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16 January 2007

Devon Book 52

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
52: Tourism and topographical views

By the 1790s conditions seem to have improved for the publication of local histories. In 1785 William Chapple's Review of part of Risdon's Survey of Devon had attracted about 600 subscribers, about 80% in the West of England, and in 1790 Martin Dunsford's Historical memoirs of the town and parish of Tiverton had attracted 413 subscribers to 444 copies, 75% of them in the West of England. So secure was the market that Richard Polwhele's History of Devon, a much larger compilation than any of the earlier surveys of Hooker, Risdon, Westcote or Pole, was printed by Trewman of Exeter in three folio volumes with 24 specially commissioned plates between 1793 and 1806, well within the lifetime of its author, who also compiled The history of Cornwall, printed in seven volumes in Falmouth by Thomas Flindell for the London publishers Cadell and Davies in 1803. This growing interest in local histories - Watkin's Essay towards a history of Bideford was published in 1792 - may be explained in part by the effect of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars which effectively closed the continent to those who would formerly have made Europe the destination of the grand tour but this only served to emphasise the growing attention already being directed to regions of England such as the Lakes, the Wye Valley and the south west through the picturesque movement.

A prime exponent of this manner of viewing landscape was William Gilpin who had toured Devon and Cornwall in 1775, although his Observations on the western parts of England relating chiefly to picturesque beauty was only published in London in 1798. Gilpin favoured the atmospheric aquatint, often in an oval format, to illustrate his descrptions, as did William George Maton whose Observations relative chiefly to the natural history, picturesque scenery and antiquities of the western counties of England, made in the years 1794 and 1796 appeared in two volumes in 1797. A more local exponent was the landscape artist and portrait painter Thomas Hewitt Williams, resident first in Plymouth and later in Exeter, who published accounts of three series of excursions, illustrated by about 20 etchings: Picturesque excursions in Devonshire (1801), A tour to the north of Devon (1802) and Picturesque excursions in south Devon (1804). Williams did not use a horse on these excursions, the better to become one with the landscape, but would carry his equipment on foot 20 miles or more a day, even in poor weather.

The first local guidebooks began to appear during this period. Slighter in size than the historical compilations, they provided practical information for those who wished to explore the area, although historical information was not omitted. Perhaps the first to appear within Devon covered the rapidly growing naval port of Plymouth Dock, later renamed Devonport. This was printed and published from Edward Hoxland's Fore Street premises in 1792 and its lengthy title gives an indication of the scope of these early tourist guides: The Plymouth Dock guide, &c. or, an authentic account of the rise and progress of that town, with the dock yard; containing a description of the fortifications, churches, government, markets, play-house, assembly rooms, prospects, pleasant rides, buildings, &c. With a description of whatever is worthy of notice in the towns and villages surrounding it, as Plymouth and garrison, Plympton, Saltram, Tavistock, Mount Edgcomb, Cawsand, Millbrook, St. Germans, Port Eliot, &c. Also the times of going and coming in of the mails coaches, diligences, waggons; rates of porters, chairmen, &c. &c. To which are added, distances of roads from Plymouth-Dock to several of the prinicpal cities and towns in England ... It proved so useful that several later editions were called for. The eastern part of the county, especially the coastal resort, increasingly frequented for the purposes of sea bathing, was catered for by publications such as W.Hyett's A description of the watering places and their environs on the south-east coast of Devon, published in Exeter by Trewman and Son in 1803 - again an extensive sub-title indicates the scope. In 1805 the Exeter printer Shirley Woolmer published A concise account of the city of Exeter, its neighbourhood and adjacent watering places and at about the same time a guide to Exeter Cathedral was published locally.

While the occasional illustration had appeared in Devon books since the first years of the eighteenth century, it was not until the second decade of the nineteenth that the first publisher appeared in Devon who was to make a feature of the publication of engravings and illustrated books and he set up business not in Exeter but in the infant coastal resort of Sidmouth where he established the Marine Library on the beach in 1809. The first publication of John Wallis, the proprietor of this establishment, dates from 1810 and was a guidebook entitled The beauties of Sidmouth displayed, being a descriptive sketch of its situation, salubrity and picturesque scenery. Also a account of the environs within fifteen miles round, interspersed with authentic anecdotes by the Rev. Edmund Butcher. It contains a folded aquatint after J.Nixon of the 'View of the Beach and Peak Hill, Sidmouth' and was a modest foretaste of the publications to come. It did however take pains to describe the publisher's establishment as "a lounging-place in a conspicuous and pleasant situation, where articles of fancy, as well as information and utility, may be met with; where the news of the day may be collected and discussed, and an opportunity given to the saunterers at a watering-place to chat and gossip together. ... It is well supplied every day with the London and provincial papers. Several of the most popular periodical publications are to be found upon its tables. A variety of elegant toys and trinkets, and some articles of greater utility, occupy its shelves. Books of education, dissected maps, and a circulating library, to which new works are regularly added, complete an establishment which, with due encouragement, will be every season increasing in value and variety. The front part of the shop is approporiated to the readers of the newsapers and magazines; but, for the convenience of such as wish to do this with less interruption in the summer season, a convenient back room is also prepared." (Butcher 51-3).

