Real Books, Real People

A week of book-fairs and nowadays a whole series of related events – visits, talks and tours – all under a festival heading of “Rare Books London 2017”.  No sparing of effort, much time generously given – applause and a heartfelt thank-you to all concerned.

Maggs ExteriorHighlight for me was seeing most of the great and good of the rare book trade in Bedford Square the other evening to celebrate the return of the full Maggs Brothers operation to central London.  When Maggs left their grand old premises in Berkeley Square, some eighteen months ago now, we were all left feeling a little bereft – a flotilla without a flagship.  A toehold was kept with the little shop in Curzon Street and the intention to return in full strength was always made explicit, but the months dragged by.

MaggsWindowThe new premises are on the south side of Bedford Square – at No. 48, you will need to know this.  I may be imagining it, but they seem even grander than the old ones.  The building was actually acquired about a year ago, but fitting out a listed building for a new purpose in life is not done without much time, expense and anxiety.  Consents are needed to do this, that, or the other, to a listed building – and Ed Maggs and his colleagues were concerned above all to get everything right – that’s always been the Maggs ethos. Where changes have been made they have been minimal, sympathetic, and all intended to restore the building to what it would originally have been, not what it had become with the hotchpotch alterations of the passing years.  There were issues over floorboards and railings, delays and setbacks from suppliers – and that’s not to mention the sheer logistics of moving perhaps 100,000 books out of London into storage and then back again.


Maggs SignFor all the anxiety and tension this must have entailed, it’s all worked – and worked supremely well.  There are finishing touches still to be put – the sign outside (permission needed) is a temporary one until the real thing in real slate can be manufactured – but inside it already looks as if Maggs have been bookselling there for the last 100 years.  The displays are perhaps a little more consciously “curated” than in the past, but that’s the modern way.

MaggsModernBook-fairs are all very well and certainly have their uses – I could barely carry home my purchases at Olympia yesterday and today’s bags from the PBFA fair were even heavier – but fairs can never be the bedrock on which a flourishing rare book trade is built.  They are the icing.  They don’t create collectors.  I was forcibly reminded of this only the other day when putting the finishing touches to an insurance valuation of the book collection of a good customer and friend of mine who died, some years ago now, but far too young.  He would never have started collecting as seriously as he eventually did unless he had got to know me gradually over the years by dropping into my old shop when he was passing.  I could never have helped him put together such a valuable collection through chance encounters at book fairs.  To do these things needs friendship, trust, collaboration and a fixed abode.

MaggsOldBooksOnly good bookshops can initiate and build these things – as Robert Harding noted the other night in his welcoming speech (Ed Maggs’ voice had apparently given way) – it’s all about real books and real people.  That’s the Maggs way and, in my time and in my view at least – Maggs has not only been a good bookshop, but the best – the very best.

They are back in town.  Welcome home.  Bloomsbury now, rather than Mayfair – we can hear the geographical axis of the trade shifting accordingly.

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Gertie Wentworth-James

girldownstairsI picked this up at a book-fair the other day – a little tatty and unprepossessing, I know.  “The Girl Downstairs” by Gertie de S. Wentworth-James – the story of Rosabel Sayer – educated, comely, resolute, plucky, and an altogether rather superior parlourmaid, who comes to the aid of a somewhat dysfunctional family living in the London suburb of Hambledon at the end of the District Line – a lightly disguised Wimbledon, where the author herself once lived. It’s all rather enjoyable until the author remembers that she is supposed to be writing a romance and Rosabel herself is swept off her feet by a grocer’s deliveryman (who of course is no more what he seems than she is).

Plausible – it’s not.  Virginia Woolf – it’s not – it really isn’t.  But I will say that if we wanted a take on the reality of women in the workplace a century ago, or the routine experience of being hit on by employers past, present and prospective, then Gertie Wentworth-James might well be a more reliable guide than Virginia Woolf, or even Dorothy Richardson.

artistThis edition is undated, but was published, or strictly speaking distributed, by T. A. & E. Pemberton Ltd. – the Manchester brothers, remainder-dealers turned publishers, Thomas Abel Pemberton (1888-1965) and Edwin Pemberton (1891-1965) – from their pre-1947 Blossom Street address.  It perhaps dates from about 1939 or 1940.  I don’t recognise and can’t make out the signature of the cover artist – Douglas Long-something? – suggestions very welcome. [PS – It’s Douglas Constable. My thanks to Andrew Parry for deciphering it. Born in South Africa, Douglas La Coste Constable (1881-1930) died at Hampstead in December 1930, which suggests that the Pembertons may have retained the artwork from the original 1926 edition]

marsbarNo particular reason for buying it – and the Mars Bar advertisement on the rear wrapper is singularly unappetising – except that Pemberton material tends to be pretty scarce and this seemed to be distinctly earlier than anything else I’d seen from them.  As it turns out, it appears to be unrecorded.  The only other copy of the book I can trace is the British Library’s 1926  edition, published by the Federation Press of Arthur Gray and Frederick Matthew Mowl (a.k.a. “Gramol”), about whom I’ve written before.  There are appear to be no copies at all of this Pemberton edition in the BL or elsewhere – none in any major library worldwide and none on the internet – which raises some interesting questions about the meaning and value of rarity in the rare book trade.  Is this book rare? – Certainly.  Is it valuable? – Certainly not, although I shall hope to improve a little on the couple of pounds I paid for it.

I suppose what intrigued me was the conjunction of the author’s high-flown name – G. de S. Wentworth-James – with this kind of ‘popular’, not to say ‘pulp’ fiction.  I’d not come across Gertie Wentworth-James before and thought at first that I was tracking down a completely forgotten author.  Actually there is already a fair amount of information about her out there and most of passably accurate.  According to “The Oxford Companion to Edwardian Fiction”, she was the author “of about fifty-five smartly witty novels, self-consciously progressive especially about sex, published between 1908 and 1929”, which is true enough, although the number of titles may be a little inflated by the number of her books which were reissued under changed names.

