Biographical and bibliographical information on the book trades
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16 January 2007

Devon Book 53

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
53: Some Exeter businesses of the early 19th century

The first half of the 19th century was a period of steady growth for the Exeter book trades. In 1801 trade directories list seventeen firms. By 1816 this has grown to 33, by 1823 to 48, by 1828 to 67 and by 1835 to 76. The figure remained at around 80 during the middle decades of the century. This level of growth is only partly accounted for by the increasingly comprehensive coverage of directories. The population of Exeter grew from 17,398 in 1801 to 32,823 in 1851 or, including the suburbs from about 22,000 to 45,000. In addition the spread of education and the widening availability of cheaper, mass produced paper and printed materials required an increase in the number of firms active in the field. The range of firms during the first third of the century is indicated in the table below.

Trade 1801 1816 1828
Printer 3 5 11
Printer & bookseller 2 3 5
Bookseller 3 6 10
Bookseller & librarian 0 1 4
Librarian 1 0 4
Stationer 1 3 2
Law stationer 0 1 3
Bookbinder 3 5 8
Pocket book manufacturer 0 1 0
Pen maker 0 1 1
Engraver 2 3 10
Paper manufacturer 1 2 4
Paper stainer 1 1 2
Rag merchant 0 1 3
Total 17 33 67

The size of these businesses was often small, although little direct evidence is available until the census returns survive from the middle of the century. Advertisements for auction sales of businesses sometimes provide evidence. Joseph Greswell, who had operated for several years in North Street died in January 1819. The sale of his stock was noted in Flindell's western luminary for 2 February: "All his stock and utensils in trade consisting of: 2 demy printing presses, several fonts of type from 7 line pica to nonpareil, leads, galleys, chases, stone, a variety of wood engravings, brass borders etc. 2 good standing presses with iron and wood screws, cutting press, binding shears, quantity of millboard, various binding implements, together with all his shop stock comprising a number of bound and half bound books, pamphlets &c, papers of various sorts, pocket books, quills, pens, sealing wax, wafers, pencils, ink stands and a number of other stationery articles". Clearly Greswell had both a printing and a bookbinding side to his business, as well as running a bookseller's and stationer's shop but the two printing presses and the two standing presses, used for bookbinding, do not suggest a large enterprise.

Nevertheless these small enterprises could hold a wide range of stock, as is revealed by an advertising broadsheet issued by Philip Hedgeland at the Bible, 53, High Street, Exeter in about 1815. Hedgeland had set up in about 1792 and was a typical printer of this period, producing the occasional book among his jobbing work, for example The history and description of the city of Exeter by Alexander Jenkins, which appeared in 1806. As well as letterpress he undertook copperplate printing "in the best style of workmanship and dispatch". Set in four closely printed columns, Hedgeland's advertisement lists some 400 articles available from his premises broken down into 144 sundries, 99 medicines and 54 music items, each section arranged in alphabetical order. The medicines include favourites as Stoughton's elixir and Hunt's aperient family pills. The sundries include stationery items. The section covering letter I can give a flavour:

Imperial paper, superfine
Indian glue and Indian rubber
Ivory and bone folders and knives
Ivory for miniature painting
Ivory pallets
Italian and French chalks
Ink, in liquid, cake, or powder
Ink, japan or double red
Ink chests, pewter and wood
Ink and sand glasses with tops

He also ran a "bookbinding business in all its fancied varieties", binding music at a day's notice.

Since the 1790s Hedgeland had made a speciality of music. In 1792 he had advertised harps for sale (EFP 26 July), and his advertisement included pianofortes, lyres, violincellos, guitars, clarinets, flutes as well as parts, such as mutes, strings and cases. He also includes music paper, music books, new music, sacred music, country dances, books of instruction for every musical instrument and for singing. He supplied military bands and church choirs with "complete sets or single instruments, books, &c". Other types of book advertised, apart from a wide range of ruled account books and blank legal forms, include almanacs, annual pocket books, court calendars, army and navy lists, Bibles and testaments, common prayers, children's books, cyphering books, spelling books, coasting pilots, dissected and travelling maps, and charts. These categories indicate the very practical nature of the regular stock in trade of the printer-bookseller of this period. They are works of reference required in everyday life, religious manuals, navigational and travel aids and aids to education. Nevertheless the more specialised and cultivated taste could be catered for as Hedgeland claimed to be able to provide "every new publication" and "on the lowest London terms". In some ways Hedgeland looked back to the eighteenth century with his reliance on patent medicines, but he provided a wide range of up to date items and, although he died in 1817 after a long illness the firm continued in the family his son Philip succeeding him. When he too died of consumption in 1819 at the early age of 21 he was succeeded by his brother Samuel. On his death in 1828 the business was taken over by William Roberts who continued it into the 1850s.