Such thoughtfulness did indeed cause the Marine Libary to flourish and the second edition of Butcher's guide, published in about 1820 contains eight aquatints and the third published a year or two later boasts no fewer than thirty-one, mostly by the Londoner Daniel Havell after the Sidmouth artist Henry Haseler. In the guidebook it was stated that Wallis had 'expended in excess of £900 in engraving, coloring, &c'. The most magnificent single print which Wallis produced was a panorama of the sea front at Sidmouth with Wallis's library proudly centre-stage. This was aquatinted by Daniel Havell after H.Cornish and was about 2.7 metres long. Beside may individual prints, including views from his library, Wallis was responsible for several other books profusely illustrated with coloured aquatints. He used the earliest lithographic illustrations in Devon in Sketches from nature of Sidmouth and its environs published in 1819 and 1820. The twelve lithographs in these albums, of which only 100 sets were issued, were produced by Rudolph Ackermann in London. In 1826 he issued the first lithographs by the Exeter artist George Rowe in Forty-eight views of cottages and scenery at Sidmouth, Devon (Somers Cocks 1977). There was considerable rivalry with similar establishments in Sidmouth which can be amusingly traced in the guidebooks that each published. John Marsh's The Sidmouth guide says of the Marine Library in 1818 'the views from it are good, but rather inferior to those from the library of Mr. Marsh.' It must have been a source of great satisfaction to Wallis that Marsh was declared bankrupt in 1819, the year in which Wallis was appointed bookseller to the Duke of Kent after a visit fawningly commemorated shortly after in the second edition of The beauties of Sidmouth displayed.

Wallis's origins are revealed in the illustration of his circulating library in the panorama published in 1815. Its signboard reads 'Wallis's, the original circulating library & reading room, and at no. 42 Skinner's Street, London'. In fact the London business was at that time being run by John Wallis senior and his son Edward. John junior was born in about 1780 and apprenticed to his father on 4 March 1794, becoming a freeman of the London Stationers' Company on 4 February 1806. He ran his own business at 186, Strand for a short period before moving to Sidmouth. Wallis senior had been in business since 1775 with premises at Yorick's Head, no. 16, Ludgate Hill and at 54, Cornhill, before moving to 13, Warwick Square in 1804, and 42, Skinner Street in 1812 where his son Edward joined him as partner in 1813. Edward and John were joint publishers of the 1815 panorama. They built up an extensive trade as map and printsellers, publishing maps by John Cary among others and were also active in the field of juvenile publishing, producing many jigsaw puzzles and games. These were the skills that the son John learned and developed to such effect in Sidmouth (Maxted 1977, 237).

Among printers Henry Besley was one of the most innovative in Exeter during the 1840s. It was he who became the only significant Devon publisher of small steel-engraved vignette views. Henry's father Thomas had established his printing office in South Street in the late 1790s. He began his career as a jobbing printer, producing posters, election leaflets, ballads and similar items. His son, also named Thomas, who was in business separately as a printer and bookseller in Exeter from about 1815 to 1853 ran a newspaper entitled Besley's Exeter news and Devon county chronicle from October 1821 until March 1853. It was for this paper that the radical journalist Thomas Latimer was briefly employed as a reporter with the assistance of the Devon County reform Club in 1827. In about 1825 the elder Thomas took another son Henry into partnership and by 1828 had begun the series of trade directories of Exeter which continued until 1955, after which publication was continued by Kelly until 1973. In May 1834 Thomas senior relinquished his share in the business to Henry and died five months later aged 74. Within a few years Henry began to exploit the growing tourist market resulting from the arrival of the railway in Exeter in 1844 and its extension to Newton Abbot in 1846 and Plymouth in 1849. He began the publication of a series of guide books to the western counties entitled "Route books" in 1844 and a similar series of "Handbooks" in 1846. Each guidebook included an account of the sights to be seen from the recently constructed railway lines, showing commendable initiative in promptly meeting a new local demand. It soon became clear that these guides would sell better if they were illustrated and so Henry Besley launched into the production of steel engraved vignettes. The earliest major publisher in this field was J.Harwood of London who between 1841 and 1854 published well over one thousand views in his numbered series Scenery of Great Britain, about 40 of them covering Devon. He was followed by Kershaw and Son who published a similar number of vignettes between 1845 and 1860. The most successful national publisher in this field was William Frederick Rock, a Barnstaple man who sought his fortune in London, and began his series in 1848. This would eventually include some 7,000 views, 260 of them of Devon scenes (Somers Cocks 1977).

