GETTING ONE’S VICKERS IN A TWIST
Robert J. Kirkpatrick
Even now, with the benefit of online genealogy records – births, marriages, deaths and census returns (at www.ancestry.co.uk) – it is difficult to untangle the Vickers family story. Vickers was a common name in the 19th century, and the family had a habit of using the same first names when naming their children. However, it has been possible to put together a picture of the family’s personal and professional lives.
This, then, is the story of the Vickers bookselling, publishing and printing dynasty.
In his full–length study The London Journal 1845–83: Periodicals, Production and Gender (Ashgate, 2004) Andrew King wrote “When the Journal began, [George] Vickers was mainly a small–time printer and bookseller, with an office and shop at 28 Holywell Street…..George Vickers himself died in 1846…..but ‘George Vickers’, the name and concern, were carried on by his widow Anne and their sons George and Henry.” Previous sources that claimed George Vickers senior died in 1846 include Louis James (Fiction for the Working Man, Oxford University Press, 1963), and Victor E. Neuburg (Popular Literature: A History and Guide, Woburn Press, 1977).
However, it is now known that George Vickers senior was never a publisher, and that he died in 1837. The firm of Vickers was established by his son, George, in or around 1837, although the circumstances surrounding its birth remain a mystery.
George Vickers senior was born on 1 November 1793 in Shoreditch, London, to Edward Vickers, an oil and colourman, and his wife Mary. He was baptised, as George Edward Vickers, in the parish church of St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, on 15 December 1793. On 25 February 1815 he married Mary Ann Amelia Higgins, born in May 1794, the daughter of Andrew Higgins, a retired waterman, in the parish of St. Andrew’s, Holborn. They went on to have eight children. The first, George William, was baptised on 27 July 1817 in St. Andrew’s, Holborn, his father’s occupation being given as a Law Stationer, with an address in Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street. The second child, Sarah Emma, was baptised in the parish of St. Mary’s, Lambeth, on 16 May 1819, with her father described as an Attorney’s Clerk, living in Kennington, South London. The second son, Henry Joseph, was born in Kennington and baptised at St. Mary’s Lambeth on 31 March 1822, with his father shown as a Lawyer’s Clerk of Kennington Lane. A third son, Andrew Edward, was born on 1 July 1823 and baptised in the parish church of St. George the Martyr, Southwark, on 28 September 1823, with his father’s occupation now recorded as that of a Law Stationer, living in Long Lane, Southwark. Three further children – Mary Ann Amelia, born in 1827, Charles, born in 1833, and Elizabeth, born in 1834 – were all baptised on 22 February 1837 at the parish church of St. Philip, Clerkenwell. The family’s address was given as 9 Spring Street, Clerkenwell, with the father’s occupation that of a Porter.
There could be more than one reason for this change in George Edward Vickers’ occupation. William N. Johnson (see The Vickers Publishing Family of London) suggests that George may have suffered some affliction which meant he could no longer work as a stationer or a clerk; or, again as suggested by William Johnson, the Baptism Register was wrong as a result of carelessness or misreading – the entries were presumably transcribed from baptism certificates which might have given George’s occupation as “Printer”. Interestingly, the succeeding three entries in the Register, recording the baptisms of the children of James and Ann Leach, also give James’s occupation as that of a Porter.
George Edward died in 1837 and was buried on 12 November 1837 in the Holborn parish of St. Andrew’s. His address was given as Laystall Street, Holborn.
By the time of the 1861 census, George William Vickers had moved to 6 Arundel Street, Strand, where he was a bookseller employing 15 men. He had married Emily Ellen Gilbey (born around 1830) at St. Martin–in–the–Fields, Westminster, on 27 November 1859. They had had their first child, Emily Georgina, born just before the census, and were employing two servants. Henry Vickers had remained at 28 & 29 Holywell Street, described in the 1861 census as a bookseller and publisher.
The Vickers name first appears in print in 1837, as one of the principal retail outlets for a couple of early issues – The Two Figaros and The Middle Temple – of Webster’s Acting National Drama, a series of play scripts. Why, and how, George established his business is not known, nor whether he took over an established concern or started from scratch. In October 1839, an Albert Vickers is recorded as holding a printing licence, for one press, at 28 Holywell Street. Earlier that year, in June a licence had also been granted to Leukin Jones at the same address. although whether or not they were in partnership is not known. Jones had earlier been granted licences at 278 Strand (May 1838) and 55 Holywell Street (November 1838). (Source: Register of those owning or selling printing presses, Middlesex Sessions of the Peace, London Metropolitan Archives). What relation Albert was to George Vickers is not known – William Johnson suggests that this was actually Andrew, although in 1839 he would only have been 16. However, it is known that he was in the printing trade from an early age.
