Groombridge, publishers

The story of the family who ran a London publishing house

In researching my copy of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, published by Groombridge and Sons in 1875, for a post in my Price and Provenance series, I realised that there is no good source of information on this little-known firm. I have a personal library of more than 12,500 books, mainly from the 19th century, but only two of them were published by Groombridge. I have now collected together the information that I have found on this firm and the families behind it. I have consolidated my research into this article. I have relied heavily on family history research to work out the history of the families and the firm throughout the 19th century.

The name Groombridge

The name Groombridge may seem quite uncommon, but it does occur in several regions of the UK. It is most commonly found in and around Kent. This will be due to the existence of the ancient village of Groombridge, which lies about 5 km south west of Royal Tunbridge Wells. Clusters of people called Groombridge were still found living in and around the village in the 19th century, as well as around Canterbury, Dartford, Greenwich and Chatham.

The founder: Richard Groombridge from Chatham.

Richard Groombridge (1793-1855) was born in Chatham in Kent, the son of William Groombridge and Frances Walsh. There were a few different Groombridge families living in the Chatham area in the late 18th century, mainly in and around Rochester, which is the cathedral city immediately adjacent to Chatham. Frances Walsh, Richard Groombridge’s mother, was baptised at St Nicholas’ Church Rochester on 17 January 1768, the daughter of Joseph Walsh and Mary Carver of Rochester. Frances Walsh married William Groombridge on 6th May 1792 at St Mary’s Church Chatham, and , just over a year later, Richard Groombridge was baptised at St. Mary’s Church Chatham on 9th June 1793.

I have not been able to positively identify William Groombridge, Richard’s father. I have identified five or six William Groombridges living in the general area, mainly in Rochester. None of them is the William Groombridge, who was Richard Groombridge’s father. He was probably from Chatham, as he was married there and both of his known children, Richard and a younger sister Mary, were baptised at the same St Mary’s Church. I can find no record of a William Groombridge born in Chatham until 1798, which is far too late.

The earliest record of any Groombridge in Chatham is the marriage of Samuel Groombridge to Elizabeth Perry on 12th November 1722 at St Mary’s Church. This couple had four children baptised at St. Mary’s Chatham between 1723 and 1728. The next records I can find are three children of William and Elizabeth Groombridge baptised between 1737 and 1740 and two children of John and Jane Groombridge baptised in 1739 and 1758. Thomas and Elizabeth Groombridge had a daughter baptised in 1776, Edward Groombridge was married at St. Mary’s in 1777 and the next record is the marriage of Richard Groombridge’s parents in 1792. St Mary’s Church gained some fame a few years later when three of Charles Dickens’ younger siblings were baptised there around 1820. Figure 1 shows an early 19th century drawing of St. Mary’s Church, Chatham, engraved about 100 years later.

Figure 1.St Mary’s Church Chatham, engraved by Robert Langton 1912

Richard Groombridge in London

The next time we find a record of Richard Groombridge is in London in 1815, when, on 11th July 1815 he married Charlotte Witcher at St. James Church, Clerkenwell, a parish in central London which lies between Farringdon Street in the east and Gower Street in the west. Clerkenwell is now the south-western part of the borough of Islington. St.James’ Church is the traditional Church of England parish church for Clerkenwell, and we know that both Richard Groombridge and Charlotte Witcher were residents of the parish at the time of their marriage.

The standard marriage certificate was not introduced in England until 1837, so in 1815, we only have the parish record for the marriage, which records the names of the bride and groom, not their fathers, which became a requirement in 1837. We are at least reassured that they were both literate, as their signatures appear on the marriage record, shown below as Figure. 2

Figure 2. Banns for the marriage of Richard Groombridge and Charlotte Witcher

We know little about Charlotte Witcher other than she was about the same age as Richard, and had not been born in Middlesex. Witcher is most common as a family name in Hampshire, and the most likely candidate is a Charlotte Witcher who had been baptised on 2nd January 1791 at South Stoneham in Hampshire. She had presumably been born there in late 1790 to Edward and Elizabeth Witcher.

