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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Robert Kirkpatrick

Alfred Ritchie was a minor publisher of penny dreadfuls, boys’ story papers and other periodicals, whose primary business was that of a wholesale newsagent. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he remained solvent throughout his career (although he almost certainly lost money on some of his publishing activities), and he also seems to never to have fallen foul of the law.

He was born in Southwark, London in 1845, to Henry William Ritchie (a carpenter) and Jane Ritchie (née Phillips). He spent his early life in Southwark—at the time of the 1851 census his family, including his younger sister Rosa, was living at 31 Joiner Street, Southwark. Ten years later, they had moved to 6 Joiner Street, with Henry and Jane having had three more children. Henry remained there until his death in March 1884.

On 15 April 1866, at St. Mary’s Church, Lambeth, Alfred Ritchie married Amelia Harriet Hodder (born in 1848 in Southwark, her father, John Hodder, being a baker). At that time, Amelia was illiterate, and only able to make a mark on the marriage register, which rather oddly recorded Alfred’s trade as that of a Book Collector.

They went on to have 11 children: Alfred James (born 7 October 1866), Henry John (September 1868), Rosa Jane (19 September 1870), Lily Amelia (16 November 1872), Arthur Frederick (2 August 1874), William Edward (16 October 1876), Ernest George (October 1878), May Rachel (9 February 1881), Augustus Charles (10 March 1883), Frank Sidney (4 October 1885), and Herbert Percy (6 January 1887).  Some of the sons joined Alfred, and later Amelia, in the family business.

Soon after his marriage, Alfred moved to the Fleet Street area—the baptism record for Rosa (October 1870) show the family as living at 15 Wine Office Court (as does the 1871 census record), near the famous “Old Cheshire Cheese” pub, with Alfred described as a Bookseller.  However, to begin with he was probably working for someone else—he first appears (in the Post Office Directory) under his own name, as a newsagent, at 15 Wine Office Court in 1872, sharing the premises with a bookbinder and two printers.  In 1874, still at 15 Wine Office Court, his business was listed as a “Newsagent and general publisher”. 

Having said that, in the London Standard on 6 July 1871 an advertisement appeared which stated:
NEWSAGENTS, BOOKSELLERS, and STATIONERS (Wholesale) to be DISPOSED OF, doing £70 per week; same hands 20 years;  nine roomed house;  rent £35.  Lease, stock, fittings, and fixtures £250.  One month’s proof if required.  A. Ritchie, 15 Wine-office court, Fleet-street.
It seems highly unlikely that this was Ritchie’s own business, and more likely that he was acting as an agent for another company.

In 1875 he moved to 26 Red Lion Street, Holborn, and in 1878 to 6 Red Lion Court, Fleet Street, which remained his business address, shared with several other concerns, until 1892, when he expanded into no. 7.  (In 1891, he was shown as also having premises at 12 Crane Court, Fleet Street).  In the meantime, in 1876 he moved his family to 12 East Harding Street, off Fetter Lane, and in 1879 to 13 Calthorpe Street, off Gray’s Inn Road.  In 1885, he moved to 11 East Harding Street, from where his last two children were baptised, before moving to Brixton in 1890.

In 1879, he took Richard Wright as a partner, and his company became A. Ritchie & Co., Wholesale Newsagents and Publishers—this partnership was dissolved by mutual consent on 24 July 1888 (London Gazette, 27 July 1888).  The business name therefore resorted to A. Ritchie.

While Ritchie’s primary business was that of a wholesale newsagent he began a secondary career as a publisher around 1871, although he did not add “publisher” to the description of his business in the Post Office Directory until 1873/74.  Some sources date his earliest publications from the late 1860s—however, this is most unlikely as there is no evidence he was in business on his own at this time. 

