Yeovil people

William Beale Collins

Printer and Bookseller


William Beale Collins was born in Yeovil in 1854, the son (and possibly only child) of a shoe maker also named William Beale Collins (1804-1874) originally from Weymouth, Dorset, and Yeovil-born Ann née Denman (1814-1881). In the 1861 census William, Ann and 6-year old William Jnr were living in Wine Street with William Snr's daughter in law Matilda Denman. William Snr gave his occupation as a shoe maker and Ann gave hers as a leather glove maker.

By the time of the 1871 census the family had moved to Vicarage Street. 67-year old William Snr gave his occupation as a cordwainer and William Jnr, now aged 15, was working as a printer's compositor. In 1874 William Snr died and Ann was to die in 1881.

In the spring of 1876 William Jnr married Sarah Dark (1852-1922) at Yeovil. They were to have 11 children, three of whom died in infancy and all born in Yeovil, including Florence Hannah (1874-1874), Annie Beale (b1876), Beatrice Alice (1879-1881), Arthur Beale (b1880), Amy B (b1882), Ethel Sarah (b1884), Gertrude M (b1885), Mabel Victoria (b1887), Harold Beale (1891-1970) and Gordon Caines Beale (1894-1967).

William and Sarah set up home at 33 Reckleford and were listed there with their first three children in the 1881 census. William gave his occupation as a printer. In the following 1891 census the family had moved to 2 Oxford Villas in Earle Street. William and Sarah were listed with Annie, Arthur, Amy, Ethel, Gertrude and Mabel. William gave his occupation as a jobbing printer.

Certainly by 1896 William had established his own printing, bookselling and stationery business at 3 Princes Street - the premises had been established as a print-works and a bookshop and stationery shop in the 1830s by William Porter and later run by Henry Marsh Custard. The Collins family were listed living there in the 1901 census. William gave his occupation as a printer and bookseller while his four daughters Annie, Amy, Ethel and Gertrude (aged 24, 18, 17 and 16 respectively) all worked as assistants in the bookshop.

During the 1880s William was Honorary Secretary of the Yeovil branch of the YMCA. On 23 April 1896 he joined the Freemason's Yeovil Lodge of Brotherly Love, becoming Worshipful Master in 1909. At the turn of the century he was a member of the Yeovil & District Council of Evangelical Free Churches.

In Collin's Yeovil Directory of 1907 (produced by William himself) W Beale Collins was listed twice; as printers & publishers of Princes Street and also as picture frame makers of Princes Street. William was also socially active, for example organising excursions - one such excursion to London for some 550 people in 1910 is detailed below. He also gave lectures, recitals, and so on. In June 1908 William initiated a meeting at Maynard's Restaurant in the Borough which resulted in the formation of the Yeovil Bowling Club. He became the club's Honorary Secretary.

In the 1911 census the family were still at 3 Princes Street. William gave his occupation as a printer and bookseller while Annie, Amy and Gertrude were still working in the shop as assistants. Harold and Gordon were both listed as printers but 20-year old Harold was also listed as a photographer - and I'm guessing it was Harold who took the photographs for the postcards (see Gallery) the business produced.

Just a few weeks after the census, at The Nursing Home, Kingston, William died on 20 May 1911. He was aged 57. His will was probated in the August and his effects valued at £2,812 0s 6d (about £1.5 million at today's value). Sarah died, aged 71, on 1 July 1922 at Briarley, Hendford.

The business was carried on into the 1920s (at least) by William's children and they appear to have expanded the variety of their business since in the 1919 edition of Kelly's Directory not only was the firm of WB Collins listed as printers of 3 Princes Street, but also as fancy goods dealer of the same address.  




From my collection

William Beale Collins in Masonic regalia.


The surviving part of Earle Street today, looking towards the bus station. Photographed 2013. The Collins family lived in Oxford Villas at right during the 1890s.


This photograph features in my book "Yeovil In 50 Buildings"

The building Nos 1&3 Princes Street seen from High Street with Westminster Street to the left and Princes Street to the right. Photographed in 2017. William Beale Collins ran his printing and bookselling business from No 3 - the right hand third of the building - from around 1896 until the early 1920s and lived with his family in the accommodation above the business premises.