As to the “self-consciously progressive” content, her books were certainly thought a little risqué at the time and a number were banned from public libraries.  A writer for “The Sketch” (2nd April 1919) noted that “Miss Wentworth James is a woman with very decided individual views, and she is not afraid of expressing them. ‘I don’t write what is called ‘the healthy novel’’, she told me once. ‘Indeed, I don’t like ‘healthy’ novels. Those I have read always deal with murder, robbery, blackmail, and abductions. It’s wonderful what a lot of crime it takes to make a really ‘healthy’ work of fiction”.

Gertrude de Soilleux Wentworth-James (1874-1933) was her full name, although the “de” and the hyphen seem to have been optional and the spelling of “Soilleux” tends to be variable.  She was born at Kensington in West London on 29th March 1874 and baptised as Gertrude Soilleux Webster at fashionable St. Mary the Boltons on 4th May 1875 – her parents given as John William Webster and his wife Emilie.  I have not been able to trace anything at all of the earlier history of her parents and things may not have been quite as they seem.  Her father is described in the parish register as having “no occupation” – a man of private means perhaps, although he is conspicuously not described as a “gentleman”, which would normally have been the case if that were so.  Whoever he may have been, he died or disappeared shortly thereafter and mother and daughter were left to make their own way in the world.

In 1881 they were living in Hackney, her mother recorded as a Londoner of thirty-six years of age, having a private income apparently sufficient for them to retain a single servant.  Ten years later they had moved to Willesden, the young Gertrude now a music student, while her mother is described as an authoress – if so, I have not traced anything written by her.  Presumably putting her musical training to good use, the 1901 census finds Gertrude, now twenty-six, employed as a “drawing room entertainer” at Smedley’s Hydropathic and Boarding Establishment at Matlock in Derbyshire.  What opportunities this may have given her to study life from an unusual and offbeat perspective we can only surmise, but she soon after began to publish short stories and articles as Gertie de S. Webster – for example, “Paula’s Piano” for “Pearson’s Magazine” in 1902, and “How the East End Amuses Itself”, which appeared in “Cassell’s” in  October 1904.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

Gertie Wentworth-James. The Bystander, 27th May 1908.

In the spring of 1904 she had married Herbert Wentworth-James (1876?-1934) at Wandsworth. His antecedents seem to be as obscure as those of her parents, but he was himself the author of a number of short stories for the magazines, born in London and most often described as a journalist.  Gertie continued to turn out stories under her married name, the titles becoming distinctly more adventurous – “The Man Mamma Recommended”, “The Man the Other Woman Wanted”, and “My First Affair” all appeared in “Smith’s Magazine” in 1907.  At about this time her husband was working as publicity manager for the Remington Typewriter Company and it may not be coincidental that her first novel, “The Wild Widow”, published by T. Werner Laurie in 1908, attracted a great deal of press coverage.  The reviews were mixed: the “Manchester Courier” (29th May 1908) summed up the plot – “A second-rate type of Bohemian lady, in order to raise money, claims that the body of a dead man is that of her husband.  With the insurance money thus secured, she goes to Monte Carlo, wins at the tables, invests wisely, and makes a fortune … A certain air of reality is found in the story, despite improbable incidents”.  A couple of days earlier, “The Bystander” (27th May 1908), had been far more positive, with a feature and a photograph of “A Promising New Author”– “The story is packed full of life and mirth and humour.  Chiefly feminine in characterisation, it presents a living picture of modern womanhood.  The central character, Mrs. Orlitson, is suspected from the first to be a monster … Miss James has succeeded in weaving an attractive novel based on a somewhat implausible coincidence, but she keeps her secret so darkly that one is bound, when, at the end of the book, it is disclosed, to forget its crudity in sheer amazement at its audacity … thoroughly up to date, and clever in a new-womanish sort of way.  Miss James must write some more, avoiding, if possible, crude coincidences and bombshell revelations. Her powers of sketching character are undeniable, and her dialogue is witty and suggestive”.

It became a success and was published in America, as were number of her early books, and there were French and Spanish versions too (“Une Étrange Veuve”, “Una Viuda Extraña”).  There followed a rapid series of colourful and successful novels and by 1911 she was living with her husband and her mother at The Turret, Wimbledon Park Road, with a resident parlourmaid and a cook, boldly proclaiming herself a novelist and brazenly admitting to be being thirty-two years of age (she had just turned thirty-seven).  She was already close to the peak of her fame – “Her vivacious style and fresh and unconventional plots have given her books a huge circulation”, reported the “Ballymena Observer” the following year (26th July 1912).


The Price. New York : Mitchell Kennerley, 1911. © Babylon Revisited Rare Books.

The books were colourful in quite a literal sense – a riot of colour, in fact – “Red  Love” (1908); “Pink Purity” (1909); “Scarlet Kiss” (1910); “White Wisdom” (1910) – “a commentary of various phases of society life, and a sidelight on some of the ways of the smart set … The story itself really concerns Louise Hedin, who is abandoned by her well-to-do parents and brought up in a London slum” (Dundee Courier, 28th September 1910); “Crimson Caresses” (1918) – originally published as “The Price” (1911);  “A Primrose Prude” (1919) – originally published as “The House of Chance” (1911); “Purple Passion” (1915), “Violet Virtue” (1916), “Golden Youth” (1916), and the rather more prosaic “Green Grapes” (1918), this last perhaps redeemed by its subtitle – “Green Grapes : Dealing with the Devilish Doings of a God” – one of a number of rather good subtitles, including “Scarlet Kiss : The Story of a Degenerate Woman who Drifted”; “The Lesson : A Story of Love, of Bohemia, and of Human Philosophy” (1910) – “unusual and decidedly clever” (Dundee Courier, 27th December 1910); “The Cage Unbarred : Being the Story of a Woman who was Dull” (1913) – “the usual dull story of a dull heroine who goes wrong because she is too dull to keep right.  She has a husband who takes her seriously.  Life with him is full of those commonplace nothings which inspire red-headed heroines to wander forth in search of excitement” (The Tatler, 12th February 1913), and “The Thing : Being the Story of a Girl who Thought about Things and Tried to Understand Them, and Who at Last Saw Life with Open Eyes” (1921) – “fewer melodramatic passages and a generous curtailment of the osculatory passages might make this novel worth reading, and it might possibly not” (Aberdeen Press, 22nd September 1921).