In 1848, the same year as Rock began his series, Besley began to publish a series of larger vignettes, mainly by the local artist George Townsend (1818-1894) whose meticulous attention to detail more than compensated for any lack of artistic imagination. His pencil sketches were copied with the utmost fidelity by the un-named steel engravers, as comparison with original sketches shows very clearly. In the years to 1871 this ran to about 100 views of Devon and Cornwall. A smaller series was introduced in 1853. Both series were used in various collections. The large series was originally intended for a publication entitled Illustrations of Devon, to be issued in shilling parts, each containing three views and twelve pages of text. This project, advertised in Besley's West of England railway companion no. 1 never seems to have materialised, but the prints were issued separately or gathered into various booklets containing four, six or twelve views, or into cloth-covered albums containing thirty or sixty engravings normally entitled Views in Devonshire or Views in Devonshire and Cornwall. The smaller series of vignettes was more versatile. Not only were they collected into booklets of six or more views with such titles as Peeps at Exeter and neighbourhood or Peeps at the headlands of south Devon, but they also served to illustrate the Route book of Devon and the various handbooks or local guides that the firm produced from the 1840s to the 1870s. The prints were also sold separately, printed on paper or card, and were used on notepaper as letterheads. The smaller series was numbered, the Cornish vignettes being allocated numbers running from 1 to 99 but overlapping with Devon, which started at 100. The first 31 views of Devon appeared in 1853 and a further ten in 1854, but thereafter the pace slackened. In about 1865, when the numbering had reached the 170s George Townsend was replaced for a short period by J.W.Tucker (1808-69) and then by S.R.Ridgway. The last number known is 215, a view of Babbacombe after an un-named artists, produced in about 1875. The numbering may have helped to develop the fashion for collecting these vignettes and manuscript albums are known giving accounts of visits to Torquay and other resorts copiously illustrated by vignettes by Besley and others. Although the alteration of steel engravings is a difficult task, involving the careful burnishing of the steel plate before new detail can be added, Besley made several attempts to update the illustrations and plates are known in two or more states, for example the large vignette entitled Exeter (N.W.), first published in about 1848, was twice altered to show changes to St David's railway station. Besley also experimented with tinted versions of the plates, often used in his "Route books". Henry took his son into partnership in 1872 and died aged 87 in 1886. The firm continued at the premises at 76 South Street until the 1870s when it moved to no 89. At the turn of the century the firm became Besley and Dalgleish and in 1912 Besley and Copp, John Sidney Copp having joined the firm as a partner in 1901. Its further history will be discussed later.

In other resorts along the south and north coasts of Devon printers and booksellers catered with enthusiasm for the growing tourist market. Often a circulating library formed an important part of the service offered. Mr Gore ran such a library on the beach at Dawlish before the railway cut along the sea-front and in 1818 it even featured on an aquatint by Daniel Havell in Henry Haseler's Scenery on the southern coast of Devonshire published by Wallis in Sidmouth. In 1831 the business was taken over by Miss Croydon, probably related to Edward Croydon of Teignmouth.

Croydon's Teignmouth business had been set up by 1806 but the firm's heyday starts from June 1815, at which date the Gothick style premises in Regent Place was opened. This survives in 1999 as W.H.Smith and Son. Edward Croydon operated as a bookseller, printer, stationer and print and music warehouse. He operated a circulating library and provided billiard rooms for visitors. He clearly sought to act as an important social centre for the newly formed resort. In 1819 he was selling ball tickets, his circulating library kept the London and Exeter newspapers and, prior to the establishment of the Teignmouth arrival list in 1849, he kept a listing of visitors at his circulating library for public consultation. He also published guidebooks. The 1821 Guide to the watering places on the coast between the Exe and the Dart boasted sixteen aquatints by Daniel Havell, including, needless to say, one of "Croydon's Public Library". His son, also named Edward, established a similar business in Victoria Parade, Torquay in the later 1830s.

On the northern coast one of the leading bookselling businesses was that of John Banfield in the High Steet, Ilfracombe. Established by 1820, at which date he registered his press, he soon opened a circulating library and in 1830 published a guide to Ilfracombe, a second edition appearing in 1834. Benefitting from the nearness of such famous beauty spots as Lynton and Lynmouth, he became the leading publisher of illustrated guidebooks in north Devon in the period between 1830 and 1860. His Scenery in the north of Devon, issued in about 1837, included at least 32 lithographs by W. and P. Gauci, G.Hawkins and others which were made up into series of booklets in various combinations. He was still catering for the tourists in the late 1850s, when he started to publish Banfield's arrival list during the season.

Other coastal towns, such as Dartmouth and Exmouth had similar estalishments, demonstrating that the book trade throughout Devon was not slow in making the most of what was becoming the region's major industry.

This page last updated 12 Mar 2001
© Ian Maxted, 2001.