Richard and Charlotte had their first child born in Clerkenwell in 1817. He was Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge, who was baptised at St James Clerkenwell on 31st August 1817. On the baptismal record, Richard Groombridge is described as a clerk, living in Ironmonger Row. Ironmonger Row is a small street of terraced houses running north-south at the eastern end of the parish The couples second child was a daughter, Sarah Charlotte Groombridge, born on 9th October 1818 in Clerkenwell. She was not baptised until 27 December 1818 and this was at St Alphage’s Church in Greenwich. Richard was described as a clerk living at Wellington Street, Clerkenwell. Perhaps the family were visiting friends in Greenwich for Christmas, or were returning from a visit to Chatham. Obviously, the family had moved from Ironmonger Lane to Wellington Street sometime in 1817-1818. We know that Richard Groombridge and his family were still living Wellington Street on 31st December 1820, when their third child and second son, Henry Groombridge, was baptised, again at St. James Clerkenwell. Richard was still described as a clerk, but since Wellington Street had became one of the hubs of the London literary and publishing scene in mid 19th century London, one would image that Richard must have been working for some part of that industry.

From 1822 to 1832, the Groombridge family was still expanding. During this period, they were living at Rahere Street in Clerkenwell, which ran off Lever Street, close to Gower Street, but has since disappeared due to post-World War II reconstruction. Richard and Charlotte had four more daughters and one son during these years, all of whom died between the ages of 2 and 9. Richard was still described as a clerk on the baptismal records. In 1832, their next son William Groombridge was born, and on his baptismal record of 22nd October 1832, Richard Groombridge is described as a bookseller living in Rahere Street. This is the first mention of Richard Groombridge working in the book trade.

In January 1833, one of infant daughters died at 6 Panyer Alley in the City of London and was buried at the church of  St Vedast Foster Lane. St Vedast’s Church had taken over from the original parish of St Michael Le Querne, which had been destroyed in the great fire of 1666 and not been rebuilt. The death and burial of the infant Frances Groombridge indicated the move of the family from Rahere Street to 6 Panyer Alley sometime between October 1832 and January 1833. This also marks the beginning of the career of Richard Groombridge the publisher.

Richard Groombridge, publisher of 6 Panyer Alley

Richard Groombridge first appears as a publisher in 1833, where he operated out of his home, 6 Panyer Alley. The alley formed the cross piece of a “T” at the east end of Paternoster Row, and predates the great fire of London in 1666. Groombridge used the imprint “Richard Groombridge” or R. Groombridge”, sometimes with “6, Panyer Alley”, or else “Panyer Alley, Paternoster Row”. Often in his early years in the trade, he co-published works with other publishers and booksellers. These were mainly other London-based publishers, but sometimes they were from provincial towns, such as W. F. Wakeman of Dublin and J. Menzies of Edinburgh.

Paternoster Row and Panyer Alley

Figure 3. Paternoster Row from Panyer Alley, 1837.

Paternoster Row was the centre of the English book trade from the mid-17th to the mid-20th century. It ran to the north of St Paul’s Churchyard, westwards from Panyer Alley into what is now Paternoster Square. The heyday of Paternoster Row as the centre of the book trade both began and ended with flames. The earliest mentions of Paternoster Row and books are in the period of reconstruction following the Great Fire of London in 1666. The name supposedly derives from the habit of priests from nearly St. Paul’s Cathedral saying their prayers as they were walking along the street. Many booksellers, publishing houses and associated trades were located here for nearly three hundred years. It all came to an end on the night of 29th-30th December 1940, when a massive air raid with incendiary bombs ignited a huge fire that destroyed millions of books and the buildings of Paternoster Row. This was the occasion of the famous photograph taken by Herbert Mason from the roof of the Daily Mail building in nearby Fleet Street of St. Paul’s Cathedral defying the flames all around it.

Figure 4. St Paul’s dome 29th-30th December 1940

There are no vestiges left of the pre- World War II Paternoster Row, and only an old plaque of a “Boy on his Panyer” survives from the old Panyer Alley. The name of the alley is supposed to derive from the habit of boys selling bread here from a nearby bakery. The boys would sit on their large baskets or “panyers” while waiting for customers. Panyer Alley is easily found today, as it is where you exit from St Paul’s Underground station if you are heading for the cathedral.

Figure 5. The Boy on the Panyer, Panyer Alley

Richard Groombridge’s final son, Charles, was born at 6 Panyer Alley on 7th December 1833 and was baptised at St.Vedast’s Church on 2nd January 1834. Richard is now described as a Bookseller living at 6 Panyer Alley. This is repeated on the census document of 6th June 1841.