By 1851 it is possible to examine the size of a selection of these firms through the census enumerators' returns as in fourteen instances where an individual is named as an employer in the book and related trades the number of employees is given. The largest employer is Thomas Latimer, the newspaper proprietor who employed ten men and nine apprentices in the production of the Western times. Next in size was William Spreat, the lithographer who employed seven men and four apprentices. Another lithographer Owen Angel was next in size, employing three men and six apprentices. William Davis, bookbinder, employed six men. Three firms are listed as employing four persons: David Thomson, stationer and bookbinder, the printer Henry Besley who employed two men and two apprentices, and John Foweraker, account book manufacturer, with two men and two boys. The fact that as prominent a printer as Henry Besley ran so small a staff makes it unlikely that there were many large book trade firms unidentified by the enumerators of the 1851 census.

In all 504 individuals were connected with the book and allied trades in 1851. Of these 164 were in the paper mills, which because of their more industrialised nature will be discussed later. Of the remaining 240 there were 42 women, some of them occupying responsible positions.

Women had played a role in the book trades in Exeter since at least the 18th century, often as assistants and bookkeepers in their husband's businesses. At times the death of their husbands would place them in the position of having to continue the business. This happened to Margery Yeo when her husband Charles died in 1707. Until 1713 she was in partnership with her son, trading at premises over against St Martin's Lane in the High Street, using the form Margery and Philip Yeo in imprints. Philip then assumed sole control but, when he ceased to trade in the 1720s, Margery recommenced trading between 1726 and 1728. During both these periods she was an active member of the trade, commissioning apprenticeship indentures from Edward Farley and her name appearing in several imprints. Jane Butter must have been a near neighbour. When her husband Thomas died in about 1720 she succeeded to his bookselling business two doors below St Martin's Lane. On 31 August 1723 she married Daniel Pring but continued it in her own name, issuing an advertisement sheet which included mathematical instruments, patent medicines, maps, prints and paper hangings. Between 1743 and 1746 Andrew Brice was in partnership with Sarah, possibly his daughter. Another member of the Brice family, Elizabeth, who succeeded her husband Thomas, took her son Thomas into partnership in 1780 and 1781. When he started a separate business she continued alone, and we have already encountered her atrociously printed gallows literature. Margaret Sweetland was another widow who succeeded her husband. Abel Sweetland died in 1787 and after her death in 1796 her executors continued her business for her son Edward.

Otherwise, where we hear of women prior to 1800 they are normally in menial positions. Sottish Dame Bedford, the distributor of newspapers in 1717, and Mrs Drew tramping the lanes of Devon well into her 90s are already familiar to us. The same is evident in the 1851 census returns. Of the 42 women recorded, 12 are specified as assistants in booksellers', stationers' or bookbinders' firms and the same may be true for others who are not described in this way. One woman, Mary Helmore, a widow aged 43, is described as a book sewer.

However during the first half of the nineteenth century women in Exeter achieved a level of representation as heads of businesses in the book and allied trades which was probably not to be exceeded until the end of the following century. At least 26 women are recorded as running businesses during this period. Many only reached this position through widowhood and did not always survive for long, either selling the business or relinquishing it when sons came of age. In 1851 Anne Wheaton, bookseller and stationer employed one assistant, Harriett Welsford, printer, employed two apprentices, but most remarkable of all was Jane Kingdon, paper stainer, who employed 16 men 25 women and three boys. She had succeeded her husband in 1832, trading as Jane Kingdon and Son until the 1850s. Admittedly she can only be included in this study as a major consumer of paper but her main field of operation was in the upholstery rather than the stationery trade.

