A local author has written the biography of Richard Wake who was born in King’s Somborne in 1831 and led a wagon train across the Great Plains of North America where he founded the City of Wakefield in Kansas.

Gordon Pearson is a retired Chartered Surveyor and historic buildings consultant who has lived in the village for over forty years and this is his third book.

Although Wake’s pioneering, adventurous life is barely known over here, he is a household name in the city which bears his name which celebrates the 150th anniversary of its founding at a three-day event this August.

Wake was born into a family of blacksmiths which came to the Test Valley from Exton in the Meon Valley via Headbourne Worthy in the Itchen Valley. He was educated privately in Houghton, Stockbridge and King’s Somborne and became a devout member of the Methodist Reform Movement, later becoming a Minister and evangelist. He preached in most of the local chapels until the family moved briefly to Poole and then to Millbrook, Southampton where he met Sarah Attwood, his future wife who assisted him with his ministerial and charitable duties.

In 1854, Wake followed his older sister and brother and emigrated to America. Later, his father and younger brother were to follow. In New York and Illinois, he soon became aware of the opportunities available to immigrants who were prepared to work hard. He returned to the UK and toured Hampshire preaching the benefits of American emigration to his followers. In 1866, he arranged to meet 115 of them on the quayside in Liverpool where they crossed the Atlantic to New York and onto Chicago where he organised a wagon train for the long trek West across the Great Plains which were still prone to hostile attacks by native Americans. After travelling for three weeks, they settled in Palmyra, Nebraska where they made their home.

Flushed with success, Wake was inspired to seek more emigrants to found an English colony on a site he had chosen alongside the Republican River in Kansas. It was to be named Wakefield, after Wake. The colony grew and he lived there with Sarah and son George for many years. He died in Los Angeles in 1915.

In 1992, Gordon Pearson wrote “The Conservation of Clay and Chalk Buildings” which was published by Donhead. His second book, “The History of Up Somborne and Rookley” was published in 2016. He has researched and written on many aspects of local history since making the Test Valley his home and writes regularly for the newsletters of the Somborne & District Society.

Gordon’s latest book “The Revd Richard Wake (1831-1915) Somborne’s Pioneering American Colonist” (ISBN 978-0-9515110-8-4) is based on his diaries, augmented by local research which he has undertaken over the last two years. It includes details of other members of his family who emigrated and of the Attwood family. The book is an A4 sized softback containing 65 pages including 27 illustrations and costs £8.00 for local collection. Postage and packing is £2.00 extra. For a flyer on further information, you can contact Gordon on Copies are available to purchase from Gordon or from the Tourist Information Centre in Church Street, Romsey.