Routledge and Warne: Two publishing families
George Routledge (1812-1888) and Frederick Warne (1825-1901) started two of the leading publishing houses that operated in Britain from the mid-19th to the mid-20th century. The two men had both professional and personal connections; they also shared a commitment to make available hundreds of thousands of inexpensive books of high quality to the readership of the English speaking world. This is the first part of their story as men, booksellers and publishers.
Publishing fiction in the 19th century
For most of the 19th century, publishing of high quality fiction in England was dominated by a small group of established publishers who were committed to production of new fiction in the form of the three volume edition (known as a triple decker), which was sold for 31 shillings and sixpence (a guinea and a half). This format and price survived for most the 19th century, starting in the Regency period, when Jane Austen’s works were first published, and ending around 1896.
The three volume format was very much supported and encouraged by the circulating lending libraries, of which Mudie’s Subscription Library was the dominant player. Mudie’s alone would often purchase, at a considerable discount, 30-50% of the edition of a new book, and would lend it to their subscribers, one volume at a time.
The leading publishers for most of this era were the big seven; Chapman and Hall, Smith, Elder and Co., Longmans in their various guises, John Murray, Blackwoods, Macmillans, and Bradbury and Evans. These seven firms managed to publish most of the significant new fiction of the 19th century. In spite of the introduction of serialisation by several of these publishers, led by Chapman and Hall with Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers” in 1837, they were all committed to the triple decker. The two big university presses, Oxford with the Clarendon Press and the Cambridge University Press, did not enter the world of fiction until the end of the 19th century. Until then, they had confined their efforts to publishing academic and religious books, including their domination of the lucrative bible trade.
Second rank publishers
The second level of publishers tended to specialise in cheaper reprinted editions. Routledge and Warne were in this group, along with Richard Bentley, Cassells, and, later on, Thomas Nelson and a host of others. By 1860, there were more than 200 publishers operating in London alone, and at least 600 booksellers. Another 20 publishers operated out of Edinburgh, which was the centre of the book trade in Scotland. This might seem to suggest a high level of competition, but the trade was careful not to rock the boat and had become very conservative. The second rank publishers had to create their own niches in order to thrive. Into this world stepped George Routledge and Frederick Warne.
George Routledge was born on 23rd September 1812 in Brampton, Cumberland (now called Cumbria), a small market town close to the Scottish border. It is 15km north-east of Carlisle and only 3km from Hadrian’s Wall. His father, Robert Francis Routledge, had also been born in Brampton on 17th June 1760. Little is known about the origins of Robert’s father and Georges’s grandfather, a John Routledge, who had been born somewhere in Scotland around 1730. John Routledge moved down to Cumberland as a young man and on 15th July 1752, he married a member of a Cumberland branch of the Routledge family, Sybil or Sybella Routledge in Bewcastle, Cumberland. Sibil had been born in Bewcastle on 2nd October 1726, the daughter of another John Routledge from Lanercost, a small village in Cumberland 5km north-east of Brampton. Bewcastle is small hamlet of fewer than 500 inhabitants, which nestles in a valley some 8km northeast of Lanercost, very close to the Scottish border. St Cuthbert’s church in Bewcastle, where John and Sibil Routledge were married, is famous today for having in its churchyard the oldest Anglo-Saxon standing stone cross and sundial in Britain.
All of this means that George Routledge is descended from both a Scottish and an English branch of the Routledge family. Descendants of those families can be found today in the region, still bearing the Routledge name on both sides of the Scottish-English border.
George’s immediate family
George’s mother was Mary Calvert (1766-1843), the daughter of Robert Calvert of Lanercost. Mary Calvert and Robert Francis Routledge were married on 7th January 1796 in Lanercost, and had eight children born between 1797 and 1812, one of whom, Catherine, died in infancy. George Routledge was the youngest of these eight children.
Life must have become much harder for George’s mother Mary, who was always known as “Malley”, when her husband Robert Francis died on 12th July 1815, leaving Malley with 7 children to care for, from the three year old George up to the oldest child, Mary Routledge who was 18 when her father died. Three years later, young Mary Routledge married a local farm worker called David Latimer, with whom she had 10 children in Brampton, leaving Malley with a family of six to manage.
Mally ran a grocery shop in Front Street, Brampton in order to support herself and her children. Two of her daughters Margaret and Anne never married and helped her to run the shop, taking it over when Malley died in 1843, and running between them until the late 1870s. Margaret and Ann Routledge eventually died as spinsters in Brampton in 1880 and 1881 respectively.