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Secret Places. London : Stanley Paul, 1924.

Elsewhere there is a nod to her own origins with “Diana of West Kensington” (1909), and a stream of such catchy titles as “The Piccadilly Puritan” (1917), “Barter” (1912) – later republished as “Miss Mercenary” (1919); “The Devil’s Profession” (1914) – “The devil’s profession is the running of a bogus lunatic asylum in which sane people are confined” (Pall Mall Gazette, 22nd April 1914);  “Man-Made Morals” (1915) – “a mixture of ‘sloppy’ sentiment and up-to-date (up-to-date, that is, before the war) shocks” (Manchester Courier, 12th April 1915); “The Wife Who Found Out” (1915); “The Man Market”(1917) – “I had the supreme misfortune to be born a woman …”; “Maiden Madness” (1919); “A Very Bad Woman” (1920); “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” (1923), and “A Mental Marriage” (1926).  There were a couple of translations into German and Swedish, and at least half a dozen of her novels appeared in Dutch versions.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

The Soul That Came Back. London : T. Werner Laurie, [1922]. © L. W. Currey, Inc.

Some of her later work has a certain following among admirers of science fiction and fantasy – E. F. Bleiler lists four titles, including the reincarnation novel “The Soul that Came Back” (1922), while the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction adds a fifth – “Girl Everlasting” (1927).  “The Television Girl” (1928) has attracted a certain amount of academic interest (see for example Professor David Trotter’s “Literature in the First Media Age” (2013) and his 17th October 2012  post on “The Literary Platform” blog).  It’s a clever predictive story of Skype, or something very similar, as imagined from the 1920s – a false connection to an unknown woman of mystery leads to romance, or, as it was advertised at the time, “a famous doctor falls in love with the face of a girl flashed on to the screen of his televisor”.

wifewho“The Scarlet Kiss” was turned into a British silent film in 1920, while “The Wife Who Wasn’t Wanted” became a Warner Brothers movie in 1925.  In the same year, her 1913 novel “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Work” was given the full Hollywood treatment – a film starring the great Lionel Barrymore alongside Marguerite De La Motte, a huge star in her day, best-known for her many roles opposite Douglas Fairbanks before her career crashed and burned with the coming of the talkies.  A showing of the film at the Pier Theatre Cinema in Chichester was written up by the local rag as “Gertie Wentworth-James’ enthralling romance of a shop girl, who longs for luxury and ease” – and I dare say (naming no names) we have all known shop girls of just such an inclination.  “How she obtains her wish and what happens when fate presents the bill are told in this gripping drama of love and suspense” (Chichester Observer, 25th August 1926).

lobbycardFor all of these seeming indications of success, her career and her sales were by now in reality in sharp decline.  There can be no other reason for her turning out a potboiler like “The Girl Downstairs” for the likes of Gray and Mowl – the worst-paying publishers in London – in 1926.  Ill health was also beginning to affect both her and her husband.  A final flurry of novels in the late 1920s was followed by little more than a curious account of her near death experience titled “Neither Unpleasant nor Painful : What it Feels Like to Die ”, which appeared in the “Edinburgh Evening News” (Tuesday 13 September 1932).  She never fully recovered and died on 22nd April 1933 at Hammersmith Hospital, her death causing barely a ripple in the press. The money too was gone, her estate was declared at a meagre £150 or so.


Health & Strength. 10th March 1934.
© Tilleys of Chesterfield.

Far more widely reported was the death of her husband exactly twelve months later.  By now general editor of the magazines called “Health and Strength” and the naturist “Health and Efficiency”, he had been completely unable to reconcile himself to the loss of Gertie.  He took advantage of his housekeeper being away on holiday to seal his flat airtight with some kind of webbing and then to turn on, but not light, the gas-fire. It was a death as lurid as that in any of her novels.  She was a woman who must have known what it was to be loved.

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Lost Books – Lost Jackets

A guest post and a request for help from Mark Godburn,  author of “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets” (Private Libraries Association & Oak Knoll Press, 2016)

I am looking for the whereabouts of the following books, all of whichDrood have early dust-jackets. These books were reported decades ago and are on the Tanselle list, but no one seems to know where they are today. I would like to find the books to get modern images.

  1. Charles Dickens, The Mystery of Edwin Drood (London, Chapman & Hall, 1870). First edition, green cloth, printed jacket. Reported in the 1930s and used as a frontispiece in John C. Eckel, The First Editions of the Writings of Charles Dickens (1932).
  2. Aubrey de Vere, Irish Odes and Other Poems (New York, Catholic Publication Society, 1869). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket.
  3. englandCharles MacFarlane and Thomas Thomson, The Comprehensive History of England (London, Blackie & Son, 1856-61). 4 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968. [See image of an unjacketed set.]
  4. Henry Beveridge, A Comprehensive History of India (London, Blackie & Sons, 1862). 3 volumes. Reported by John Carter in 1968.
  5. John Bunyan, Pilgrim’s Progress (London, Longmans, 1860). Illustrated jacket. Reported by John Carter in 1931. This book was owned by Thomas Balston of Duckworth & Co., and was offered for sale in a Scribner’s Book Store catalog in 1936 for $35.
  6. Don Juan [John E. Wheelock], In Search of Gold: The Story of a Liberal Life (New York, H. W. Thompson, 1884). This book has a sealed wrapping jacket that was meant to be opened and used as a flap-style jacket.

The following book was not on the Tanselle list but was sold by the German auction house Zisska & Lacher in November 2014, auction 64, lot 1608, for 600 pounds.

