Isaac Fletcher was a bookseller and printer in Southampton for over forty years, and a deacon of the Above Bar (1805-42) and subsequently the Albion Independent (Congregational) chapels.

The nonconformist lineage of Isaac Fletcher is impeccable. His grandfather - also Isaac (died 1720, born in the Netherlands and later of Abingdon) - was one of the founders of Congregationalism in his adopted town. His two eldest sons, Isaac (1680-1758) and Thomas (1713-1795), were respectively clerk to and a deacon of the Congregationalist meeting house in Abingdon.

Our Isaac Fletcher was the youngest of the fifteen children of Thomas Fletcher listed in Burke's Landed Gentry: born to his second wife, Elizabeth Baggs of Wantage (Berkshire), on 17 August 1775. Isaac's eldest brother - Joseph (1746-1821) - followed his father as a deacon in the Abingdon meeting house. Isaac's immediately elder brother - Richard (1766-1873) - was Congregational Minister of Bicester (Oxfordshire) for 35 years, followed into the calling (as Congregational Minister of Topsham in Devon) by his first-born son, also Richard. A sister - Rebecca (1772-1815) - married the Independent Minister of Newport, Isle of Wight, the Reverend Daniel Tyerman, in 1810. Isaac married into a family closely connected with the Above Bar Chapel in Southampton. His bride Charlotte Baker, who he married at Nursling Church on 9 June 1802 (both aged 24 years), had become a full communicant of the chapel the previous year. Her brother, Thomas Baker junior, had become a full communicant in February 1799. Isaac himself had become a full communicant in July 1798. Ten children are listed to Isaac and Charlotte in Burke's Landed Gentry, with eight appearing in the Above Bar Chapel christening registers: Thomas (born 4 May 1803 - died 30 March 1890); John (5 October 1804 - 16 May 1872); Charlotte (20 July 1806 - 13 March 1858); William (13 January 1808 - 23 November 1840); Mary (14 February 1809 - 3 April 1897); Elizabeth (11 February 1810 - 10 August 1841); Martha (12 August 1811 - 31 December 1893); Emma (born 1813); Isaac Brackstone (4 January 1815 - 11 February 1901); Richard (7 May 1816 - 29 March 1874).

In the early 1840s Isaac was one of the prime movers for the establishment of a second Congregational chapel in the town, in St Mary's parish, opened in September 1844. He was on the establishing committee, was amongst the first deacons, presented the first pulpit and moved the resolution which designated the new place of worship as 'Albion Chapel'.

The London Missionary Society, formed in 1795 as a non-denominational society but with a strong Congregationalist presence, was intimately associated with Above Bar Chapel, especially under the pastorship of the Reverend Thomas Adkins. Three of Isaac's five daughters married into the society and themselves served overseas. Martha Fletcher married the Reverend William Garland Barrett, LMS missionary in Jamaica and British Guiana, on 21 October 1834: their offspring included George Slatyer Barrett (1839-1916), later a leading figure in the Congregational church, William Fletcher Barrett (1844-1921), physicist and parapsychologist, knighted in 1912, and Rosa Mary Barrett (1855-1936), social reformer and feminist. The latter two have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Mary Fletcher married the Reverend John Lumb, LMS missionary in Madras and twenty years her senior, on 25 July 1838. Elizabeth Fletcher married the Reverend William Flower, son of a local Congregationalist Minister (the Reverend John Flower of Titchfield), on 8 February 1839, two days after he had been ordained at the Above Bar Chapel. Two months later they sailed to southern India to begin work for the LMS in Surat. Elizabeth herself had been a Sunday School teacher and tract distributor for the Above Bar Chapel (The Mirror of Sunday School Teaching by the Reverend Thomas Timpson, 1848). Elizabeth died in Poona of dysentery in August 1841.

The London Missionary Society connection was strengthened by the Reverend Daniel Tyerman, Isaac's son-in-law. After the death of his wife Rebecca he became an LMS missionary travelling extensively, in company with the Reverend George Bennett, in the Pacific islands, Australia and South Africa.

In November 1843 William Flower re-married. His new bride was Jane Fletcher, Elizabeth's niece, daughter of Isaac's brother William (1764-1844) of Henley-on-Thames, sister-in-law both of the Reverend John Goulty, Congregational Minister of Brighton, and of the Southampton solicitor Daniel Sharp, member of the Above Bar Chapel, married to her sister Sarah. Isaac Brackstone Fletcher was later apprenticed for a short period to the related firm of Southampton solicitors, Sharp, Harrison and Sharp. It is probable that Mary Lumb was, in her spinster days, one of 'The Misses Fletcher' who ran a preparatory school for young gentlemen in Southampton in the early 1830s, first at 2 Albion Place then in larger premises at 8 Laura Place (her father was the contact for those applying for terms).

