Friday, June 6, 2014

Ching-Ching’s Own and The “Best For Boys” Publishing Company

[1] Cheerful Ching-Ching by E. Harcourt Burrage, 11 Nos., “Best for Boys” Publishing Company

by Robert J. Kirkpatrick

“And lastly, Ching-Ching – eccentric, clever, cunning immortal Ching-Ching, whose nature has so many contradictions in it that one scarcely knows what he is – I, the writer of his history, fail to fathom him, and it may be that he was even a puzzle to himself?”Handsome Harry of the Fighting Belvedere, by E. Harcourt Burrage, 1876 
The “Best for Boys” Publishing Company was established in 1890 to capitalise on the popularity of the writer Edwin Harcourt Burrage, and in particular his stories of Ching-Ching, a wily Chinese detective. The company survived for just eight years, before falling victim to the growing success of the Aldine Publishing Company and Afred Harmsworth and his cheap boys’ papers.

Thomas Harrison Roberts [1850-1915
The origins of the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company lay in the activities of William Lucas and Thomas Harrison Roberts. Lucas, born in Clapham, South London in 1844, began his career as an office messenger before becoming a printer in Newcastle Street, Strand, in the late 1860s, and then a publisher, launching the Boy’s Standard in November 1875 (taken over by Charles Fox in 1877). Roberts, born in Kingston, Surrey, in 1850, began his career as a publisher’s clerk before establishing a wholesale newsagents and publishing business in Essex Street, Strand, in the 1870s. One of his first publications was the Illustrated Family Novelist, launched in 1878 and which went on to run for 1,007 issues until 1897.

Lucas and Roberts seem to have joined forces in 1885, firstly operating out of 42 and 43 Essex Street, then moving to 158 Fleet Street, and then to 26 Dean Street, Soho. Amongst their publications, which usually showed Roberts as editor and Lucas as publisher, were the Illustrated Fireside Novelist, Lady’s Own Novelette, Sporting Sketches, Lazy Land and Dorothy’s Home Journal.

In March 1876, Lucas’s Boy’s Standard began serialising ‘Handsome Harry of the Fighting “Belvedere”’ written by Edwin Harcourt Burrage. Born in Norwich, Norfolk, in 1839, Burrage had moved to London, and after a brief and unsuccessful spell as an engraver was encouraged to try his hand at writing by Charles Stevens, the original editor of Edwin J. Brett’s Boys of England; himself a successful author of boys’ stories. Burrage submitted a story to William Emmett, then establishing himself as Brett’s great rival as a publisher of boys’ story papers, and after having it accepted was soon appointed as a sub-editor on the Emmett paper the Young Briton, in 1869. Burrage subsequently wrote numerous stories for various Emmett publications, most notably a series about Tom Wildrake, a character created by George Emmett in March 1872, in Tom Wildrake’s Schooldays, the authorship of which was taken over by Burrage in August of that year when Emmett allegedly ran out of steam. Many of Burrage’s later stories appeared under the name of George Emmett.

Ching-Ching was initially a minor character introduced in the story of Handsome Harry, but he quickly became a readers’ favourite, having his own story, Cheerful-Daring-Wonderful Ching-Ching, in the the Boy’s Standard in 1877. In 1885-86, the story was reprinted in Charles Fox’s Boys’ Leisure Hour, and it was possibly this that prompted William Lucas to launch a new paper, Ching-Ching’s Own, in June 1888. This was edited by, and largely written by, Edwin Harcourt Burrage. Lucas also began issuing previously-published serials as penny-part novels and then as complete volumes.

The publishing history of Ching-Ching’s Own is rather confusing, not least of all because of mistakes made by previous bibliographers – myself included. To begin with, both Frank Jay (in in his series of essays on 19th century periodicals ‘Peeps into the Past’) and John Allingham (in his ‘A Brief History of Boys’ Journals’) stated that Ching-Ching’s Own was launched on 14 June 1888. However, the British Library has a complete run of the paper, and the first number is clearly dated 23 June 1888, a Saturday.

[4] Ching-Ching and his Chums, cover
Published by Lucas at 42 & 43 Essex Street, and printed by Charles Straker & Sons, Bishopsgate, London (and not Sully & Ford as stated by Frank Jay), it was initially subtitled ‘A Journal that will Please the Boys.’ Its opening serials were Ching-Ching and his Chums and The Slapcrash Boys, and these were supplemented by jokes, puzzles and cartoons. As well as a free colour plate, the paper also included a free Ching-Ching’s Novelette. With the fourth number, the masthead declared that the paper was “Edited by E.H. Burrage, the originator and only writer of Ching-Ching,” and the subtitle changed to ‘A Journal that will Amuse the Boys.’

The paper ran in short volumes – Volume I finished with no. 12, Volume II ended with no. 24, etc. With no. 27, the subtitle changed again, rather ungrammatically, to ‘A Thorough Good Journal for the Boys.’ In January 1889 it was announced that the paper was now being published every Wednesday, although it still carried the Saturday date. In March 1889, another announcement stated that the publication day would alter to Monday.

[5] Young Ching-Ching (A Worthy Son of a Worthy Sire)
With no. 41, the subtitle was dropped and replaced with a strapline at the top of the cover: ‘The Biggest, Brightest, and Best Boys’ Book.’ This was sustained until 15 February 1890 (no. 87), when the strapline was altered to ‘Best for Boys.’ This then became absorbed into the paper’s title with no. 92 on 22 March 1890, when it became Best for Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own. The publisher was still William Lucas. This led some previous bibliographers to suggest that Best for Boys was a separate paper, launched in March 1890, with Dennis Gifford, for example, suggesting that this ran until 20 September 1890, after which it merged with Ching-Ching’s Own into Best for Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own. (Unfortunately, I repeated this error in my history of boys’ periodicals, From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha’penny Dreadfuller, published last year). Certainly, there is no evidence that such a separate paper existed (although see later).

On 27 September 1890 a new series of Best for Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own began, printed on pink paper and larger in format. The front page carried the legend “No. 1, Vol. I New Series” below the masthead, although at the bottom of the page was printed “No. 119 Old Series.” 

On 6 December 1890, with no. 128, and with no prior announcement, publication was taken over by the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company, operating out of 17 Gough Square, Fleet Street.

The “Best for Boys” Publishing Company Limited had been incorporated on 28 November 1890 (the papers relating to its incorporation are held at the National Archives in London). Rather oddly, perhaps, William Lucas was not involved, unless he was retained as an employee. The new company, which had share capital of £2,500, divided into 1,500 ordinary shares of £1 each and 100 founders’ shares of £10 each, was founded by seven shareholders headed by Harry Bye, a printer from Wimbledon (who went on to become the Managing Director of the printers Sully & Ford). The other founders were Edwin Harcourt Burrage, Tom Joseph Hartshorn (a solicitor), William Bacon (a stationer), Frederick W. Eaton (a merchant’s clerk), Francis W. Watkins (a cashier), and Frederick Warren (a solicitor). They were subsequently joined by two other shareholders – John E. Strong (a printer), and Strong and Thornbury (paper merchants).

A Memorandum of Agreement for the new company, drawn up on 20 November 1890, revealed that the purpose of the business was to provide an exclusive outlet for Burrage:
The said E. Harcourt Burrage for the consideration herein
appearing hereby agrees to and with the said Tom Joseph
Hartshorn that he will for the space of ten years from the
date hereof write or at his own expense provide the whole
of the literary matter for the future editions of the said serial
publications and that he will not for the same period write
for any other serial or publication of the same class or publish
any tales for boys or literary work otherwise than upon the
account of and through the Company so to be registered.
The said E. Harcourt Burrage shall be a Director of the said
Company and shall edit the said publications. As consideration
for the above he shall be entitled to a weekly salary of six
pounds. The said Harry Bye shall also be a Director of the
said Company and shall be the publisher and superintend the
publishing and bringing out of the said publications and so
long as he shall be such publisher be entitled to a salary of
104 pounds per annum payable weekly.
The “said publications” referred to above were later recorded as being Best for Boys and Ching-Ching’s Own, suggesting, presumably erroneously, that these were two separate publications.

So, a week or so after the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company was formed, it took over Best for Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own, with the printer now being Sully & Ford. On 30 April 1892, with no. 84 of the new series (no. 210 of the old series) the title changed to Best for Merry Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own, and as such it ran until 17 June 1893 (no. 143/261), after which it was replaced by a new paper, Bits for Boys – A Journal for Young Britons. On 16 September 1893, after only 12 numbers, this was relaunched as The Prince – A Journal of Fact and Fiction, Teeming with Records of Heroism and Thrilling Adventure, although this came to an abrupt end a few weeks later on 2 December 1893.

[9] Daring Ching-Ching; or, the Mysterious Cruise of the Swallow, 18 Nos., “Best for Boys” Publishing Company
In the meantime, the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company Ltd. had issued two other boys’ papers – the Boys’ Star Library, a monthly, edited by E.H. Burrage using his pseudonym of “Tom Tartar”, which ran for one year in 1891; and the Complete Sensational Library, which ran for 20 numbers in 1895. More profitable, perhaps, were the reissues of old serials in complete volume form in the Best for Boys Library, which offered around 40 titles with prices ranging from threepence to two shillings. Another series, the Up-to-date Library, appeared briefly in 1895.