  1. Johann Carl Osterhausen & Georg C. Wilder, Neues Taschenbuch von Nurnberg (1819 & 1822). 2 volumes. Original dust-jackets and red slipcases. I am trying to find out who bought the set to get images.

Please contact me at if you have any information. 

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London Rare Books School 2017

London Rare Books School

I’m always telling people that booksellers learn something new every day – and it’s true, they do.  There is no upward limit to how much one might know about all of the books on all of the subjects written and circulated in all the periods of book history – and all of the authors and all of the publishers – but there generally comes a point in a bookseller’s career – and it can take years to reach this point – when you suddenly realise the full and enormous extent of what you don’t know.  You need to know an awful lot already, simply to be able to map out the vague outlines of all the things you don’t know – and then to realise that your knowledge will only ever be fragmentary.

You might in a lifetime hope to master a small portion of it – a specialist expertise in this topic or that – but even there you will still be surprised and still be discovering new things as long as you live.

We tend to learn simply by handling lots of books, taking little lessons directly from the material here and there, discovering interest and significance as we go along.  It’s the best way to learn – a gradual accumulation of knowledge and expertise.  It’s true what they say – you can’t learn to be a bookseller in a class-room.

But – and this is a big but – once you have reached the stage where you know enough to know (and to accept) how little you really know, you should also by now have learned that you can draw on the expertise of others to block in some of the more obvious gaps.  And you should probably also have learned who the people are that have that expertise.

I’ve been involved with and watched the London Rare Books School grow steadily year-by-year from its inception some ten or eleven years ago.  Its hallmark has always been that the intensive week-long courses are taught by the people we all know and all accept have just that expertise.

The School has been expanded to three weeks this year –just look at the courses on offer and who the teachers are.

Week One : 26th- 30th June 2017

Provenance – taught by David Pearson – the David Pearson who wrote “Provenance Research in Book History” (1994, reprinted 1998 and still the standard work).  Is there anyone that might teach it better? And the same goes all the way down this list.

The History of the Book in India – taught by Graham Shaw, former Head of Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections at the British Library, author of “Printing in Calcutta to 1800” (1981)

Scholarly Editing: The Example of Shakespeare – taught by John Jowett, Professor of Shakespeare Studies at the University of Birmingham, Deputy Director of the Shakespeare Institute, and academic editor of the Oxford edition of Shakespeare’s Complete Works (1986-87).

The Printed Book in Europe, 1455-2010 – an overview of the origins, spread, and impact of printed materials in Europe – taught by Simon Eliot, Professor of the History of the Book at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, and the founding director of the London Rare Books School.

History of Book Illustration – taught by Elizabeth James, head of the National Art Library Collections at the Victoria and Albert Museum, and Rowan Watson, former Senior Curator at the National Art Library.

Week Two : 3rd-7th July 2017

The Medieval Book – taught by Michelle Brown, Senior Research Fellow and Professor Emerita of Medieval Manuscript Studies at the Institute of English Studies, a Fellow of the Courtauld Institute, a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and formerly Curator of Medieval and Illuminated Manuscripts at the British Library.

A History of Reading – an exploration of the nature of reading as it emerged in the late eighteenth century in the western world, and developed in the context of an industrial and then an advanced industrial society – taught by Dr Shafquat Towheed, who has taught at Nottingham University, the Institute of English Studies (University of London), and with the Open University. He  is currently a Senior Lecturer in Book History.

Introduction to Bibliography – taught by Dr Andrew Zurcher – fellow, tutor, and Director of Studies in English at Queens’ College, Cambridge.

The Queer Book – the course outline for which begins, “The invention of moveable type is the greatest aberration in the history of communication” – taught by Brooke Palmieri, whom some of you will no doubt recall from her time in the book trade, now completing her Ph.D. and editor of “Printing History”, the journal of the American Printing History Association.

History of the Book in Scotland – taught by Andrew Nash, Reader in Book History and Communications at the Institute of English Studies, and formerly Associate Professor and Head of the Department of English Literature at the University of Reading.

An Introduction to the Modern Rare Book Trade – again this year to be taught by myself and Angus O’Neill, president-elect of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, with guest appearances from others – we enjoy it more and more each year and the students are always a delight.  It’s a course intended for librarians and collectors who need to engage with the rare book trade – we shall tell you all our secrets – as much as it is for embryonic or inexperienced booksellers.

Week Three : 10th-14th July 2017

Medieval Women and the Book – the evidence for the role of women in the creation of medieval manuscripts, as scribes, illuminators, patrons and authors – taught by Michelle Brown (see above).

The Digital Book (don’t say we don’t keep up) – taught by Dr Daniel Boswell, who joined University College London’s Department of Information Studies as a Teaching Fellow in September 2015 to work as part of the MA Publishing team within the UCL Centre for Publishing.

European Bookbinding –  from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings themselves to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade – taught by Nicholas Pickwoad, adviser on book conservation to the National Trust since 1978, Chief Conservator in the Harvard University Library 1992-1995, Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, which is dedicated to the history of bookbinding. He gave the 2008 Panizzi Lectures at the British Library, was awarded the 2009 Plowden medal for Conservation and is a Fellow of the IIC and of the Society of Antiquaries.

History of Colour Printing – one of the new courses this year – taught by Elizabeth Savage, Lecturer and British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow in Book History and Communications, awarded the Wolfgang Ratjen Prize in 2016 for distinguished research in the field of graphic art, and “Printing Colour 1400-1700: Histories, Techniques, Functions and Receptions”, which she edited with Ad Stijnman, was recognised at the IFPDA Book Awards. She was previously Munby Fellow in Bibliography, Cambridge University, and she has curated exhibitions at the British Museum and Cambridge University Library.

The Book in the Renaissance – the impact of printing at the dawn of the early modern era – taught by Paolo Sachet, who  obtained his Ph.D. at the Warburg Institute, while working as a consultant in the London antiquarian book trade.  He is currently a FCS Postdoctoral Fellow at the Istituto di Studi Italiani, Università della Svizzera Italiana (Lugano).

