I’ve let myself down again – perhaps no surprise to regular readers, but seduced by price, a pretty binding and perhaps a hint of aristocratic pedigree, I’ve acquired a book by an author I have been promising myself never, ever, to buy again for at least the last thirty years – an author totally unfashionable, verging on the completely unsaleable, and almost wholly unread since the days of the late Queen Victoria. In truth he was an author already distinctly unfashionable even while she was still young. William Harrison Ainsworth (1805-1882) of course and his “Windsor Castle” (1843) – forgotten now but a smash hit when it first appeared at the height of his fame and popularity.
His was a career remarkable for its initial success and all too dramatic decline. As John Sutherland wrote, “Many would have backed Ainsworth’s talent against Dickens’s in 1840. In the 1860s Dickens was earning £10,000 a novel, Ainsworth a hundredth of that sum; Dickens was buying Gadshill, Ainsworth was forced to sell his property piecemeal” (J. A. Sutherland, ‘Lever and Ainsworth: Missing the First Rank’, Victorian Novelists and Publishers (1976), p.160 – cited in ODNB). At his peak Ainsworth started his own “Ainsworth’s Magazine” at the beginning of 1842 and it was so successful that plans to issue his new novel “Windsor Castle” in the standard monthly parts – an initial print run of 10,000 copies had been announced – were shelved in favour of increasing the price of the magazine and running the new novel in that. The July 1842 issue of “Ainsworth’s”, in which the first instalment appeared, sold out in a single day and had to be rapidly reprinted. It was the best thing Ainsworth had ever done according to the pundits – and it remains a spirited version of the perennially fascinating tale of Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, Cardinal Wolsey, Jane Seymour, etc. – here given an unorthodox twist by the intervention of Herne the Hunter.
Henry Colburn bought the book rights and published it in three volumes on 10th May 1843 – three weeks before the serialisation in “Ainsworth’s” came to an end in the June 1843 issue. The book was rather a staid affair, no doubt intended mainly for the libraries, with just three frontispiece illustrations by the great George Cruikshank. But this wasn’t what the public wanted. The public demanded – and soon got – a more reasonably priced one-volume edition with all the Cruikshank plates that had appeared in the magazine – not just all fourteen of the Cruikshank plates, but the other four by the mercurial Frenchman, Antoine “Tony” Johannot, with which publication had commenced, plus all eighty-seven of the wood-engravings in the text engraved by the best hands in London from the designs of William Alfred Delamotte. This one-volume edition was rushed out within weeks and was available in the shops by the 8th July 1843 – just a month after the serialisation had finished.
The three-volume edition takes precedence and it goes against all the known tenets of book-collecting lore, but you would have to be slightly touched to favour the three-volume version over the feast of Victorian illustration to be had in this one-volume edition (although a serious collector would obviously need to have both). The one-volume edition is simply much closer to the spirit of the original magazine appearance. This was evidently the view of owner of this copy who had it handsomely rebound in crimson morocco (the jaunty original cloth gilt carefully preserved at the rear) something over a hundred years ago.
“Bound by Worsfold” reads the tiny and oh-so discreet stamp. Not a name that I can recall having seen before – but this is evidently the work of a top-notch West End binder to the carriage trade. A search online reveals nothing much in the way of biography, but comes up with a considerable number of books bound by the same hand, some of which are illustrated here. Although a few booksellers give him an initial ‘W.’, and a few place him in London – one more specifically in Soho – curiously only a single bookseller has taken the trouble to look up and give us his first name – William – or at least to look it up and get it right (he wasn’t called Charles and he certainly wasn’t the same man as the author, lawyer and journalist William Basil Worsfold, as is claimed on ABE, that home of bibliographical disinformation). Do we as a trade not think that our customers might care to know exactly whom it was who bound the book we are offering?
The single bookseller, the honourable exception, is David Brass, whose family roots in the trade go back far enough for his forebears almost certainly to have known William Worsfold personally, but Maurice Packer’s “Bookbinders of Victorian London” (1991) is readily available to the rest of us to confirm the name and place him at 12 Frith Street, Soho, from 1889 onwards. But beyond a reference to an earlier bookbinder of the same name, active in 1853, that is as far as the record goes. Here’s a little more.
William Thomas Jennings Worsfold (1856-1929), to give him the full name he only used on formal occasions, was born at Southwark in the latter part of 1856 – the eldest child of William Jennings Worsfold (1835?-1892) and his wife Sarah Hacon (1833-1887), who had married at Lambeth earlier that same year. His father was also a bookbinder, specifically a finisher, while his mother was the daughter of a local carpenter.
The Worsfolds were a bookbinding family. Worsfold’s grandfather – the William Worsfold from 1853 noted by Packer – was a somewhat peripatetic journeyman, but is recorded working for the bookbinder William Hatchard of Brompton back in the 1830s, when Worsfold’s father was born. The grandfather had married Maria Jennings at St. Martin in the Fields in 1824 and the 1851 census return records Maria Worsfold, née Jennings, as herself a bookbinder, with her son at that time an apprentice. The family tradition may go back farther still: the British Book Trade Index contains a fragmentary record of an even earlier William Worsfold working as a bookbinder in London in 1803.
Born and bred to the trade, a third or fourth generation bookbinder, William Thomas Jennings Worsfold married Jane Eliza Little (1858-1942), the daughter of an Islington glass-cutter, at St. Mary Newington on 25th October 1879. They were to have nine children in all, six of whom survived to adulthood. It was close-knit family. In 1881 Worsfold’s parents were living at 41 Tracey Street, Kennington, with his younger brother, Thomas Jennings Worsfold (1858-1929) – also a finisher – while he and his new wife and an infant daughter were living two doors away at No. 45. The brother later moved in with Worsfold and his wife – until he himself married somewhat late in life – and was almost certainly actively involved in the business which Worsfold was to set up at 12 Frith Street in or about 1889. It was a stable business and Worsfold remained at that same address for over thirty years – until at least 1923, when he probably retired. A son, William Thomas Worsfold (b.1882), had joined the business as a clerk at one point, but subsequently became a civil servant, while a younger son, Thomas Henry Worsfold (b.1891), was certainly trained as a bookbinder and was working with his father in 1911.
The family lived at various addresses in South London until settling at 14 Cicely Road, Peckham, where Worsfold and his wife spent the last thirty or forty years of their lives. Worsfold died – a couple of months after his younger brother – on the 3rd September 1929. Probate on an estate valued at £5,014.17s.8d. was granted to his widow on 13th November.
There is still more to be discovered – particularly on the earlier Worsfolds – but for anyone with a particular interest in Worsfold of Frith Street, or indeed in a bookbinder’s workshop practice of the late nineteenth century, there is an 1894 interview with him buried away in the Charles Booth Archive at the London School of Economics (BOOTH/B/101, pp.79-82), as well as a completed wage questionnaire from September 1893 in the same place (BOOTH/A/16, p.10). There’s always a space here for anyone who wants to seek them out and write them up.