Webpage created: February 10, 2019
Webpage updated: January 02, 2020
HENRY FRANCIS WHITFELD (1853-1908)
Henry Francis Whitfeld was the author of the massive "Plymouth and Devonport in Times of War and Peace", the second edition of which was published in 1900.
Born in Plymouth in November 1853, his grandfather was the first master of the Grey Coat School and his grandmother was the first mistress of the Plymouth Public Free Schools. His father, also Henry, was a brush maker who had a reputation as a composer of music.
He was educated at the Plymouth Public Free Schools and then, from the age of 12 until he was 16, at the Corporation Grammar School. He was chosen one year for the annual castigation on the occasion of "Beating the Bounds", when he surprised the gathering by standing up and making a speech after receiving the usual five shillings from the Mayor.
Upon leaving school the young Henry was apprenticed as a journalist at the Western Daily Mercury. He was soon made district reporter at Exeter but returned to Plymouth eight years later to become the chief reporter. He very quickly rose to become the editor of the paper, the circulation of which increased from 2,000 to 8,000 as a result. Unfortunately the paper changed hands and he found he could not get on with the new owners so he was sacked.
In 1891, with the help and support of some of his political friends, he formed a company in order to acquire what was then the Devonport Independent, of which he then became editor. He became acutely aware of the slum housing conditions in the area around Morice Square and as "The Boy from the Back of Morice Square" wrote series of investigative articles on the subject. This he followed up with a pamphlet entitled "The Curse of Devonport". After being elected to serve on the Town Council as a representative for the Clowance Ward, he found himself elected as chairman of the Corporation's new Housing of the Working Classes Committee. In that capacity he laid the foundation stone of new houses in James Street, Devonport.
Mr Henry Francis Whitfeld died at his residence, number 20 Torrignton Place, North Road, Plymouth, on Saturday July 11th 1908. He was survived by his wife, a son, and two daughters. The funeral took place at the Plymouth, Stonehouse and Devonport Cemetery (now Ford Park Cemetery) on Wednesday July 15th 1908.
It should be noted that throughout the his life he and his family were listed as "Whitfield" in the census returns. He is recorded as "Whitfeld" at death.