The courses are taught in small groups (maximum of twelve on each), so that everyone can see and handle the material, there are a number of bursaries available to help with the fees in cases of need – and of course the courses are not just for booksellers or would-be booksellers – there will  be librarians, academics, art-historians, collectors, museum curators, print enthusiasts and literary and cultural historians and bibliophiles of every ilk.  If you really don’t think that you have anything to learn from any of these people, then you would be quite seriously wrong.

All the details here:

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The Lighter Side of Larkin

Like an Enormous Yes

News to some of you, perhaps, that the poet Philip Larkin had a lighter side – but indeed he did.

D. J. Roberts. Photograph ©Harpreet Kalsi.

D. J. Roberts. Photograph ©Harpreet Kalsi.

It’s this affirmative side of his life which is explored in a new exhibition at the National Poetry Library on the South Bank – an exhibition called “Larkinworld” – put on by my friend, the artist D. J. Roberts (

As he writes, “The show is very much my personal take on Larkin’s world, and to many it may seem surprisingly upbeat.  This is because I have always had an unusual relationship with Larkin … I respond to many of these poems rather differently to the way it is clear Larkin intended”.  It is the special sense of place – the landscape and townscape in Larkin – to which the artist responds – “Psychologically Larkin’s world may often be one of morbid obsession, but physically it is a world of bars and shopping malls and cinemas, and this is the world I identify with”.

LarkinworldIt’s a very thoughtful, intriguing and understated exhibition.  Beyond Roberts’ own exquisite little sketches – and the splendidly affirmative “Enormous Yes” of his neon sign – there are simply scattered through it little clues, suggestions and quiet symbols of Larkin’s wider life.  “I’ve selected records, books, images and ephemera that conjure up for me Larkin’s world” – things mentioned in his writings, some excerpts, the places he knew, his interests, the writers he admired, his fondness for cricket, and some friends.

All What JazzIt’s a world of music – Larkin wrote extensively about jazz of course, well beyond his “Daily Telegraph” pieces collected in “All What Jazz” in 1970.  There’s his poem “For Sidney Bechet” – “Like New Orleans reflected on the water” (you can listen to a recording of Larkin reading this) – but oddly, even bizarrely, this highly revered jazz critic, generally regarded as an apostle of “trad”, is also on record as saying that he thought Bob Dylan’s “Mr Tambourine Man” just about the best song ever written.  And we all know what began “Rather late for me / Between the end of the Chatterley ban / And the Beatles’ first LP”.  There is homage too to Billie Holiday and Bix Beiderbecke (who was played at his funeral) – and a display of Larkin’s own unpublished blues lyrics.

Larkin Books

And it’s a world of books.  There are nods to some of Larkin’s literary heroes – Dickens, Hardy and Surtees – but what pleased me most when I was asked about lending some books for the exhibition was that I was able to come up with some of Larkin’s favourite light reading.  I never knew Larkin, but I did know his friend and bibliographer, the late Barry Bloomfield.

Philip Larkin & Barry Bloomfield.

Philip Larkin & Barry Bloomfield.

Both librarians by trade, they shared a taste for vintage old-school detective fiction.  Among Barry’s books was an almost complete collection of the sixty or more mysteries written by the Brentford school-mistress Gladys Mitchell, featuring her psychoanalyst sleuth Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley – “dry without being shrivelled, and bird-like without being pretty”.  She was a particular Larkin favourite and although most of Barry’s books were shelved elsewhere, the Gladys Mitchells were kept in the Bloomfields’ guest bedroom so as to be readily at hand when Larkin came to stay.

Gladys Mitchell, “Merlin’s Furlong”. London : Michael Joseph, 1953. Jacket design by B. G. Yates.

Gladys Mitchell, “Merlin’s Furlong”. London : Michael Joseph, 1953. Jacket design by B. G. Yates.

I was so pleased that I still had a couple of them left in stock (she is quite heavily collected by the cognoscenti) so as to be able to offer a choice for the exhibition. I can’t quite claim that Larkin read this one in bed – but he would certainly have seen it and been able to so had he wished.

Do get along to the exhibition if you can – it’s illuminating and thought-provoking – and Larkin’s reputation doesn’t diminish.  It’s on until the 28th April 2017 at the National Poetry Library, Level 5, Royal Festival Hall – details here at

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School Pieces

Detail from The Progress of Education (R. Harrild, 1810) © John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

Detail from The Progress of Education (R. Harrild, 1810)
© John Johnson Collection of Printed Ephemera, Bodleian Library, University of Oxford

A request for help from Jill Shefrin

Jill Shefrin is a Canadian independent historian and bibliographer of children’s books and ephemera published in Britain in the long eighteenth century.  She’s currently preparing a descriptive bibliography and historical study of “school pieces” or writing blanks, and she’d love to hear from anyone holding any English, Irish or colonial American examples.  Although they are today called writing blanks or writing sheets, in the long eighteenth century they were most often described as “school pieces”.

Rich Man and Lazarus (William Mason, n.d.) © Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Rich Man and Lazarus (William Mason, n.d.)
© Cotsen Children’s Library, Princeton University Library

Elegant engraved sheets published between about 1660 and 1860 and filled in by children with examples of their best handwriting, often at Christmas (accounting for their alternative name of “Christmas pieces”).  Relatively few examples survive, but there appears to have been a longstanding and thriving market for school pieces.  Jill has identified over fifty English and Irish printsellers who offered them for sale over two centuries, but only a few have survived in more than single copies. Attractive and often colourful, one would think they were the preserve of wealthy and aristocratic children, but in 1840 the Morning Chronicle reported that on Christmas day in the Clerkenwell workhouse “one of the overseers, has generally supplied the children with Christmas pieces to write for prizes”.

