Friday, May 16, 2014

A Strange Story – William Strange of Paternoster Row

by Robert J. Kirkpatrick

In the 1840s and 1850s the name of William Strange was associated with two publishing scandals. In 1849, Strange was the subject of legal action by Prince Albert to prevent the publication of a catalogue of privately-owned etchings, in a case with had profound implications for the law on privacy. In 1857, Strange was imprisoned for publishing two obscene libels, the periodicals Women of London and Paul Pry. Prior to this, Strange had been a close associate of fellow-publishers George Cowie and George Purkess, and he had issued a large number of cheap periodicals and penny-part serials from his premises at 21 Paternoster Row. He was also in and out of the bankruptcy courts. But so, too, was his son, also named William Strange, who followed his father into the bookselling and publishing business, and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish between the two. This is an attempt to unravel the William Strange story.

William Strange the Elder was born in Southwark, London in 1801. On 4 May 1823, at Christ Church, Greyfriars, Newgate, he married Ann Allen (born in Kensington around 1803), with whom he went on to have at least eight children: William (born 26 August 1824), Charles Frederick (4 September 1828), Edward (baptised 1 November 1830), Thomas (born 17 May 1835), Sarah (25 December 1836), Eliza (baptised 28 October 1838), Mary Ann (born 3 December 1840), and John (born 7 December 1842).

The baptism records for these children show that in 1824 and 1828 Strange was a bookseller at 24 Fetter Lane, Fleet Street; after which he moved to 21 Paternoster Row. His profession was given as bookseller up until 1840, when he declared himself to be a bookseller and publisher.

He had started out in business in 1822, entering into partnership with George Cowie and Robert Thomas Weaver, as printers, as 24 Fetter Lane, and as booksellers at 60 Paternoster Row. Weaver resigned from the partnership in November 1826 (London Gazette, 26 December 1826). Strange and Cowie carried on, moving to 55 Paternoster Row, but in November 1829 they were both declared bankrupt (London Gazette, 2 November 1829), Strange eventually paying his creditors 25% of his debts.

Strange’s activities as a publisher began in November 1824, when, in partnership with Cowie, he launched the London Mechanics’ Register, a 16-page weekly covering developments in science, engineering etc. This ran for two years before they sold it to another publisher. In 1827, in partnership with Cowie (as Cowie and Strange, Paternoster Row and Fetter Lane), he published the 4-volume The Histories and Antiquities of London. The following year, in partnership with several other publishers, Strange launched the Olio, or Museum of Entertainment, which ran until 1833. Cowie and Strange also published, in 1828, the first edition of The Bookbinder’s Manual, later editions of which, under the title Cowie’s Bookbinder’s Manual, were published by William Strange the Younger.

In 1830, having acquired premises at 21 Paternoster Row, he published Anecdotes of the French Revolution, written by the political journalist William Carpenter, and in July 1831 he began issuing Carpenter’s Political Magazine, edited by Carpenter from the King’s Bench Prison, where he had been imprisoned for refusing to pay stamp duty on his Political Letters and Pamphlets, a series of weekly tracts.

One of Strange’s most successful ventures was Figaro in London, a weekly satirical paper owned by Thomas Littleton Holt and edited by Gilbert Abbot à Beckett, which ran from December 1831 to August 1839. He had earlier, in collaboration with George Purkess and Henry Hetherington, launched the New Casket, Containing Gems of Amusement and General Instruction, which lasted for two years (1831-33). However, much of his publishing activity in the early 1830s was spectacularly unsuccessful, with several periodicals only lasting for a handful of issues. 

Examples include the Magazine of Useful Knowledge and Co-operative Miscellany (October-November 1830, 4 numbers), the Political Anecdotist and Popular Instructor (June 1831, edited by William Carpenter and published by him after just one number had been issued by Strange), the Patriot (August-September 1831, 3 numbers), the Calendar of Crime and General Advertiser (March 1832, 3 numbers), the Citizen (1832, 1 number), the Idler (May 1832, 1 number), the London Penny Journal (May-July 1832, 9 numbers), the Political Unionist (June-July 1832, 2 numbers), the Fool’s Cap (October 1832, 1 number), the Penny Pirate (November 1832, 1 number), Poor Richard’s Journal for Poor People (November-December 1832, 3 numbers), and the People’s Penny Pictures (December 1832, 1 number). In 1833 he launched the Episcopal Gazette:  A Journal of Priestly Villainy and Clerical Rapacity, and the Girls’ and Boys’ Penny Magazine, the latter in conjunction with George Cowie, George Purkess and several others.