He was best-known for the half dozen or so penny-part serials he published between the mid-1870s and the mid-1880s.  These included Crusoe Jack, the King of a Thousand Islands (by George Emmett—38 parts), Captain Tom Drake, or England’s Hearts of Oak (by William Emmett—74 parts, with a 3-part sequel, Admiral Tom), Union Jack, the British Boy Sailor (by George Emmett—29 parts), The Life and Adventures of Jack Rann, Sixteen-String Jack (19 parts), Tom King and Jonathan Wild, or The Days of Young Jack Sheppard (17 parts—re-issued as a complete volume with the title Tom King, the Daring Highwayman), and Under the Pirate Flag, or Adventures at Sea (60 parts).  At least one of these, Captain Tom Drake, was issued under the series name of Readable Books for Boys.  He published a re-issue of The New Newgate Calendar (in 50 numbers in 1889), and The History of Newgate: A Record of the Most Celebrated Trials.  He also issued a short run of 16 page, one penny abridgements of famous novels in the Paragon Library—these included Sweeney Todd, The Adventures of Roderick Random, The Adventures of Valentine Vox the Ventriloquist, Nicholas Nickleby, Oliver Twist and Sketches by Boz.

As a publisher of periodicals he enjoyed little success.  His first venture, The Illustrated Police Budget (not to be confused with a later and much more successful title published by Frank Shaw between 1893 and 1910), launched on 30 March 1873, with Ritchie as both publisher and printer, appears to have lasted for just one number.  In 1876 Ritchie took over the publication and printing of The Illustrated London Clipper (launched in 1874), which combined true crime reports with fiction—this became The London Clipper, Sport and Play in November 1876 and then Sport and Play in February 1877, running as such until its closure in April 1877.  His Sporting Miscellany lasted for one issue in May 1877, as did The Mechanics Museum—a school of art, science, invention and mechanics in November 1878, and The Young Ladies’ Herald (which included The Young ladies’ Novelette as a free gift) in October 1879.  No further Ritchie periodicals are recorded until 1889, when he launched The Printer, a quarterly magazine which seems to have lasted for just one number, with his last periodical appearing to be The Magazine Journal of News and General Literature, which ran from January 1892 to March 1893.

Two other Ritchie publications were The Red White and Blue Monster Song Book, a compilation of over 500 songs and recitations (presumably a revised edition of a title first published by John Berger in 1860);  and Charles Dibdin’s Songs.

Prior to this, Ritchie had dabbled in the field of boys’ story papers, no doubt inspired by the success of Edwin J. Brett and the Emmett brothers.  In late 1871 he launched Boys of Britain, which ran for just 20 numbers;  and in June 1877 he took over Sons of Britannia, which had been launched by Henry Lea in March 1870 and taken over by Charles Fox a year later.  In September 1877 Ritchie re-launched it as The Champion Journal for Boys of the United Kingdom, installing Henry Emmett as editor.  This ran for 147 numbers, after which it was sold to John Allingham who merged it with his Boy’s World in July 1880.  In May 1879 Ritchie launched the Boy’s Favourite, but this ran for only 10 numbers.

A handful of his publications were issued “for the Useful Literature Society”, such as Sixty Pounds a Year:  How to Make it, and How to Live on it (1877), and the Champion Journal for Boys—although there is nothing to suggest that the Society actually existed.

At the time of the 1891 census, Alfred Ritchie and his family, plus a servant, were living at Gordon Villa, 21 Barrington Road, Brixton, with Alfred still described as a “Newsagent and Publisher”—his two eldest sons, Alfred James and Henry John, then aged 24 and 22 respectively, were described as Newsagents.  Alfred Ritchie died at the family home on 18 June 1894, leaving an estate valued at £3,128 (£311,000 in today’s terms).  He did not name any executors to his will, and on 8 September 1894 Letters of Administration were granted to Amelia, who was the sole legatee, to whom he left the whole of his property and his business.  By that time Amelia appears to have moved the business to 5 Pemberton Row, Gough Square, where she began operating as “Mrs Amelia Ritchie, Wholesale Newsagent”. She also moved the family home to “Halescroft”, 108 Herne Hill, Surrey, where she died on 30 December 1902, leaving an estate worth £24,868 (over £2 million in today’s terms, indicating a huge leap in her fortunes from what had been humble beginnings). (The previous year’s census showed her living with Ernest, May and Augustus, plus a servant, with Ernest and Augustus described as Newsagents and Publishers alongside Amelia)