Jill Shefrin

Jill Shefrin

Jill’s The Dartons : Publishers of Educational Aids, Pastimes & Juvenile Ephemera, 1787-1876 (Cotsen Occasional Press, 2009), was awarded the Justin G. Schiller (Bibliographical Society of America) & the F. J. Harvey Darton Award (Children’s Books History Society).  She has taught the Children’s Books course at the London Rare Books School since 2008 and is a Senior Research Associate at Trinity College, University of Toronto.  She’s currently also an RBC Foundation Visiting Fellow at the Bodleian Library, working with their extensive holdings of school pieces, but she’s interested in seeing any and all examples.

You can contact her—and find out more about her work—through her website

Jill Shefrin / /Senior Research Associate in Arts, Trinity College, University of Toronto

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French Semi-Transparent Dust-Jackets

1891A guest post from Mark Godburn

I would like to hear from anyone with knowledge of the common 19th and early 20th century French books in bound wrappers which are often found with semi-transparent dust-jackets. These jackets typically have tri-folded French flaps.

It had always been my understanding that these jackets were original issue. I have seen them on French books as early as the 1820s and 1830s. Most American and British dealers I spoke to also thought these jackets were original issue.

However, when I was researching my book, “Nineteenth-Century Dust-Jackets” (2016), the Paris book scout Martin Stone insisted to me that nearly all such jackets were later additions by French antiquarian book dealers, not original issue.  He said he had observed French dealers adding such jackets to old, wrapper-bound French books for decades, and that they continue to do so to this day.

So I again consulted with experts in American and British bookselling, and they all deferred to Martin, saying he was the one who would know, based on his years in the Paris trade.

There are exceptions, of course, such as an 1887 Zola book I saw in bound wrappers which had a printed opaque jacket that matched the printing on the binding; this jacket was obviously original issue.  Other exceptions would include some limited edition French books in bound wrappers which were issued with semi-transparent jackets over the wrappers circa 1900.

I would like to hear from anyone with thoughts on the origin of the semi-transparent French jackets. Email me at  My thanks to Laurence Worms for posting this.

Mark Godburn, North Canaan, CT, USA.

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Maps and the 20th Century : Drawing the Line

The Navy League Map, Illustrating British Naval History.  London : W. & A.K. Johnston, 1901. BL Maps 950.(136.). © British Library Board.

The Navy League Map, Illustrating British Naval History. London : W. & A.K. Johnston, 1901. BL Maps 950.(136.). © British Library Board.

For some reason, I didn’t get my customary invitation to the press preview of the latest British Library exhibition, “Maps and the 20th Century : Drawing the Line”, when it opened towards the end of last year – perhaps it was something I said.  No matter, it’s still on for another six weeks or so – and I finally found some time to visit it a few days ago.

I found it challenging, which is a good thing.  Challenging in terms of confronting our immediate past – and indeed our present.  And challenging in terms of confronting my own mindset.  The exhibition opens cutely with a real time digital map plotting the pattern and density of people touring the exhibition itself, which opens up a whole range of ideas on mapping, surveillance and the centrality of our own experience in judging the world.  It’s certainly a more complex and less assured world than that pictured in the next map, the “Navy League” map of the world published in 1901 and “dedicated to the children of the British Empire”, a map of which the Earl of Meath could complacently state that “No school should be considered properly equipped which has not the full-sized Navy League Wall Map of the Empire hanging on the walls within easy view of the scholars” (cited in Tim Bryars’ excellent essay in the book of the same name which accompanies the exhibition).

The section of the exhibition devoted to the theme of “Mapping War” is the hardest hitting.  A salutary reminder of what a blood-stained mess most of the twentieth century was and the twenty-first continues to be.  The section of a map of Belfast cut to fit a rifle-butt and the plan of the Lidice Massacre are truly chilling.  So, in a different way, is the highly detailed Soviet map of that well-known hub of the industrial and military complex otherwise known as the seaside resort of Brighton.

Western Front Trench Model, 1917. © British Library Board.

Western Front Trench Model, 1917. © British Library Board.

On a purely personal level, I stood in shock before a ‘Haig Model’ relief map of the Western Front centred on Passchendaele, the very terrain on which my own grandfather was killed in action a hundred years ago.  A man I never knew.  A man my father never knew.  And adjacent to that, a silk map of the type used by Airey Neave, briefly a customer of mine before he was murdered by the Irish National Liberation Army, in his escape from Colditz – a map I would have thought wholly inadequate to that extraordinary task.

Schaffhausen Airey Neave escape map. London : The War Office, ca. 1940. BL Maps CC.5.a.424. © British Library Board.

Schaffhausen Airey Neave escape map. London : The War Office, ca. 1940. BL Maps CC.5.a.424. © British Library Board.

I am not at all sure that I go along with one of the basic premises of the exhibition: that the all-pervasiveness of maps in the twentieth century meant, as one of the captions has it, that maps became “more real to people than the reality they claimed to represent”.  Maps are treated here,  a position perhaps made more explicit in the book than the exhibition itself, as if they are, and always have been, in the vanguard of the fake news and post-truth business – that all workaday maps, not just those made for more or less explicit propaganda purposes, lay claim to a scientific objectivity but in fact represent an illusion and are merely “tools of persuasion”.

It’s been a view fashionable among certain historians of cartography for the last thirty years or so, probably expressed at its most extreme by the late Brian Harley: “Cartography deploys its vocabulary accordingly so that it embodies a systematic social inequality.  The distinctions of class and power are engineered, reified and legitimated in the map by means of cartographic signs.  The rule seems to be ‘the more powerful, the more prominent’.  To those who have strength in the world shall be added strength in the map.  Using all the tricks of the cartographic trade—size of symbol, thickness of line, height of lettering, hatching and shading, the addition of color—we can trace this reinforcing tendency in innumerable European maps” (J. B. Harley, Deconstructing the Map. Cartographica, v. 26, n. 2 (Spring 1989), 1-20).