The Vickers name subsequently appeared as sellers of the London Despatch in 1839, the National in 1840, and the Musical World in 1842 (advertisements giving George’s address as 20 Holywell Street). In the meantime, G. Vickers had appeared as the publisher of the serial Mysteries of Old St. Paul’s: A Tale of the Plague, issued in weekly parts (it ran to 17 numbers) in 1841. In October 1844, shortly before a fire destroyed all his stock, George Vickers began the serialisation of The Mysteries of London, written by G.W.M. Reynolds, which ran for a year, followed by a second series which also ran for a year. In between the two series, Vickers also launched, as publisher, the London Journal, owned by George Stiff and edited by Reynolds, which began its run in March 1845 and which was to continue, under various owners, editors and publishers, until 1928.
George Vickers went on to publish several more penny–part serials, including Eugene Sue’s Matilda, or The Memoirs of a Young Woman (1844) and Martin the Foundling (1846); Alexandre Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1846) and Edmund Kean, or The Genius and the Libertine (1847); G.W.M. Reynolds’ Master Timothy’s Bookcase (1846) and Faust: A Romance of the Secret Tribunals (1847); and William Harrison Ainsworth’s The Tower of London (1853). He also launched a number of weekly periodicals, such as the Weekly Times (1847 – initially owned by George Stiff), the Puppet Show (1848), Tales and Readings for the People (1849), the Weekly Tribune (1849), the People’s Medical Journal and Family Physician (1850), and the Welcome Guest (1861 – purchased from John Maxwell and re–launched).
Like many publishers of cheap periodicals at the time, George Vickers occasionally sailed close to the wind. In November 1847 the publisher Richard Bentley obtained an injunction against the London Journal restraining it from publishing articles that had previously appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany; and a year later Bentley again took the London Journal to court for publishing extracts from Edward Bulwer Lytton’s Harold, The Last of the Saxon Kings.
In 1879 Vickers entered into a partnership with John Maxwell, of 4 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, and acted as the main agent for several of Maxwell’s publications. In 1867 he began publishing a series of Gustave Aimard’s Indian Tales, translated from the French by Percy B. St. John – this ran to 21 volumes.
George Vickers’ wife Emily died in April 1876, and was buried in Norwood Cemetery, Lambeth. In the 1881 census, George is still living at 6 Arundel Street, recorded as a newsvendor employing 39 men and 9 boys. His five children were still living with him, alongside two servants. George himself died on 9 July 1886 at Arundel Street, and was buried alongside his wife. Shortly before his death, he had decided to retire and leave the business to his two sons, William Edward and George Frederick. In an indenture dated 10 June 1886 he assigned the business to William, then aged 22, with the proviso that George, then aged 18, could, if he wished, enter into a partnership with William when he had reached the age of 21. However, this led to a dispute between the two sons and two of his daughters. In his will, dated 30 April 1867, George left his leasehold property in Arundel Street, plus all his personal effects, to his wife – who was also named, along with two others, as an executor. He also left financial legacies to his children. He instructed that his business, operating out of Angel Court, be sold, with the proceeds to be invested in order to benefit his family. In the event, his wife and one of the other executors died before he did, and he did not alter his will accordingly. In August 1886 probate was granted to his daughters Emily Georgina and Louisa Elizabeth, his estate being valued at £68,519 (just over £6 million in today’s terms). In January 1888 the two sisters went to court to obtain a ruling on whether or not the value of the business should be taken into account in determining the sums due to them under the terms of the will. The court found in their favour. (Weekly Reporter, Vol. XXXVL, 28 April 1888, pp 545–548).
William Vickers did continue the business, although in a rather desultory way, publishing only a handful of books and pamphlets. He married Louisa Julia Vickers in Wandsworth in 1888 (whether or not she was in any way related to William is not known). In 1891, they were living with William’s brother Charles, a clerk in the Bank of England, in Kingston. Ten years later, they were living at 30 Montpelier Crescent, Brighton, William being described as a newspaper agent. They had had seven children, two of whom had died. They were also employing four servants. By 1911, the family had moved back to London, living at 121 Ashley Gardens, Westminster, with William described as a wholesale newspaper agent. One of his sons, Lyle Douglas (born in 1891), was apprenticed to him.
William Edward died at Ashley Gardens on 8 February 1912, leaving an estate valued at £36,637 (£3 million in today’s terms).
In the meantime, George Frederick Vickers had married Lilian Leslie (born around 1867) in Wandsworth in 1889. The 1891 census found them on holiday in Devon, with George described as a newsagent. At some point after this, George gave up work, possibly because of ill health – he died at 31 Cromwell Road, Hove, on 23 April 1896, described as an ex–wholesale and export bookseller and newsagent. He left an estate valued at £2,678 with probate granted to his wife Lilian and his brother William.
Lyle Douglas Vickers left the business soon after. Angel Court was demolished in 1925, the company moving to Southwark, and various members of the family ran it until 1947, when George Leslie Vickers, George Frederick’s son, died. It was finally wound up in 1977. (For a more detailed summary of the company’s later history, see William N. Johnson).