Defeated by ill health, John Lumb had returned to England with his wife in 1839. The 1851 census shows them running a small school for boys under 12 years in Isaac Fletcher's former home, Monte Repos, in Bitterne: their pupils included 12-year old Eustace Hinton Jones, son of a leading coachmaker in the town and later a prolific author and newspaper editor. Mary's elder sister Charlotte may have been her confrere. The 1851 census shows her, with her husband John Gray described as an insurance clerk, as a schoolmistress in charge of Hope House School for young boys in Brixton Hill, London.

The first indication of Isaac Fletcher's business interests comes in a lease to a house in Holy Rood granted to Edward Toomer and Isaac Fletcher, ironmongers and co-partners, on 10 July 1798 (Hampshire Archives 18M67/313). Edward Toomer was a communicant of Above Bar Chapel, deacon 1805 to 1809, who in June 1790 had married Isaac Fletcher's sister Hannah. A second co-partnership, between Isaac Fletcher and William Green as corn factors - trading as Green, Fletcher and Company - was dissolved by mutual consent in June 1799, although their affairs were not wound up until early 1801. By the time of his marriage - June 1802 - Isaac is trading as a wine, coal and porter merchant from 56 High Street.

Marriage to Charlotte Baker brought Isaac into the embraces of one of the foremost business families in the town, both as Baltic merchants and as printers, publishers, bookbinders, stationers and library proprietors. Isaac entered into two separate partnerships - one for the bookselling business and the other as merchants - with his in-laws (the elder Thomas Baker before he quit the business in 1805 and then with his son). Within a decade, however, Isaac was concentrating on the latter business, first in partnership with Thomas Baker, his son-in-law, and subsequently on his own account. The Southampton Library and News Room was opened by Fletcher in May 1822. The previous month had seen the first issue of the Southampton County Chronicle, a Reformist, pro-nonconformist paper that ran until September 1824. Isaac Fletcher was owner. Thomas Baker was publisher and printer.

It was a similar foray into the uncertain world of newspaper proprietorship that brought about the fall of the house of Baker. The Southampton Mercury, owned, published and printed by Thomas Baker and his son, Thomas III, folded in November 1830 after a life of nine months. On the break-up of the partnership in May 1831, Isaac purchased their long-established printing office and wholesale stationery works in Butcher Row, which he continued, originally under the form Fletcher and Sons, in conjunction with his own printing works and shop at 143 High Street. The first partners were his two eldest sons, Thomas and John, but by c.1835 John had left the partnership to set up as a porter and ale merchant. The remnant partnership between Isaac and Thomas (trading as Fletcher and Son) was augmented in May 1840 when Andrew Forbes joined the firm, now trading as Fletcher, Forbes, and Fletcher. Andrew Forbes was a fellow Congregationalist, active in the creation of the Albion Chapel, who in January 1846 was to marry Rebecca Lankester, member of one of the most influential Congregationalist and politically radical families in the town.

Thomas left the partnership in August 1845 to become a bookseller and stationer in London. Isaac retired from the business on 26 August 1846, feeling (to quote his public notice of withdrawal) "constrained, from advancing years, to transfer the pleasure of serving you to others". His share was transferred to Thomas Knibb, a man with long experience in bookselling and the paper trade, although Isaac continued to run two profitable sidelines - as sub-distributor of stamps and agent for the Imperial Fire Insurance Company - from the premises.

The new partnership, trading as Forbes and Knibb, immediately revamped the business, selling off the greater portion of the extensive stock of books, prints, writing desks, work boxes and fancy stationary "at a considerable reduction for ready money".

John Fletcher returned to the second-hand bookselling trade in the early 1860s, with shops at, respectively, 30 Hanover Buildings and 111 High Street. Isaac's youngest son, Richard, also became a printer and stationer, recorded in the 1871 census in Cannon Row in Westminster. He was, as his elder brother John, unmarried. The Norwich printer Josiah Fletcher (1806-76), Liberal in politics, a Congregationalist (with family ties to the Reverend George Barrett) and a founder of the Norfolk News in January 1845, was cousin to Isaac Fletcher, eldest son of his brother William.

Isaac Fletcher was throughout his adult life a Liberal in politics. He was a Pavement Commissioner and a Waterworks Commissioner, but only once stood for the Town Council: in November 1840 when he was beaten by the Tory candidate in St Lawrence's Ward after a bitter contest. He owned considerable property in Southampton and neighbourhood, including Baron Cottage in Hill, Woolston Lodge (his residence in the early/mid 1840s) and Monte Repos in Bitterne, where he died on 18 September 1850. His wife, Charlotte, had predeceased him by seventeen years, buried in the Above Bar Chapel burying ground on 10 May 1833. Isaac was buried in the same cemetery. Isaac Brackstone Fletcher takes us into the twentieth century. A chemist and druggist in Totton, he died on 11 February 1901.


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