It is of course true that maps, for reasons of scale, are of necessity highly selective in their choice of detail – and that the process of selection may be compromised in any one of a number of ways.  (This is of course also true of the selection or non-selection of maps to be displayed in an exhibition).  Another caption reminds us, quite rightly, that properly to comprehend a map (or an exhibition) we need to understand why it was drawn in the first place – a lesson, it seemed to me, that was not being given nearly enough emphasis to the groups of schoolchildren being routinely indoctrinated as I made my way round.  But I have always firmly rejected the view that the maps we use for our everyday ordinary purposes are devices to deceive or oppress us.  That view seems to me to be a nonsense and in itself a form of deceit.

But I have to admit the exhibition made me confront an uncomfortable truth.  There is far more deceit in maps and there are far more maps intended to deceive than I was prepared for.  I had always rather dismissed the propaganda map as something that shouldn’t really fool anyone with half a brain.  People are nowhere near as stupid as some would have us believe.  But examples to prove me wrong were there.  I particularly liked the genuinely funny caricature map of the Reaganite view of the world put out by the World Peace Council – in fact a Cominform-funded Communist front organisation operating out of Helsinki.  But the cleverest and patently the most successful in the long run, not least in having been paid for by the people it was intended to gull, was the “Europe in Britain” propaganda map of the British Isles (here very cautiously captioned), put out by the European Community in the 1970s.  I’m still chuckling over that one.

As our use of maps dwindles to the personalised bubbles of Sat-Nav and App, perfect realisations of the “All About Me” syndrome, go to the exhibition and look back at the last century when we still saw and found reflected a world view that was mainly about others and our own very small place in it – maps both honest and dishonest – but all made for a larger purpose.  As “The Guardian” rightly reported, “There is much that will stop visitors in their tracks”.

Posted in Antique Maps, Exhibitions, Libraries | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Bound by Worsfold

Windsor CastleI’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.

Cruikshank IllustrationHenry 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“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 Works of Lord Byron. 1900-1904. Bound by William Worsfold. © David Brass Rare Books.

The Works of Lord Byron. 1900-1904. Bound by William Worsfold. © David Brass Rare Books.

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.

J. Fitzgerald Molloy : Court Life below Stairs, or, London under the First Georges, 1714-1760. 1882. Bound by Worsfold of London. © Staniland (Booksellers).

J. Fitzgerald Molloy : Court Life below Stairs, or, London under the First Georges, 1714-1760. 1882. Bound by Worsfold of London. © Staniland (Booksellers).

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.

Charles Reade : Hard Cash. A Matter-of-Fact Romance. 1853.  Bound by Worsfold.  © Peter Harrington.

Charles Reade : Hard Cash. A Matter-of-Fact Romance. 1853. Bound by Worsfold. © Peter Harrington.

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.

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A Collection of Twenty-Seven Bound Volumes. 1867-1908. Bound by Worsfold for Sotheran. © Charles Russell.

Algernon Charles Swinburne : A Collection of Twenty-Seven Bound Volumes. 1867-1908. Bound by Worsfold for Sotheran. © Charles Russell.

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.

Anne Ritchie Thackeray : The Village on the Cliff.  1867. Bound by Worsfold. © Antiquates.

Anne Ritchie Thackeray : The Village on the Cliff. 1867. Bound by Worsfold. © Antiquates.

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.

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The Mysterious T. M. R. Whitwell

cricket-whitwellHalf-awake, fogged in toothache, I listened on the radio the other morning to the England cricket team ritually eviscerate itself either side of tea in Chennai.  Life far from a bowl of cherries.  The only redeeming feature was the wit, banter, reminiscence, commentary and analysis from the Test Match Special team, and especially the intelligent, articulate and ever-interesting thoughts of Ed Smith, former Middlesex captain turned writer and journalist.

Psmith JournalistPerhaps it was the coincidence of names, perhaps the fact that the plot turns (very loosely) on an English cricket tour abroad, but it reminded me I had to catalogue and quote a newly arrived copy of P. G. Wodehouse’s “Psmith : Journalist” (1915).  A relatively straightforward task, although the book’s relationship with “The Prince and Betty” (1912) needs a little untangling:  the serialisation of “Psmith : Journalist” in “The Captain” between October 1909 and March 1910 plainly predates both the 1912 British and American book editions of “The Prince and Betty” – which vary greatly from each other – and its own serialisation in “The Strand” (February-April 1912), so it is a little perverse to regard the Psmith book, as many commentators seem to do, as a revised and rewritten version of a revised and rewritten version of itself – it’s the earliest version and in any case, as David A. Jasen commented in his bibliography, it is “the best version of the three”.

Those other Wodehouse bibliographers, Eileen McIlvaine and her co-authors, citing Charles Gould, note a tiny variation in the height of the publisher’s name on the spine, oddly referring to this as “two states of the first issue”, although nowhere else referring to any kind of point of issue or any kind of second issue.  No evidence is adduced for regarding one variant as earlier than the other, but no doubt a bookseller or a collector somewhere will be trying to make something of it.

The Gold Bat

© Peter Harrington Rare Books.

These hazards navigated, I wanted to add a note on the illustrator, T. M. R. Whitwell.  Apart from the present title, he illustrated quite a number of Wodehouse’s earliest books: he was one of the illustrators of “Tales of St. Austin’s” (1903) and then the sole illustrator of “The Gold Bat” (1904); “The Head of Kay’s” (1905); “Mike” (1909) and “Psmith in the City” (1910). He also illustrated virtually all of Wodehouse’s numerous stories for “The Captain” between 1902 and 1911, including the original 1905-1906 illustrations for the serialisation of “The White Feather”, not ultimately used in the book edition in 1907.  He was very much the man who defined the look and feel of one of our most abidingly popular novelists at the outset of his career.  Easy enough to look him up – his full name, his dates – one might have thought – but, no – beyond tabulating his input, the bibliographies are silent.  The half dozen standard reference books I consulted do not even mention him.  How can this be?  The man who illustrated most of those early Wodehouse school stories and we don’t even know who he was?


© Henry Sotheran Ltd.

