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Saturday, March 14, 2015

Charles Fox

Robert J. Kirkpatrick

Charles Fox was closely associated with the Emmett brothers, publishers of penny dreadfuls and boys’ story papers between 1867 and 1885 and who were amongst Edwin J. Brett’s fiercest rivals.  He was widely known as the person who took over control of the Emmetts’ publishing firm of Hogarth House in the mid-1870s, and he also launched several boys’ papers under his own steam.  But he has always been something of an enigmatic figure, and previous pictures of his life have been rather sketchy.  Some new facts have now emerged and this has enabled a fuller account to be put together.

Charles Fox was born on 7 June 1850, and baptised as Charles Nash Fox at St. Matthew’s Church, Bethnal Green, on 26 September 1852.  His father was George Fox, born in Bethnal Green in 1816 and a butcher by trade;  his mother was Ann Lyon, born in Bethnal Green in 1817.  They had married in the parish church at Bethnal Green on 19 February 1840, when they were already living together at 24 Carter Street.  They had three daughters before the birth of Charles:  Elizabeth (1840-1851), Ann Susan (1845-1935), and Emma (1847-1906).

George died on 3 January 1851, and his wife continued running the family butcher’s business, which by then was at 32 High Street, Mile End Old Town.  She married her second husband, Henry Nash (born 1825 in Bermondsey) who was also a butcher, in 1852.  They had a second son, Harry Henry Charles, on 30 June 1852  –  he was baptised at St. Matthew’s, Bethnal Green, on the same day as his step-brother Charles.

At the time of the 1861 census the family was living and working at 35 High Street, Mile End New Town.  Ten years later, Charles Fox had left home and was recorded living at 11 Newcastle Place, Tower Hamlets, described as a publisher’s assistant, and apparently married to Phebe Fox (born in Hoxton in around 1849  –  the census return spelling may be incorrect).  There is a record of a marriage between a Charles Fox and a Phoebe Griggs in Freebridge Lynn, Norfolk, in 1868, although whether this is the same Charles Fox is not known.  There is no record of a subsequent divorce, although there are two records for the death of a Phoebe Fox, one in Shropshire in 1903 and one in Sussex in 1908.

Presumably Charles was, in 1871, working for the Emmett brothers (William, George, Thomas, Henry and Robert), who had began their publishing careers with story papers such as The Young Englishman’s Journal and Young Gentlemen of Great Britain, in the mid-1860s at 45 Essex Street, Strand, before moving to 81 and then 145 Fleet Street in 1868 and 1869 respectively.  Various sources have suggested that Fox became the Emmetts’ office manager, and certainly at around this time his name began appearing as the publisher of some of the Emmett papers.  In August 1870 Fox was named as the publisher of The Young Briton;  in October 1870 the paper was published by Henry Lea, and Fox took over again in April 1871, when he was also publishing Sons of Britannia.  In September 1871 he launched The Belles of England, edited by George Emmett and which ran for exactly a year; and in April 1873 he began publishing George Emmett’s The Young Englishman.

In March 1871 he had taken over The Boys’ Budget of Plays, Characters, Scenes and Stories from Henry Lea, issuing it from Hogarth House, the name the Emmetts had given, in 1871, to their new premises at 8 Fetter Lane.  The Hogarth House name moved to 9 & 10 St. Bride’s Avenue, Fleet Street, in September 1872, and round about 1877 the company was taken over by Charles Fox, following the bankruptcies of William Emmett in 1875 and George Emmett two years later.  It was subsequently, in 1881, taken over by William Cate, who remained at Bride’s Lane until 1885 when he moved to 32 Bouverie Street.

In 1877 Fox took over The Boy’s Standard, which was being published from Victoria House, Newcastle Street, Strand, and which had been launched by William Lucas in November 1875.  In May 1881 Fox re-launched it, relying heavily on stories reprinted from earlier Emmett papers, and it went on to run until June 1892.  By then he had also launched the first of his own boys’ papers, The Boy’s Own Novelette, in September 1879 (which ran to four numbers only).  In 1882 he moved to 3A Shoe Lane, Fleet Street, and in August 1884, operating out of Caxton House, Bolt Court, Fleet Street, he launched The Boy’s Leisure Hour, which was largely a re-issue of The Boy’s Standard.  After 10 numbers, the publication address moved to 4 Shoe Lane, Fleet Street.