Much of Strange’s output throughout the 1830s was political in nature, with titles such as The People’s Book, Comprising their Chartered Rights and Practical Wrongs (1831), The Elector’s Manual (1832), The Life of William Cobbett (1835), and A Concise View of the Present State of Society in This Country (1839).
But Strange was also noted for his penny bloods and similar material, including Valentine and Orson (1832), The Innkeeper’s Daughter (1832), Richard Turpin, The Highwayman (1833), Tales of All Nations, or Popular Legends and Romance (1836), and Annals of the Age, or The Crimes of London (1838-39). He also issued a series of Popular Dramas in 1834-35.

In September 1834, in partnership with Henry John Miller, he published The Gentleman’s Dressing Room Companion and Toilet Guide. However, a few months later, in March 1835, he was in a debtors’ prison (London Gazette, 3 March 1835), and subsequently appeared in the Court for the Relief of Insolvent Debtors. He was subsequently released without paying a penny to his creditors.

Five years later, in December 1839, he was back in the debtors’ prison (London Gazette, 20 December 1839), again being discharged from the Insolvent Debtors’ Court, in February 1840, without paying a penny of his debts (which were later revealed to be £1,300). One of his creditors was a company of linen drapers, Sewell and Cross, who had successfully sued him for libel in 1838 after he had published an allegedly scurrilous account of their business career.

At the time of the 1841 census he was living at 21 Paternoster Row with his wife and five of his children.

His publishing activities throughout the 1840s echoed those of the 1830s – a mixture of political works, cheap periodicals and the occasional penny blood.  Examples included Chambers’s London Journal (1841-43, co-published with George Berger and John Clements, and edited by E.L. Blanchard), Bradshaw’s Journal (1841-43), Oliver Cromwell, or Cavaliers and Roundheads: A Tale of the Civil Wars (1841), the Mesmerist:  A Journal of Vital Magnetism (May-September 1843), A Vindication of the Rights of Women (1844), D’Horsay, or The Follies of the Day (a novel by John Mills, 1844), The Female Bluebeard  (by Eugene Sue, 1845), Moll Cutpurse, or Cromwell and the Cavalier (1846), and An Enquiry into the Economy, Exchange, and Distribution of Wealth (1847). 

He issued a bound volume of the 24 numbers of the New Age Concordium Gazette and Temperance Advocate (originally published by R. Buchanan) in 1845, and he also began specialising in publishing songs, music and comic dramas, most notably the Musical Bouquet series of sheet music, issued in collaboration with James Bingley from 192 High Holborn, and which largely comprised material pirated from other publishers.

In January 1844 Strange, as a bookseller, was a party to an injunction obtained by Charles Dickens to prevent publication of a bowdlerised version of A Christmas Carol, which was being serialised in Peter Parley’s Illuminated Library (itself a misappropriation of the original Peter Parley publications). (Dickens sued the magazine’s owners, Richard Egan Lee and Henry Hewitt, but immediately after winning his case Lee and Hewitt declared themselves bankrupt, and Dickens was left with £700 court costs).

Just over four years later, in August 1848, Strange was again in court defending an injunction sought by a music publisher, Robert Cocks, who was seeking to prevent him from publishing a piece of music to which he was claiming copyright; and in October of the same year he was defending another injunction obtained by Prince Albert (husband of Queen Victoria) preventing him from publishing a catalogue of etchings. These had been created by Albert and Victoria, and copies had been made by a Windsor printer, John Brown, one of whose employees later sold a number of soiled and imperfect plates to Joseph Tomsett Judge, a campaigning journalist. 

Judge subsequently wrote a descriptive catalogue of the etchings, which was printed by Strange. Judge also planned an exhibition of the works. However, when he sent a copy of the catalogue along with his proposal to the royal household he was immediately faced with a writ to hand over all the etchings and to desist from publishing the catalogue. 