The internet is strangely silent, although I did stumble upon the interesting “Annotated Psmith Project” (link in the blog-roll), which displays a lot of his work, but only refers to him as the “mysterious” T. M. R. Whitwell.  Beyond that, there is only a note of the 1966 verdict of Richard J. Voorhees: “The illustrations [in Wodehouse’s school novels] are atrocious.  Once they must have attracted readers; today they could only repel or amuse … they make the schoolboys look at least thirty years old; one character, who wears glasses, looks fifty”.

Illustration from Psmith : Journalist.Well – I take his point (up to point) – but I think in looking at the evidence of old photographs we have to recognise that, in an era before antibiotics, people did age considerably more quickly than they do now, or perhaps it was just that, in a more manly age, young men became manlier sooner.  Whitwell was plainly a highly accomplished illustrator.

D/Z 518/1 – Entry in the guest book for the Cock Inn in Chipping Ongar. Here T. M. R. Whitwell illustrates his first visit to the pub in 1893. © Essex Record Office.

D/Z 518/1 – Entry in the guest book for the Cock Inn in Chipping Ongar. Here T. M. R. Whitwell illustrates his first visit to the pub in 1893. © Essex Record Office.

Elsewhere, the blog of the Essex Record Office reproduces this delightful sketch and asks, “Can anyone identify T. M. R. Whitwell … Is this the same Whitwell who illustrated the works of P. G. Wodehouse?”  Well, yes, indeed it is – and I imagine that the sketch has something to do with the illustrations Whitwell contributed to “The ‘Cycling’ Album : Being a Selection of Sketches form [sic] ‘Cycling’, Some Satirical, Some Humorous, Some Serious, and all Artistic, Limned by Such Masters of Cycling Art as George Moore, Percy Kemp, T. M. R. Whitwell”, published in London by the Dangerfield Printing Company in 1893.

Industrial ExploringsWhitwell’s first major book commission was in providing the 100 or so illustrations for R. Andom’s “Industrial Explorings in and around London” (1895) – author and artist portrayed on the cover.  It’s a favourite of mine – “If you can’t go to Kamtschatka, go to Kentish Town and describe that” – a whimsical exploration of the strange worlds-within-worlds of the manufacturing regions of Victorian London – Piano-Land, Rope-Land, Tram-Land, Candle-Land, Gas-Land, Paper-Land, Soap-Land, Mineral-Water-Land, Match-Land, Rubber-Land, Wire-Land and Sweet-Land.  If you don’t know “R. Andom” (Alfred Walter Barrett, 1869-1920) and have a taste for humour in the vein of Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”, then I can thoroughly recommend.

The Gold Bat – illustrated by T. M. R. Whitwell : contained in “The Captain, A Magazine for Boys and Old Boys”. October 1903 to March 1904. © Patrick Pollak Rare Books.

The Gold Bat – illustrated by T. M. R. Whitwell : contained in “The Captain, A Magazine for Boys and Old Boys”. October 1903 to March 1904. © Patrick Pollak Rare Books.

Whitwell also illustrated R. Andom’s “On Tour with Troddles” (1909), so at that point in time we have him concurrently illustrating two of our finest humorists – extraordinary that the world seems not quite to know who he was.  As it happens, the answer I was looking for was there all along in my own archive – identified as Thomas Montague Radcliff Whitwell (1868-1928) the last time I catalogued a copy of the “Industrial Explorings”.

Very brief outline details of his life and career are in fact available online (by subscription) via the “Artist Biographies” website, but to add a little more to that record, his birth was registered at Hackney in the third quarter of 1868.  He was the son of Thomas Whitwell, a solicitor’s clerk, and his second wife, Eliza Birt, who had married in 1865 – she was presumably a sister or cousin of his first wife, Marian Birt, whom he had married five years and two children earlier.  The young Whitwell seems to have been called Montague in the family and he himself seemed to favour the spelling Radcliff rather than Radcliffe for his second middle-name.

We catch a glimpse of him as a young man, described as a lithographic artist, boarding at the Swan Inn at Doddinghurst in Essex (an easy bicycle ride from Chipping Ongar) in 1891. After the death of his father in 1894, he married Sarah Jane Hanson Southan (1875-1939) at Hastings on 30th April 1896.  She was the daughter of Thomas and Elizabeth Ellen Southan, who owned and ran the Washington Hotel at Hastings – her father, described as a civil engineer on the marriage certificate, having died in 1889.

Mantilla Road, Tooting.

Mantilla Road, Tooting.

The marriage seems not to have prospered.  By 1901, the census return suggests that Sarah Whitwell was back in Hastings, helping her mother and sister out at the hotel.  She filed for divorce in 1910 on the grounds of adultery and desertion, her divorce papers stating that Whitwell was now cohabiting with a woman called Olive Henderson in Mantilla Road in Tooting – just the other side of the common from where I sit.  By the following spring, Whitwell and Olivia Philippa Henderson (1869-1955), to give her correct name, were living in Tabley Road, Holloway, with their infant son – also Thomas Montague Radcliff Whitwell (1911-1983). Olivia was the daughter of a London coach-painter and the couple were married in 1912, after the divorce was finalised.

Whether the divorce had any impact on his career is difficult to say – in those far-off days a century ago it may conceivably have done.  Certainly Whitwell seems never to have worked with authors of the celebrity of Wodehouse or even R. Andom again, but I suspect it may more probably have been a matter of his style of work becoming outmoded.  He continued to illustrate the school stories of R. S. Warren Bell, editor of “The Captain”, at least until “The Three Prefects” came out in 1918.  He also illustrated similar school tales at this period by F. Cowley Whitehouse, John Barnett, M. M. Guy, Ascott R. Hope, Frank Elias, Harold Avery, and especially R. A. H. Goodyear, continuing to produce illustrations on into the 1920s.  He died at Northampton, aged just fifty-nine, in 1928.

Postscript December 2017:  For much more on Whitwell, there is now an excellent account by Robert Kirkpatrick on the Bear Alley blog – – a blog also well worth searching for a great deal of similar material.    


Posted in Book Collecting, Cricket, Forgotten Artists | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments