Monday, December 17, 2007

William Wheeler Yelf - One Man's Downfall - Part 1

Anyone interested in researching the Yelf family history will at some point or another hope to obtain a copy of "Printers Pride 1816 - 1966" by A.N. Daish. This tells the story of Yelf & Son Printers at Newport, Isle of Wight. It's a good read too, although some of the early family history is a little bit suspect (the author confuses several Robert Yelf's, which is easily done, and also latches on to some incorrect family legends such as the Dutch connection). Of course the sections we can treat with a great deal more respect are those dealing directly with the dynasty of printers themselves. Except, it seems, where there might be a whiff of scandal in the air...

When I first read the book many years ago the following passage concerning the second and third generation of Yelf owners had nothing in it to suggest that anything out of the ordinary
The business plate of William Wheeler Yelf, son of the first William, remains in place today on the front door of Number 15 Holyrood Street. The second W is overstamped with an R recording the succession of William Richard to the business in 1856 on the death of his father. Although William Richard may not have been able to afford a completely new business plate (or was he possessed of a keener sense of historical values?) he appears to have prospered since by the 1880's he was using the imprint Isle of Wight Steam Printing Works
Pretty innocuous really, and not much to raise the suspicion of anything wrong. However the succession from William to Richard took place following William Wheeler's death in a London prison whilst awaiting deportation! The 'keener sense of historical values' takes on a slightly different connotation in this light and suggets to me that the author might well have had some inkling of the traumatic events that rocked the business at this time, although it is now impossible to know for sure. Certainly writing in the '60's he would probably not have had such easy access to the records that we of the internet age enjoy so let's give him the benefit of the doubt.

So who exactly was William Wheeler Yelf? Well, he was born in about 1801, the son of William Yelf who founded the printing business in Newport, Isle of Wight. He married Elizabeth Jane Outridge and they in turn had six children - William, Harold, Elizabeth, Agnes, Gertrude and Clara. Although his main business lay with the printing, he had other interests, as a look through the trade directories of the time shows
Piggots Directory 1831 - Newport Isle of Wight
Savings Bank - Guidhall (open every Monday morning from nine till ten) Wm Yelf, Secretary
Bookbinders - Yelf William W. Holyrood St.
Fire & Office Agent - London Union William W. Yelf Holyrood Street
Printer - William W. Yelf Holyrood Street
Misc. - Willington & Yelf Law Stationers and Stamp distributors, Holyrood Street
The Yelfs were also staunch followers of the Wesleyan movement and the first William Yelf founded the Wesleyan Methodist Sunday School in 1810. In 1816 William Wheeler Yelf became a teacher there and eventually became a superintendent between 1826 to 1839. Not surprisingly he also seems to have attracted more than his fair share of religious printing jobs! William Wheeler was also secretary of the Blue School, a girl's charity school in Newport, subscriber to the relief of the poor and prominent in the list of charitable donations. All in all he seems to have been a respected, religious and successful businessman. In fact as Daish notes
It may be suggested from his prompt payments that W. W. Yelf had a sound business awareness
Sadly that image wasn't to remain untarnished for long as his 'business awareness' was found not only to be sound, but unscrupulous as well!

To be continued

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Yelf Family - Publicans!

This post consist of a couple of items from 'Yelf's Taps', Ryde on the Isle of Wight. The first of these consists of some beer bottles that I shamelessly requested when I visited about 20 years ago. I had seen 'Yelf's Taps' in about 1984 and was fascinated by what was obviously a pub that hadn't been touched since the second world war. Trying to get into it was a bit of an adventure as the entrance led on to several corridors that eventually led me to a 'snug' with a coal fire and the walls covered with badges donated by all the units that had passed through Ryde, presumably on their way to Normandy and beyond. By the time I re-visited a few years later this seemed to have been swept away and a new downstairs bar was up and running. This bar had the legend of the two Dutch Yelf brothers and a secret tunnel supposedly joining the Hotel and the Pub! Anyway, I was lucky enough to be given a couple of the old beer bottles that were behind the bar that were embossed with the Yelf name. Very nice mementos they were too!
The second item is one that turned up on ebay recently, but which I wasn't quick enough off the mark to nab. This was a beer-mat that must have graced one of the tables in Yelf's Taps at some point before somehow ending up on ebay for avid beer-mat collectors to fight over. Still, I was able to grab the photo which was a bonus I suppose...
I'll be updating this entry if I come across any more brewery related items in the future.