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Alfred Barnard was one of eight children born to a draper and grocer in Thaxted, a village in Essex in England. In 1859 he married Fanny Ruffle who, like him, was 22 years old. They had two daughters and a son, and according to their children's successive birth certificates, Barnard moved from being a toilet soap exporter to a merchant and then to a gentleman. Meanwhile the family's address moved steadily upmarket from Islington to Cavendish Square, both in London.
In 1885, Barnard was working for Harper's Weekly Gazette which was, according to some sources a weekly journal devoted to the British wine and spirit trade. It is not clear whether the Gazette was linked with the much better known and surprisingly closely named Harper's Weekly, the US political and general interest periodical published by Harper & Brothers from 1857 until 1916. Either way, Barnard conceived the idea of visiting every working whisky distillery in Great Britain and Ireland with the aim of producing an article about each for the Gazette. Between 1885 and 1887 he visited a remarkable 162 distilleries; of which 129 were in Scotland, 29 were in Ireland and 4 were in England. As well as publishing articles in the Gazette, he published the magnificent The Whisky Distilleries of the United Kingdom. Counting the adverts in the back, this came to some 500 pages and included historical and technical information about every distillery, and engravings of many of them.
Very few copies of the original edition still exist, but a facsimile reprint was issued in 1987, and the book has gone from strength to strength since. Alfred Barnard can be thought of as a pioneer in the now popular art of writing about whisky and distilleries. His comprehensive (and surprisingly entertaining) approach has meant that his book continues to be the definitive guide to the state of the industry in 1887, and it remains especially relevant in Scotland.
Barnard followed up his book on distilleries with The noted breweries of Great Britain and Ireland, published in three volumes and based on a tour of 110 breweries in Great Britain and Ireland. He died in Croydon, south of London, in 1918 at the age of 81.