[10] The Wild Adventures of Jam Josser & Eddard Cutten at Home and Abroad, No. 1, by E. Harcourt Burrage, “Best for Boys” Publishing Company
The company was also almost certainly behind Golden Hours, a weekly boys’ paper launched on 30 March 1895, which ran for 96 numbers until January 1897. No publisher’s name was given, and it simply carried the legend “Published for the proprietor at 17 Gough Square.” It included advertisements for “Best for Boys” titles, although again without mentioning the company’s name. While it reprinted serials from earlier publications, its main focus was on American stories, apparently reprinted with permission from the papers published in New York by Norman L. Munro. It came to an end in January 1897 after 96 numbers.

The publishing company survived, presumably still selling its stock of complete volumes, for a further couple of years. The last Return of Shareholders was made on 31 December 1898, revealing just nine shareholders. Following the absence of a Return the following year, the Registrar of Companies wrote letters in August and September 1900, asking if it was still in business, but these were returned undelivered. Finally, the company was warned in April 1901 that it would be struck off the Companies Register if it failed to respond, but this letter was also returned undelivered. Accordingly, the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company Limited was dissolved by the Registrar via a notice in the London Gazette on 23 July 1901.

In the meantime, T.H. Roberts had launched his own contribution to the Ching-Ching industry with Ching-Ching Yarns, a 68-page pocket-sized weekly which ran for just 12 numbers between April and June 1893. Five years later he and Lucas launched Boys’ Stories of Adventure and Daring, another pocket-sized weekly, priced at a halfpence and an attempt to muscle in on the market in cheaper papers which was becoming dominated by Alfred Harmsworth. In the event, it survived for less than a year, coming to an end in January 1899 after 44 numbers.

William Lucas appears to have abandoned the publishing business in the early 1900s, and by 1911 was retired and living in Croydon, where he died in 1918. Roberts continued, as T. Harrison Roberts Ltd., until 1908, when financial difficulties led to his company’s dissolution. He tried to re-establish himself, via T. Harrison Roberts (1908) Ltd., operating out of 1 Plough Court, Holborn, but this company failed and was struck off the Register of Companies in 1913. Roberts, who spent several years living in Reigate, died in Croydon in 1915.

For his part, Edwin Harcourt Burrage appears to have gone outside the terms of his agreement with the “Best for Boys” Publishing Company when he wrote what turned out to be two of his most popular school serials, The Island School and The Lambs of Littlecote, for the Aldine Publishing Company in 1894-95. After 1900, Burrage wrote more or less exclusively for the Amalgamated Press. Having moved to Redhill in Surrey, he spent several years on the local council and was very active in local affairs. However, his later years were not without financial difficulty, and in 1904 he was obliged to apply to the Royal Literary Fund (a long-established charitable fund set up to help authors in temporary dire straits) for assistance, after ill-health meant he had to stop writing, while he had no savings with which to support his wife and seven children. He was awarded a grant of £50. He died twelve years later, on 5 March 1916.

[12] The Best for Boys Library listings

Publishing history of Ching-Ching’s Own

Ching-Ching’s Own
Published by W. Lucas
23 June 1888 - 15 March 1890 (91 numbers)


Best for Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own
Published by W. Lucas
22 March 1890 - 20 September 1890 (27 numbers)
New Series:
27 September 1890 - 29 November 1890 (10 numbers)
Taken over by “Best for Boys” Publishing Company
6 December 1890 - 23 April 1892 (73 numbers)


Best for Merry Boys – Ching-Ching’s Own
Published by “Best for Boys” Publishing Company
30 April 1892 - 17 June 1893 (60 numbers)

replaced with

Bits for Boys

[Note] E. Harcourt Burrage introduced Ching-Ching in Handsome Harry, a serial in the Boys’ Standard, No. 20, March 18, 1876. It was later published in penny numbers as Handsome Harry of the Fighting Belvedere by Hogarth House in 28 parts in the 1880s. Throughout I have used Ching-Ching with a dash rather than Ching Ching, following the lead of its originator E. Harcourt Burrage in the original texts.
 Thanks to Nick Harrison Roberts for the photograph of his grandfather Thomas Harrison Roberts

1 comment:

  1. It seems my great-grandfather won a cup with "Ching Ching's Own Society" written on the side. Trivia contest? Any ideas on this one?