An injunction was subsequently granted in October 1848, on the basis that the prints could only have come into Judge’s possession unlawfully. Strange offered to give up all the copies of the catalogue in his possession if the case against him was dropped and his costs were paid. This was refused, so Strange appealed. The ensuing proceedings established new principles of privacy and confidentiality –   the court found in favour of Prince Albert, although on 1 June 1849 it was revealed that Albert had withdrawn his claim for costs against Strange.

Also in 1848 he was the subject of an injunction obtained by Herbert Ingram and Nathaniel Cook, the owners of the Illustrated London News, preventing him from using the cover design of their paper which he had pirated.

On 18 February 1849, Strange sold his publishing business to his son, for 75% of its actual value (as revealed in the Times, 24 February 1851). William Strange junior had been employed by his father since he was a child, and had taken over as manager in September 1848, being paid a salary of £33 a year with board and lodging. The price of the business was £745 – £500 was paid in cash, which his son borrowed against the assignment deed of the business, and the remainder paid by two bills of exchange. Having received the cash, Strange immediately fled to France, where he stayed until October 1850, returning when his money had run out.

A month later, having settled at 3 Navarino Grove, Hackney, he was bankrupt for a third time, described in the London Gazette as “William Strange the elder, formerly of No. 21 Paternoster Row”, and a “Bookseller and Publisher, Dealer and Chapman”. On 24 February 1851 the Times reported at great length on his hearing at the Bankruptcy Court. 

His debts were £1,574, some of his creditors being Ingram and Cook (owed £150 in legal costs), and the Belfast and County Down Railway Company (owed £459 made up of calls on shares and legal costs). It was clear from the hearing that Strange had a rather lax approach to bookkeeping and a casual approach to money, and he was frequently unable to answer questions relating to his finances. Counsel for Ingram and Cook told the court:

“There could not be the slightest excuse for the imperfect accounts laid before the Court.  There might be some sympathy for an inexperienced young trader borne down by misfortune, but for this man there could be no sympathy, for he not only traded in insolvency but on the reputation of others. Strange was a bankrupt in 1829, paying 2s 6d in the pound, an insolvent in 1835 paying nothing, and an insolvent again in 1840 paying the same amount. The schedule of his last insolvency was disgraced by sums to a considerable amount for libels on respectable persons. It was very easy to say that he had not been the writer of these things, but he was the man whose name as publisher gave these scurrilities to the world.  He was too old and crafty not to know the consequences of these slanders; and when the injured persons sought to avenge their reputations Strange protected himself with the shield of insolvency.”
The Bankruptcy Commissioner, in giving judgment, focused on the sale of Strange’s business to his son:

“In February 1849, at a time when it must have been quite clear to him that he was hopelessly insolvent, he says he sold property of the value of £965 to his son, at a reduction of 25 per cent, or £220. It does not appear there was any valuation – it does not appear there was any other person privy to this transaction; but, whether fair or unfair, he says he received £500 in money and £245 in two bills. With that money, or a portion of it, he immediately went abroad, and remained away a long time. This money, it appears to me, he ought to have distributed among his creditors…….”
In April 1851 Strange sued the Times for libel, over two pieces it had published on 11 and 15 January 1851 concerning his bankruptcy. The first incorrectly stated that Strange had been imprisoned for debt following the case involving Prince Albert, and that his wife had subsequently written to Prince Albert asking him to waive his costs. Strange subsequently wrote a letter to the Times, seeking to correct these errors, and after a second letter the Times purported to set the record straight only to confuse the court’s findings concerning Strange with those relating to Joseph Judge. Strange was awarded damages of £80.  (Times, 5 April 1851).
In the meantime, his son William, who became known as William Strange the Younger, had embarked on his own career as a bookseller and publisher, having taken over from his father at 21 Paternoster Row. He was living there, on his own, at the time of the 1851 census, described as a “Master employing 10 men”.  However, not long after this, in August 1851 he was himself declared bankrupt, named as “William Strange the Younger, of No. 21 Paternoster Row, in the City of London, Bookseller, Publisher, Dealer and Chapman.” (London Gazette, 2 September 1851).

The 1850s saw a number of publications issued under the W. Strange imprint, including the Monthly Literary and Scientific Lecturer (1850), The Mysteries of Russia (1854), Holt’s Police Gazette and Holt’s Army and Navy Despatch (both 1854, and both owned by Thomas Littleton Holt, published by “William Strange, Jnr.”), and Memoirs of Andrew Winpenny (1858), along with a handful of songs and dances.