At the time of the 1881 census Charles Fox was living at 33 Nicholas Street, Tower Hamlets, as a boarder with the family of Amelia Jackson, shown to be a married woman with no occupation. She was born Amelia de Silva Davis in Stepney in 1849, her father, Nathaniel Davis, being an ink manufacturer. She had married Samuel Robert Jackson, a 17 year-old engineer, on 25 December 1864 in Tower Hamlets  –  she was only 16 at the time.  They had one daughter, Amelia Phoebe Elizabeth, born in July 1865. Samuel Jackson died in 1870, and by 1877 Amelia had begun an affair with Charles Fox, as evidenced by the birth of a child, Adelaide Maud, in 1878. Both she and Amelia Phoebe were baptised on the same day, 13 April 1879, at St. Thomas’s Church, Stepney.  The baptism register indicated that there was some confusion as to their parentage  –  Amelia is recorded as Amelia Phoebe Jackson, with Charles Fox initially recorded as her father but his name crossed out and replaced with Samuel. Adelaide was recorded as Adelaide Maud Fox, with her father as Charles, and with both Fox and Jackson recorded as her surname. However, two years later in the 1881 census she was recorded as Adelaide Jackson.

Charles and Amelia had two more children out of wedlock:  Charles Edward, born in Mile End in October 1879, and Daisy Nash born in 1882. There are no baptism records for them, and in the 1881 census Charles Edward was recorded as Charles Jackson.

Charles Fox and Amelia were married on 21 April 1885 at the parish church of Bromley St. Leonard in Poplar. By then they had moved there, and the 1891 census shows them living at 15 Wellington Road, Bromley St. Leonard, with daughter Amelia and son Harold, along with an 18 year-old servant. Adelaide and Daisy were away at a small boarding school in Colney Hatch Lane, Friern Barnet.

In the meantime, Charles Fox had continued his publishing activities, launching The Boy’s Half Holiday in April 1887 (edited by Alfred Burrage), which merged with The Boy’s Leisure Hour after only 12 numbers.  In 1885 he published six numbers of the monthly Champion Library, and in 1889, from 4 Shoe Lane, he launched The Boy’s Champion Journal, edited by George Emmett, and which again recycled material from the earlier Emmett papers. It was incorporated into The Boy’s Standard in January 1892. Fox replaced it with Every Boy’s Favourite Journal, which ran from January to October 1892, and in June 1892 he launched The Boy’s Weekly Novelette from 109 Shoe Lane.  He then ran into financial difficulties in October 1892, and in November 1892 he was declared bankrupt, with liabilities of £3,269 and assets of just £50 (Morning Post, 8 November 1892, p 8).  However, this appears not have affected him too much  –  The Boy’s Weekly Novelette continued until September 1895, and four more papers followed: Jolly Bits from Jolly Books, a weekly comic edited by George Emmett, which lasted for just six numbers between August and September 1892; Boys of the Nation, again a rehash of old stories and old illustrations, launched in September 1895 from 9 Red Lion Court, and which ran for only 13 numbers; The Halfpenny Standard Journal, from 9 Red Lion Court, launched in March 1896 and which again relied on old material, and which ran until October 1897; and School and Playground Stories, which ran from January to August 1898.

Fox also issued a number of penny-part serials under his own name  –  these included Giant Jack, A Story of the Red Mountains, The Gipsy Gentleman, Morgan the Buccaneer, The Poor Boys of London, A Sword for a Fortune, Broad-Arrow Jack, The Adventures of Jack Sheppard, Turnpike Dick, The Star of the Road, Captain Macheath, The Prince of the Highway, and, perhaps most notably, versions of Spring-Heeled Jack, The Terror of London and Sweeney Todd, The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (both attributed to Alfred Burrage, writing as Charlton Lea).

Charles Fox spent around 10 years, from 1882 to 1892, working out of Shoe Lane, in respect of which what seems to be the only contemporary account of him appeared in 1925. Writing in the collectors’ magazine Vanity Fair (Vol. II, no. 17, p 47), Ben Winskill recalled in an article on “The Penny Dreadful Offices”:

    Charles Fox managed his own business and had but one assistant.
    He served me many times over the counter of the old Shoe Lane
    office which I must say was one of the cleanest and tidiest of
    them…… I remember that Fox was a hearty bluff sort of man….

The 1901 census showed Charles and Amelia still at 15 Wellington Road. Charles had, by then, abandoned the publishing business and was working as a commercial clerk. Also living with them were their son Charles, also a commercial clerk, and daughter Daisy. Adelaide had married George Edelesten Stewart, an engineer, in South Shields in 1897, and in 1901 was living in Hampshire. Son Harold was at a boys’ boarding school (Brunswick House, Wood Street, Chipping Barnet). The family was still living at 15 Wellington Road ten years later, with Charles described as a commission agent. The Electoral Registers for 1914 and 1915 show that their accommodation consisted of two unfurnished rooms, with Amelia as the landlord. (She was also the landlord another single, furnished, room let to a Ronald James Prideaux, a theatre owner). 

Charles Fox died in September 1917. He did not, it seems, leave a will. His wife died on 7 March 1930, at 53 Galveston Road, East Putney, leaving an estate valued at just under £5,000 (around £270,000 in today’s terms).

There seems to be no further trace of the children Amelia, Charles and Daisy. Harold Nash married in 1914. Curiously, his marriage certificate showed his father as being a compositor, suggesting that Charles Fox made a short-lived return to the fringes of the publishing business.

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