In July 1859 Henry took over the Weekly Magazine and Journal of Entertaining Literature from Ward & Lock, although he could only sustain it for a year before it was incorporated into his brother’s London Journal. In September 1861 he launched the London Herald, edited by Percy B. St. John, and in 1867 he began the Halfpenny Punch. He also issued a handful of penny–part serials, including The Life and Adventures of Jack Sheppard (44 numbers, 1858), Little John and Will Scarlett, or The Outlaws of Sherwood Forest (40 numbers, 1860), and Dora the Duchess, or Lovers’ Trials: A Mystery of the Highway (38 numbers, 1861). In January 1863 he launched the Boys’ Journal – A Magazine of Literature, Science and Amusement, edited for most of its run (1863–1871) by Charles Perry Brown, who later established the Aldine Publishing Company. This was a high–quality monthly magazine aimed at a middle–class readership, and was based partly on the templates established by Samuel Beeton’s Boy’s Own Magazine (launched in 1855) and George Routledge’s Every Boy’s Magazine (launched in 1862).
By 1866 Henry had moved from Holywell Street to 317 Strand, the 1871 census shows him living there as a bookseller employing 8 men, along with his wife Louisa, his two sons George and Shirley (born 1866), a shop assistant and one servant. By 1881 he had moved to 12 Putney Hill, Putney, still a bookseller at 317 Strand, now employing 12 men. His sons Henry George, George Charles and Arthur Joseph (aged 23, 22 and 20 respectively) were all assisting him. In that same year he launched his Penny Library of Popular Authors, edited by Charles H. Ross. He died on 19 October 1884, leaving an estate valued at £25,182 (just over £2 million in today’s terms). In his will, dated 27 November 1883, he left £1,000, an annuity of £200 and all his personal effects to his wife; and his leasehold interest in the property at 12 Putney Hill to his son Henry George, with the proviso that his wife could continue living there. Henry was also given £2,000 and the freehold of another property, Oak Villa, Queens Road, Norbiton, Surrey. Two of his other sons, Arthur and Shirley, were named as trustees in his will, and they were given the freehold of 315 Strand, plus cash and shares. Shirley was also left the freehold of 316 Strand, and Arthur the freehold of 317 Strand., along with all the business assets and £1,000 by way of capital to carry on the business. (It is presumed that the fourth son, George, had died).
In 1889 the business joined the Hansard Union, a conglomerate of printers and publishers, which collapsed the following year, leaving shareholders with a loss of around £1 million. The premises at 317 Strand were sold to the publishers Simpkin, Marshall, Hamilton, Kent & Co., who immediately moved there from Catherine Street.
George Edward Vickers’ third son, Andrew Edward Vickers (born in 1823) became a printer and bookseller at 5 and later 37 Holywell Street, from where he also published a couple of penny bloods – The Thirteenth, or The Fatal Number (written by Pierce Egan) and The Mendicants of London – and two dramas – The Gipsy Farmer and Sunshine and Shade – all in 1849. (These, issued with the imprint “A. Vickers”, are sometimes erroneously attributed to Ann Vickers). He married Mary Ann Dashwood in Richmond, Yorkshire, in 1846, and they went on to have nine children. Five of them – George Edward, Frances, Eugenie, Louisa Catherine and Matilda Grace, born between 1847 and 1859 – were all baptised at St. Bride’s Church, Fleet Street, on 17 April 1859, immediately after which the family emigrated to South Africa, where Andrew set up in business as a printer. He died in 1873, with his sons George and Henry continuing his business.
George Edward Vickers’ youngest son, Charles Vickers, born in 1833, spent his life as a printer, although it is not known if he worked for the family or elsewhere. In 1851 he was an apprentice compositor living with William Austin, a printer, in New Hampton, Middlesex. He married Sarah Ann Quelch (born around 1838 in Reading, Berkshire) in 1857 – they went on to have three children: Charles George Herring, born in Brixton in 1858; Amelia, born in 1860; and Henry Andrew, born in 1861. At the time of the 1861 census, the family was living in Clerkenwell. Sarah died in 1870, and in the following year’s census the family was living at 6 Fountain Court, Westminster. Ten years later, Charles senior was living at 150 Walworth Road, Southwark, with Henry, described as a bookseller’s assistant. The date of Charles’ death is not known. In 1891 Henry was recorded living in Camberwell, working as a publisher’s assistant and married to Sarah, with two sons; in 1891 he working as a printer’s warehouseman, still living in Camberwell; and in 1891 he was still in the same occupation, living in Peckham. with his wife and three children (a fourth had died). Charles George Vickers shunned the family tradition and became a dressing case maker.
(* The illustration at the top of our column is John Wykeham Archer's painting of Holywell Street, dating from 1862; other illustrations are from The London Journal and two from Boys' Journal.)