Gloucester Square, described as a gentleman and whose son, Edward William Meare, was baptized at All Saints on 31 October 1855. Edward senior died two years later in May 1857, aged 41, then living in Osborne Terrace.

Gilbert Barber was one of the shock troops of the Tory party in both Winchester and Southampton. He was active in the Winchester registration courts during the early 1840s, often in opposition to the Liberal Frederick Leigh, another Winchester solicitor who was to move to Southampton. In August 1841 John Coupland appointed Barber Winchester correspondent of the Tory Hampshire Advertiser with the specific task of writing down Jacob Jacob, Winchester correspondent of the rival Liberal Hampshire Independent and later part proprietor and publisher. For three months there waged an editorial war of words between Barber and Jacob of almost unparalleled personal abuse.

Fourteen years later, now living in Southampton, Barber again clashed with the Liberal elite that ran the Independent. Barber was a churchwarden for All Saints parish between April 1853 and April 1855. Henry Pond, successor to Jacob as publisher of the Independent, opposed Barber's re-election at the 1854 vestry, arguing that he had compromised his independence by transacting legal business of the Board for the overseers whilst sitting there as a guardian. His motion calling for Barber’s resignation was seconded by Thomas Leader Harman, proprietor of the Independent. Barber survived by giving a promise to give up all private legal work which impinged on his official position: or, as Henry Pond later expressed it, binding himself hand and foot not to do wrong.

Pond returned to the attack at the next vestry, moving what was in effect a vote of censure on Barber: that he had inappropriately canvassed for the post of Deputy President of the Board at the start of his second year of office; that he was still acting as solicitor for the overseers; and that his attendance (being present at only 10 of the 105 Board meetings that year) was an insult to the parish. He was joined in his attack by Timothy Falvey, editor of the Independent, who, after hearing Barber's defence, rhetorically “inquired if mortal man had ever heard such a lame story as Mr Barber had told?” With a Tory majority on the Board, Pond's motion was defeated.

A final huzzah came in the February 1857 by-election for the representation of Southampton. Gilbert Barber was principal canvasser for the Tory candidate Sir Edward Butler in St Mary's ward. His eldest son Gilbert was secretary of the St Mary's Committee working for Sir Edward's return. It appears, however, Gilbert pere overstepped his authority, acting in many people's eyes as Butler's legal agent and illegally committing election funds. A year after the election, the keeper of the Unicorn Inn in St Mary Street, Henry Grant, brought an action in Southampton County Court to recover monies for the hire of room and refreshments supplied on Barber's order. The plaint was thrown out as the judge ruled Barber was not the authorized agent. It was however a posthumous indictment on Gilbert Barber, who had died two months after the election. An exchange between counsel and the ex-candidate is recorded in the Hampshire Independent:

“Mr Pocock said they did not bring the action till after he was dead - (laughter).
Sir Edward Butler - It was a great pity he did not die two months before the election for me - (laughter)”.


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