An advertisement from the 18 December 1896 edition of the Western Chronicle. The "oldest bookselling and stationery business in Yeovil" claim refers to the earlier business on the premises run by William Porter and, later, Henry Marsh Custard.


Courtesy of Olly Ewens

This photograph is from a 1952 newspaper article and was taken on the occasion of the opening of Sidney Gardens in June 1898. The group, photographed with the Mayor, Mr John Vincent, has as its background the thatched bandstand given by Mr James Bazeley Petter to mark the opening. Standing (left to right) are: - E Benson, W Summers, J Kerby Whitby, Mr Brown, William Maynard, GH Gould, Edward Samuel Ewens, Henry Jesty (mace-bearer), William W Johnson, Charles J Hook, John Bazeley Petter (donor), W Armitage (Borough Surveyor), John Howe Farley, Walter J Nosworthy, William Beale Collins (presumably holding a celebratory photograph), Charles Fox. Sitting - Levi Beer, CW Pittard, Sidney Watts, Mrs Vincent, John Vincent (Mayor), Joseph Chaffey Moore, William Cox.


A colourised photograph of the presentation of the Sidney Gardens fountain on 24 May 1899. You'd have thought at least one of 'em could have raised a slight smile. William Beale Collins is No 29 on the drawing below.

So, who was who? Unfortunately only some of the gathering are known, these are as follows -
1 Cllr GH Gould, 2 Cllr Edward Samuel Ewens, 4 Cllr William W Johnson, 5 G Gawler, 6 Cllr James Bazeley Petter, 7 WG Armytage (Borough Surveyor), Henry Jesty (Mace Bearer), 9 Cllr Charles Hook, 10 JK Whitby, 11 Cllr HF Raymond, 14 William Maynard, 15 Alderman Sidney Watts, 16 Miss Watts, 17 Miss Vincent, 18 Mrs Vincent, 20 Alderman William Cox, 22 Mayor John Vincent, 23 Alderman Joseph Chaffey Moore, 24 Cllr Charles Wreford Pittard, 25 Henry Butler Batten (Town Clerk), 26 John H Farley (who donated the fountain), 27 Ebenezer Pittard, 29 William Beale Collins.


By 1907 the business was branching out into luxury items such as leather and fancy goods and Italian marble and alabaster items as described in this Christmas advertisement in the Western Chronicle's edition of 20 December 1907.


The report in the 25 March 1910 edition of the Western Chronicle on the talk and recitals given by William to the Congregational Literary and Debating Society.


A report on an excursion to London organised by William from the 22 July 1910 edition of the Western Chronicle.


examples of postcards by William Beale Collins


From my collection. This colourised image features in my book 'Yeovil - The Postcard Collection'.

This postcard by William Beale Collins dates to about 1895. At extreme left is just seen the edge of Lindsay Denner's shop and next to it are the remaining shops before he took them over. The two men at centre are standing outside Stuckey's Bank (demolished before 1918) and between the bank building and Genge's shop is the narrow entrance to Porter's Lane (later widened to become today's Westminster Street).

William Beale Collins' own printing and bookselling premises are seen at extreme right.


Another postcard from William Beale Collins - this one dated 1904. The view was taken from outside his premises in Princes Street and again looks towards the junction with High Street and Hendford.


From my collection

An early postcard of Sidney Gardens by William Beale Collins dating to around 1900. The image is relatively crude and has been manipulated in the studio - the woman with the pram at left, for example, has been painted onto the image.


From my collection

A hand-coloured postcard by William Beale Collins of the cottage at Ninesprings. This card was posted in 1904.


From my collection

A real photographic postcard of Sidney Gardens, produced by William around 1905. The quality of this postcard is far superior to the previous image of Sidney Gardens and demonstrates that by this time William had excellent high-resolution printing machinery.


A hand-coloured postcard of Princes Street, dating to around 1905, produced by William Beale Collins and showing his own premises at left.


From my collection

A typically ornate back of a William Beale Collins turn-of-the-century postcard. Within a couple of years the backs were becoming much plainer in design.