One of the most successful publications was The Unclaimed Dividend Books of the Bank of England (W. Strange, 21 Paternoster Row, although it is not known if this was the father or son), published in 1851. Listing the names of thousands of people who had failed to claim dividends and had stock in public funds, which could be still be claimed by themselves or their next of kin, it sold 30,000 copies. Two similar titles under the W. Strange imprint were The Unclaimed Dividend Books of the South Sea Stock (also 1851), and The Heir-at-Law and Next-of-Kin Almanack (1857).

Strange moved from 21 Paternoster Row to 8 Amen Corner, Paternoster Row in 1852, from where, as William Strange, Jun., he published the seventh edition of Cowie’s Bookbinder’s Manual in 1852, earlier editions of which had been published by his father. In September 1853 he was again in the bankruptcy court, described as

“formerly of No. 8 Amen Corner, Paternoster Row, London, Bookseller and Publisher, having a Booth, and carrying on business as a Retailer of Beer and Tobacco, at the Palace at Sydenham, Surrey, and also residing at Belvedere Cottage, Upper Norwood, and now Salesman to Publishers, and residing at Belvedere Cottage, Upper Norwood aforesaid.” (London Gazette, 9 September 1853)
When he reappeared in the court in late December 1853 he was shown to be living at 115 Lambeth Road, Surrey, and working as a salesman for Messrs. Baynes and Sons, Publishers at 113 Fleet Street.

In May 1857 William Strange, now operating out of 183 Fleet Street, appeared in court accused of selling two obscene libels, namely The Women of London and Paul Pry. But which William Strange was it? The report in the Times (11 May 1857) suggested it was William Strange the Younger:

“It appeared that this defendant, who was a very respectable looking young man, kept the shop in question, where he sold newspapers and periodical papers generally.”
William Strange the Elder would have been 56 at the time, whereas his son was 33.

The Times went on to report that it “appeared that Paul Pry was printed for ‘Richard Martin, 183 Fleet Street’ (the defendant’s shop), but no one could tell who ‘Richard Martin’ was.” Mr H.T. Cole, Strange’s defence counsel, told the court that Strange

“was utterly unconscious, when he sold the papers, that they contained anything obscene, and when he discovered that one number of the Women of London contained something improper, that number was altogether suppressed.”
Several tradesmen gave Strange a good character, including George Vickers, of Holywell Street, but this was not enough to prevent Strange from being found guilty. Before he was sentenced he was allowed to address the court, and said that

“he had been connected with the publication of cheap literature all his life; that he was in the habit of selling thousands of cheap papers every week; that he knew nothing of their contents; but that they all came in and were sold in an hour to the trade. He said he had a wife and family to support, and if he were taken away of course they must suffer. He solemnly declared he did not know the contents of these publications.”
Yet William Strange the Younger was unmarried and did not have a family to support. His father, on the other hand, had a wife and four children still reliant on him: John (aged 15), Mary Ann (17), Eliza (19) and Sarah (21).

As it was his first offence, he was sentenced to three months imprisonment.

In March 1859 William Strange, along with George Maddick, launched Penny Bell’s Life and Sporting News, a rival to Bell’s Life, a sporting newspaper which had been running since 1822. The owners of the latter immediately sought an injunction, which led to the new paper’s name being changed to the Sporting Life

Strange left after only a handful of issues, and launched his own rival, the Penny Sporting Times, from 294 Strand. After just eight numbers, its backers absconded, and Strange was left to pay off the main creditors, the paper’s printers, out of his own pocket. Again, the question remains as to which William Strange this was. As it does in relation to the Journal of Fast Life, a somewhat racy periodical which ran for 18 numbers between November 1859 and March 1860.

On 11 January 1860 the London Gazette reported on the filing of a petition of bankruptcy against William Strange, of No. 294 Strand, Printer and Publisher.  When, in March 1860, Strange tried to obtain release from bankruptcy, his application was opposed by one of the other creditors who, back in October 1859, had tried to recoup his debts by seizing the furniture from Strange’s office.  Strange had him arrested, but he was released when he provided a letter from the owners of the Penny Sporting Times giving him permission.

