Yeovil people

John Kerbey Whitby

Bookseller, Printer & Stationer


John Kerbey (also Kerby, Kirby and Kirbey) Whitby was born in Yeovil in the autumn of 1849. He was the oldest of the four children of Yeovil bookseller, printer and stationer Ebenezer Whitby and Mary Ann Kirby née Beavis, the daughter of Abraham Beavis of Sidmouth, Devon and his wife Harriet née Kirby. In the 1851 census Ebenezer and Mary were living at 10 Peter Street with their baby son John and a house servant. 35-year-old Ebenezer gave his occupation as 'bookseller, firm of 2 employing 3 men and 5 boys'.

By the time of the 1861 census Ebenezer had moved his family to the 8 Princes Street premises, known as Albion House, and was living above his bookshop (see photograph below) with Mary, their four children John, Lucy, George and Frederick and a domestic servant. He stated his occupation in the census as 'Bookseller employing 1 man and 3 boys'. He was the owner-occupier of Albion House from 1854 until 1888. In the 1871 census he described his occupation as 'Bookseller, Printer & Stationer, Master, employing 2 men and 4 boys'. By this time Ebenezer was aged 55 and his 21-year-old son John was assisting him in the business, now known as E Whitby & Sons.

In the 1881 census Ebenezer and Mary were still living at 8 Princes Street above the bookshop with sons John who was a bookseller and Frederick who was a printer and both working in the family business. Also living with them was son George, a wool merchant, and a domestic servant. Ebenezer gave his occupation as 'Bookseller & Printer, employing 2 men and 5 boys'.

In the summer of 1884, John married Fanny Hawkins (1851-1917) at St Thomas, Devon. They were to have three sons, all Yeovil-born; Clement Hawkins (1885-1951), Horace Fred (1887-1936) and Alfred Leonard (1892-1969).

Ebenezer Whitby died in the summer of 1889 but his business was carried on as Whitby & Sons by John and Frederick well into the twentieth century and became famous for producing their Yeovil Almanack Advertiser as well as postcard views of Yeovil and illustrated books about Yeovil.

In the 1891 census, John and his family, together with his widowed mother-in-law Agnes Hawkins, and a domestic servant, were listed at 8 Princes Street. John gave his occupation simply as a bookseller.

The 1901 census again saw the family at 8 Princes Street, albeit without Agnes Hawkins. John gave his occupation as a bookseller and stationer and his son Clement gave his as a bookseller's apprentice. Also in 1901, John was appointed to the bench as a Yeovil borough magistrate.

By the time of the 1911 census, John was aged 61 and Fanny was 59. He again gave his occupation as a bookseller, stationer and printer, while 26-year old Clement gave his as  a bookseller & stationer's assistant, 24-year old Horace was a draper's assistant and 19-year old Alfred was a printer's assistant.

Fanny died in Yeovil during 1917, aged 66, and John died on 3 July 1935 in Yeovil. He was aged 86. His will was published in Bristol the following February and his estate was valued at £12,573 7s 2d (around £860,000 at today's value).

The Whitby family's business survived for more than a century, finally closing in the 1960s.


For the Whitby family tree - click here.


Whitby's advertisement in his own Yeovil Almanack Advertiser of 1888.


Ebenezer Whitby & Son's bookshop, printers and stationers in Albion House, 8 Princes Street with a pair of single Sugg lamps outside. This photograph was taken about 1900.


A photograph of the southern end of Princes Street, looking towards High Street, and dating to around 1900. All the buildings in this photograph survive to this day - the planners and developers must be holding their breath waiting to destroy these buildings like they've done to much of the rest of the town!


A photograph of the northern end of Princes Street dating to around 1900. At right, at this time the Assembly Rooms were known as the 'Palace of Varieties' as indicated by the vertical sign attached to it. The three impressive three-storey residences at left, beyond Whitby's ivy-clad shop, Albion House, are Bryndene, Wyndham House and Old Sarum House.


Same view, slightly different viewpoint, photographed around 1910.


From my collection  -  This photograph features in my book 'Yeovil From Old Photographs'.

A head-on photograph of Whitby & Son's premises from the 1906 edition of the Homeland Handbook.


A 1920s postcard of the same view. Wyndham House retains its small front garden and young tree, but notice how part of the pavement of the previous photograph has been whittled away in front of Whitby's shop premises.


Courtesy of Tracey Williams

Whitby's bookshop, photographed in the 1960s.