One occupation in which women had a more independent role was that of librarian. In 1851 the Tole family of Magdalen Street are an example of this. The head of the household Jane Tole, was a widow aged 53 and she was assisted by her two unmarried daughters Louisa aged 28 and Mary Jane aged 26. There is no evidence from directories that the library had been established by a former husband, though it does not appear to have lasted for long. More successful was the firm of Maria Fitze. Maria acquired to the famous circulating library of Gilbert Dyer after his death in 1821 not as his widow but as his manager. She continued it successfully from a series of premises in the High street until her death in 1843 when it was continued by her brother James, who was already running a separate bookselling business in Exeter. When he became bankrupt in 1855 his sock in trade was acquired by his daughter Ellen who continued the business until the 1870s. Significantly both Maria and Ellen remained unmarried.

A number of firms were established in this period which survived into the following century, usually firms with a strong family tradition. In the previous century such firms had often had connections with newspapers but this was less often the case now. Some took over businesses which had been established in the 18th century, and were proud to add this to their pedigree. James Penny, had established himself as a bookseller and stationer in Southgate Street in the 1780s. He moved to North Street in 1792 then to premises in Fore Street (later numbered 185) by 1793. He added printing to his activities and his premises were described as a general printing office in 1815. He was largely a jobbing printer, for example printing publicans' recognizances in the 1820s but also published prints of local views. He took his son James on as a partner in about 1822. On the death of the son April 1833, the business passed briefly into the hands of William Gain and then to his widow Caroline Gain, although they appear to have relinquished printing. The business was advertised for sale on 30 April 1835 (EFP) was purchased by William Wheaton by 2 July that year. The new stability was soon threatened as William died in September 1846 and was succeeded by his widow Phoebe. Their son Alfred Wheaton soon succeeded his mother but died in April 1851. He was succeeded by his sisters Mary and Anne. Beside the premises in 185 Fore Street they also operated from 29 High Street in 1851. They retained their premises in 186 Fore Street until the turn of the century, adding no. 186 by 1880. They were producing the same type of material as several other booksellers and stationers, the Handbook of Exeter was advertised on 2 July 1846 and they also produced almanacs and similar publications.

To survive, these firms required to use new skills and adapt old techniques to new situations. Often these innovative ideas came from London. James Bannehr was born in London in about 1810 according to the 1851 census. He is not recorded by Twyman in his directory of London lithographic printers but Bannehr takes pains to stress his London origins in an advertisement in Trewmans' Exeter flying post on 28 July 1836. Directories list him as a law stationer, a lithographer and share broker trading in Bedford Street, Exeter from about 1835. The directory entries and advertisements suggest that he was probably one of the first in Exeter who used the relatively new technique of lithography for legal forms rather than for illustrations. The first lithographer in Exeter had been Thomas Bayley whose short-lived establishment seems to have been mainly used for illustrations in 1827.

Among printers and booksellers Thomas Howe emerges as an interesting entrepreneur, although he is not listed as a printer in the 1851 census schedules. He had begun his career as a printer and bookseller at 217, High street in 1827 but in 1831 he moved his premises to 207, High Street where the rapid development in his business began. He designated his emporium as the 'Exeter Bazaar' and experimented with a variety of means of attracting customers to his premises, which now included a wide range of stationery and fancy goods, such as work boxes, writing desks, dressing cases, tea caddies, cabinets, and toys. The January sale was one means of enticement and an advertisement for the 1837 sale on 26 January includes the postscript: 'the Chinese juggler continues to attract attention and is universally admired'. But Howe's main attraction, the Cosmorama, was open gratis only to those who spent more than one shilling at the Bazaar. In the middle of March 1835 the newspapers announced the opening of this permanent exhibition of panoramas at Howe's Bazaar. It included initially the House of Lords on fire, Calais Pier, Cowes, the Needles, Tintern Abbey, and St. Michael's Mount. Howe changed the selection every few months, and the Cosmorama remained a feature of Exeter life until his death in 1856, from 1836 being known as Howe's Gothic Gallery.

Thus, after the upheaval of the Revolutionary and Napoleonic wars the book trades of Exeter adopted a variety of technical innovations and marketing strategies to adapt successfully to the changing times.

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