The Times (2 April 1860) reported that when questioned Strange admitted having been bankrupt in 1831 and insolvent in 1834. He also went on to admit that he had been in prison. He was, despite the creditor’s objections, discharged from bankruptcy.
William Strange the Elder continued in business as, it seems, a bookseller. The 1861 census recorded him living at 6 Downs Cottages, Hackney, described as a bookseller employing four boys. With him were his wife, his son Thomas (then a 25 year-old railway clerk), and his daughters Sarah, Eliza and Mary Ann. 

Ten years later he was living at 190 Lancaster Road, Kensington, described as a retired bookseller, along with Eliza, Mary Ann, and, suggesting a small degree of financial comfort, a servant. He died in Barnsley, Yorkshire, on 6 September 1871 (although his home address was given as 192 Lancaster Road, Kensington), and was buried in Kensal Green Cemetery. Rather oddly, perhaps, he left an estate worth under £50. Even more oddly, administration of his estate was granted to his son William, described in the Probate Calendar as a hotel keeper, living at Osborne House, Holland Park.

In fact, William Strange the Younger was still working in the publishing business.  In 1859, in Belper, Derbyshire, he had married Hannah Shaw, born around 1834 in Heanor, Derbyshire. There appears to be no trace of Strange in the 1861 census, but at the time of the 1871 census, he and his wife were living at 2 Bucklands Street, Hoxton, London, with William described as a Bookseller’s Warehouseman.  Also living with them were Percy Mather, his 13 year-old nephew, and his mother, recorded as Mary Ann, aged 67, whose place of birth was given as Epsom, Surrey.

Very little had appeared under the W. Strange imprint during the 1850s, and it seems that William had more or less abandoned publishing in favour of more hands-off work. One of his last publications, The Perils of Policy Holders (a lengthy analysis of the life assurance industry written by William Carpenter) appeared in 1860, from 8 Amen Corner. His last publication may well have been Gospel Salvation, in Prose and Verse, written by Robert E. Turner and published by Strange at 3 Amen Corner in April 1864.

In 1881, he was living at 5 Mercers Road, Islington, described as a “Commercial Clerk (publisher);” in 1891, still at Mercers Road, he was described as a Publisher’s Manager; and in 1901, when he was recorded as a visitor at an address in Camberwell, he was described as a Publisher’s Clerk.

He was comfortably off, able to employ a servant throughout the 1880s and 1890s.  He died at 5 Mercers Road on 11 August 1903, leaving an estate valued at £2,458 (£224,000 in today’s terms). Hannah died a year later, on 11 October 1904, having spent next to nothing of her inheritance and leaving an estate valued at £2,395.

Of William Strange the Elder’s other sons, Charles Frederick, Edward and John briefly followed into the bookselling and publishing business. At the time of the 1851 census Charles and Frederick were living together at an address in Paddington, Charles described as a publisher and Edward as a bookseller. Charles subsequently married Ann Susannah Alexander in 1852, moving to Southwark where, in the 1861 census, he was described as a bookseller. However, ten years later, living in Shoreditch, he was described as a builder’s clerk. He died on 9 January 1878, at 5 St. Petersburgh Terrace, Bayswater, leaving an estate of under £300.

Edward married Catherine Sarah Watson in 1858, and at the time of the 1861 census was living in St. Bride’s, Farringdon, described as a clerk. He appears to have died in 1866.

Thomas Strange, still living with his father in 1861 and working as a railway clerk, married Catherine Frances Fuller in October 1864, the marriage certificate describing him as a commercial clerk. They moved to St. Pancras, where in 1871 Thomas was described as a bookkeeper; ten years later, he was living with his wife and four children in Limehouse, described as a clerk. It is not known when or where he died.

Finally, William’s youngest son, John, born in 1842, married Jane Davis in October 1870, the marriage certificate showing him to be a bookseller and publisher. Jane died in 1877, and John remarried, his second wife being Amelia Wilson, in June 1886, described as a bookseller. However, by the time of the 1891 census he had become a commercial traveller, living in Chelsea; ten years later, living in Paddington, he was still described as a commercial traveller. He died, in Paddington, in 1903.
Read Robert J. Kirkpatrick’s William Cate – Printer on BEAR ALLEY HERE

Read Robert J. Kirkpatrick’s George Vickers – Getting One’s Vickers in a Twist on BEAR ALLEY HERE


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