George had three older brothers who all married and had diverse careers. The eldest, John Routledge (1800-1859) stayed in Brampton with his wife Rachel and their two daughters. John was the High Constable in Brampton for the last 20 years of his life. The next brother, Robert Routledge (1802-1861) married a Scot called Mary Dicks in Perthshire, where they had one child, a son also called Robert. The family moved to Manchester, where Robert worked as a supervisor in the Inland Revenue until his death. George’s third brother, William Routledge (1804-1875) took holy orders and achieved a Doctor of Divinity. Together with his wife, Henrietta, William ran “The Routledge Classical School” for several years in Bishops Hull, Somerset , before reverting to life as a parish clergyman, ending up as the Rector of Cotleigh in Devon, where he died in the rectory in March 1875. William and Henrietta successfully raised two daughters and two sons, the youngest of whom became the Reverend Charles Francis Routledge following on in his father’s profession.
From this history it is evident that none of George’s siblings had anything to do with the book trade, or with London. So, how did George Routledge become a bookseller and publisher in London?
George Routledge, bookseller
George Routledge moved from Brampton to nearby Carlisle in June 1827, where he became apprenticed to Charles Hutchinson Thurnam, a Scot from Edinburgh, who had opened a bookshop and library at 5 English Street in 1817. George completed his apprenticeship on 3rd September 1833, and he moved to London in October 1833. Thurnam and Sons bookshop and printing business in Carlisle continued to operate for nearly 200 years until, unfortunately, the business failed and was closed on May 28th 2008.
In London, George initially lived in Ryder’s Court in St. Anne’s parish in Soho. This area of Soho was very much a district of craftsmen and artisans in the early part of the 19th century. Ryder’s Court is no longer extant, but used to run south towards Leicester Square from the junction of Lisle Street and Newport Street. The area is now part of London’s Chinatown.
George started his life in London by working for the publishers Baldwin and Cradock at 47 Paternoster Row in the centre of the London book trade. Robert Baldwin with his partners Craddock and Joy were most successful in publishing maps and atlases under the rubric of The Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge. When Baldwin and Cradock failed in September 1836, George Routledge decided to open a bookshop at 11 Ryder’s Court, from where he also started to operate as an occasional publisher.
In my collection, I have several books published by George Routledge from Ryder’s Court. The oldest is Beauties of Gilsland – A Sketch of the Most Remarkable Objects Near Gilsland Spa by William Steele, which was published by Routledge in late 1836. This was in fact the first book ever published by George Routledge.
Gilsland Spa was a well known hotel in Gilsland, a village which sits on Hadrian’s Wall and spans the boundary between Cumberland and Northumberland. The hotel had been built in 1760, and was the place where Sir Walter Scott, then plain Walter Scott, was reputed to have proposed to his future wife in 1797 at the “Popping Stone”. Routledge would have known the area from his youth, as Gilsland is about 15km east of Brampton. The author, William Steele, may have been known to George Routledge from his time in Cumberland. There were at least five men called William Steele living in the northern parts of Cumberland according to the 1841 census. Any one of these could have been the author of the book.
My copy of the book seems to be in the original cloth binding that Routledge would have chosen. The title page is shown in the picture below. Sadly, the book was a commercial failure, but now is a great scarcity. Note that the date on the title page is given in the Latin form of “M DCCCXXXVI” rather than “1836”. This is slightly unusual, as most books published by Routledge used standard Arabic numerals for their dates.
Routledge meets the Warne family
One of George’s neighbours in Soho was Edmund Warne (1783-1870), a builder who had lived at 5 Ryder’s Court. Edmund the builder had been born in Gloucestershire, the son of another Edmund Warne, a carpenter who had moved his family from Gloucestershire to London in the late 1780s, when the younger Edmund was about 5 years old. Edmund the builder had married a Matilda Stannard in 1805 and had lived with his growing family at 5 Ryder’s Court from 1805 until 1827, when the family moved nearby to 41 Lisle Street, which is where they were living when George Routledge arrived in Soho. The Warne family remained at 41 Lisle Street until at least 1851. By 1861, when all their children had grown up and left home, Edmund and Matilda had moved to Hornsea in North London. Matilda Stannard was very much a local Soho girl, as she was the daughter of Robert Alexander Stannard, a painter who lived at 16 Ryder’s Court.
The earliest evidence of George Routledge’s presence in Soho and of his relationship with the Warne family is his signature as a witness on the 1834 will of Robert Alexander Warne (1808-1834), the oldest but short-lived son of Edmund Warne and Matilda Stannard.
Edmund and Matilda were to become more significant in the life of George Routledge, as they were also the parents of George Routledge’s first wife, Marie Elizabeth Warne, and his first two business partners William Henry Warne and Frederick Warne.
End of Part 1.
The story continues with an exploration of origins of the Warne family in Part 2.