Andrew Forbes came to Southampton in May 1840 as partner to Isaac Fletcher and his eldest son Thomas in the long-established firm of booksellers, bookbinders, printers and publishers operating from 143 High Street. The firm traded as Fletcher, Forbes, and Fletcher.

Little has been found of Forbes's early life. He had previously worked in London, and had been born at Mile End in Middlesex.

Andrew Forbes and Isaac Fletcher were both active nonconformists and were part of the breakaway movement which led to the creation of the Albion Congregational Chapel: Forbes was an original member of the establishing committee set up in August 1843 and was joint secretary of the subscription committee established the following year. His marriage to Rebecca Lankester at the chapel on 13 January 1846 brought him within the circle of one of the most important nonconformist and politically radical families in the town. Christened in the Ipswich Street Independent [Congregationalist] Chapel in Stowmarket on 2 June 1819, Rebecca was the niece of Henry Bloomfield Lankester who had moved to Southampton from Stowmarket in 1800 to establish the ironfoundry that bore the family name for a century. She was, therefore, a cousin to William and Joseph Lankester, chief movers in the establishment of Albion Chapel. A brother, Joseph Antrim Lankester, who inherited the family's wine and spirit trade in Stowmarket, was a leading member of the Congregational Chapel there and for many years was treasurer of the Suffolk Congregational Union.

The trading partnership between Andrew Forbes and the Fletchers pere et fils lasted until August 1845, when Thomas left to set up on his own account. Isaac Fletcher retired in August 1846, on grounds of advancing age. Forbes took as his new partner Thomas Knibb, who between March 1840 and January 1846 - when he sold out to Edward Benham - had been a bookseller, engraver and circulating library proprietor in Colchester, with premises at 15 High Street.

Thomas Knibb sold his half partnership in September 1851 to Thomas Marshall, then of Aylesbury, and moved to Leamington Spa where, with his two sons, he ran a bookselling business and circulating library from 6 Upper Parade.

Forbes and Marshall traded as booksellers, stationers and bookbinders until December 1854, when Marshall left. Some time previously a new partner, George Pittman, had been taken into the printing side of the business and after Marshall's departure he became a full partner. Pittman had previously run a bookshop, stationery and printing business in Salisbury. He lived in some style at Sea Side Cottage in St Denys, a ten-roomed house with a frontage of 130 feet to the River Itchen. This partnership was dissolved c.1861.

Forbes's final partner was James Joel Bennett, described in the 1861 census - when he was living in Waterloo Road, Millbrook - as a stationer employing 13 men. Southampton-born Bennett may have been relatively new to the business. The 1851 census sees him, aged 34, as a brewer's clerk in Stratford le Bow. The partnership was dissolved in August 1863, with Bennett, after running the business on his own account for a while, moving to Islington, described in the 1871 census as a retired publisher and in 1881 as an accountant (with offices in Ludgate Circus).

Less than a fortnight after the break-up, Andrew Forbes faced a petition of bankruptcy, with over £10,000 in debts. It was the culmination of a long struggle for solvency. Mortgages totalling £2,600 had been secured against his High Street premises in 1846 and 1858, the latter held by members of the Lankester family. Andrew's mother, Elizabeth Forbes - now a widow and living with her son - had transferred insurance policies valued at over £1,000 to him in December 1854. The bankruptcy had a domino effect. It brought about the "immediate sale" in October 1863 of all the contents of his residence - Hamilton House in Totton - and the bankruptcy of his mother, who filed for bankruptcy on 26 September 1863 with debts of about £1,300 caused from having become surety for her son's debts. His mother's plight was such that her creditors allowed her £2 per week on which to live until her examination was heard. The final dividend on Andrew's bankruptcy was not paid until December 1880.

After the bankruptcy, Andrew and Rebecca Forbes moved to Bristol where, in the 1871 census, he is described as an accountant. Rebecca returned to Southampton on her husband's death, recorded in the 1881 census in the household of Charles Lankester, son of her cousin William and now head of the family ironfounding business. She died on 23 February 1894, aged 74 years, then resident in a lodging house in Rose Road.


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