In her will she left her jewellery to her sons Arthur, William and Ernest and to her daughters, £600 each to her daughters and to all her sons, her furniture and household effects to her sons Henry, Augustus, Frank and Herbert, and the residue of her estate was bequeathed to Alfred.  Henry and her daughter Rosa were named as executors, although probate was granted solely to Rosa as Henry had died six years previously.

Alfred James Ritchie therefore took over the business, with the 1904 Post Office Directory showing him as a Newsagent at 5 Pemberton Row.  He remained there until his death in 1918.  (The business of A. Ritchie was still shown as occupying 5 Pemberton Row in 1919, but in 1920 the occupier was a wine retailer).  He had married Edith Saltmarsh at St. Bride’s in Fleet Street on 19 December 1895, the marriage record showing him as a newsagent living at 21 Great New Street, Fetter Lane.,  By 1901 he had moved to 123 Helix Road, Brixton, described in the census return as a “Newsagent’s Manager”, with he and Edith having had three children.  Ten years later, he had moved into his mother’s old home at 108 Herne Hill, having had four more children.  He died there on 28 October 1818, leaving an estate worth £11,498 (just under £0.5 million). 

Alfred James had presumably been running the business at 5 Pemberton Row with his brothers Arthur and William.  In the 1901 census both Arthur and their brother William were shown as living at 5 Pemberton Row, both described as “Newsagent’s Assistants”.  Arthur married Alice Castle later that year, but remained in Pemberton Row where, in the 1911 census, he was described as a “Wholesale Newsagent’s Manager”.  He died on 13 January 1914 in the City of London Mental Hospital at Stone, near Dartford, Kent. 

William married Florence Louise Hetherington in 1903, and in 1911 was living at 115 Fawnbroke Avenue, Herne Hill, working as a Wholesale Newsagent.  In 1913 or 1914, presumably in partnership with his brother Ernest, he established a rival wholesale newsagents business, Ritchie Brothers, at 108 Shoe Lane.  By 1918, this had expanded into nos. 106 and 107 Shoe Lane, and it remained there until its demise in 1937.  William subsequently moved to Boscombe, Dorset, where he died on 4 April 1948, leaving an estate worth £43,332 (£1,252,000).

Ernest had married Alice Maud Humm in 1904, and in 1911 was living at 66B Norwood Avenue, Herne Hill, described as a Wholesale Newsagent.  He retired to Dorking, Surrey, where he died on 13 September 1962, leaving £50,599 (£875,000).

Of Alfred Ritchie’s other sons, Henry John married Alice Eleanor Castle (born in 1871) in 1892 and moved to Boscombe, where he died on 10 October 1896, leaving an estate of just £59 (Alice later married Arthur Ritchie, although the marriage record gives her name as Alice Eleanor Castle rather than Alice Eleanor Ritchie);  Augustus Charles moved to Canada in 1903, where he married Emma Ellen Hartley in 1909 (with whom he had six children) and where he died in Vancouver on 5 December 1947;  Frank Sidney, after attending Thanet College, moved to Canada in 1906, returned to England in 1912, then moved to Sydney, Australia, where he married Ivy Masters in 1917, and later lived and worked as a planter and farmer in Thailand, Canada and New Zealand, where he died on 1 December 1950;  and finally Herbert Percy, who also attended Thanet College, emigrated to New Zealand in 1908—he married Mabel Aspinall in Samoa in 1915, and he died in New Zealand on 2 April 1960.

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