All four of Richard’s surviving sons, Richard Coleman, Henry, William and Charles were apprenticed to their father in the Stationers Guild. This was clearly to train and prepare them to participate in the bookselling and publishing trade. The apprenticeship completion document for the oldest son, Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge shows that he completed his apprenticeship on 21st January 1851, at the rather late age of 34. For Henry, the second son, we have the apprentice indenture document for a standard seven year apprenticeship to his father which is dated 1834, when Henry was 14 years old. Henry presumable completed his apprenticeship in 1841. William and Charles are both recorded as apprentices in 1851.

Fig 6. First part of Henry Groombridge’s apprenticeship indenture from 1834

All four sons served worked with their father as publishers and booksellers.The family continued to live at Panyer Alley until at least 1841, but had acquired 5 Paternoster Row as a business address sometime in the 1840s. By 1845, when his two eldest sons Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge and Henry Groombridge were 28 and 25 years old respectively, the imprint of the firm was changed to “Groombridge and Sons”, usually followed by “5, Paternoster Row” on the title page. Charlotte Groombridge nee Witcher died in May 1848; her address on her burial record was given as Paternoster Row, so it is possible that the family had moved from Panyer Alley to Paternoster Row around 1845.

On the census of 30 March 1851, Richard Groombridge was described as a Bookseller living at 5 Mortimore Villas in West Hackey. Groombridge and Sons was still publishing from 5 Paternoster Row but the family were no longer living there. The two youngest sons, William aged 18 and Charles aged 17, were both still living with their father as apprentices to him. One imagines that they started their apprenticeships at age 14 in 1847 and 1848 respectively. The two surviving daughters of Richard Groombridge were also living with him, the newly married Sarah Charlotte Robinson nee Groombridge and the youngest Emily Groombridge, aged 14.

Richard’s oldest son, Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge had married Mary Ann Simpson of Hertford on 14th May 1844. In 1851, they were living with their first two children at 6 Mortimore Place, West Hackney, very close to Richard Groombridge. This was the first of several relationships between the Simpson family and the Groombridge family. Richard’s second son, Henry Groombridge had married Ann Brown, a widow, on 5th September 1848. In 1851, they were living with their first two daughters at 3 Ackland Place in Finsbury, now part of Islington.

Groombridge and Sons: The second generation

Richard Groombridge wrote his will on 10th January 1854. He gave his address 9 Gunnar Terrace, Islington. In his will he named Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge and Henry Groombridge, his two oldest sons as the joint inheritors of the publishing business, but divided his estate up equally between his six surviving children, under the management of the two oldest sons. He still held leases on 6 Panyer Alley and 5 Paternoster Row, which he passed on to his two older sons.

Fig.7 Start of the Will of Richard Groombridge from January 1854

Richard Groombridge died in the following year in February in Islington. He was buried on 8th February 1855. Groombridge and Sons was run now by the two oldest sons, with the two younger sons assisting. Sadly, the three oldest sons all died in quick succession: William Groombridge in 1860 in Hertford, the original home of his wife Elizabeth Hart Simpson; Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge died on 1st December 1865 at South Norwwod, near Croydon, where he had been living with his second wife Letitia Andrews; finally Henry Groombridge died at his home at Ringstead Lodge, 1 Whitehorse Road in Croydon in January 1868. This left Charles Groombridge as the last son of the founder, Richard Groombridge, still alive.

The strange story of Charles Groombridge (1833-1917)

Charles was 36 years old and single when Henry died in 1868, and, like his two oldest brothers, had described himself as a publisher on the 1861 census. He was living in Croydon in 1861. He seems to have lived an unorthodox life. In the 1871 census, he called himself Charles Edmonds, aged 36, a “Fundholder and Shareholder” from Higate in Middlesex and was living in Peckham with an Esther Tilby, a 29 year old woman from Abinger in Surrey. Esther Tilby was calling herself Charles’ wife, Esther Edmonds, with a 12 year old daughter Ella S Edmonds. In 1861, Esther Tilby had been already calling herself Mrs Edmonds, and had been living nearby at Lower Sydenham.

By 1881, Charles and Esther Groonbridge were living together in Mott Road, Sewardstone, a small village in Waltham Cross on the outer northern edge of London. Charles simply described himself in the census as a Gentleman. They have a “Companion” called Elly Edmonds, aged 22. In 1891 and 1901, Charles and Esther are living at Enfield and then Woodford, still in the outer northern region of London. On both censuses, Charles has described himself as an “Inventor and Patentee.” Finally on the 1911 Census, Charles is living in lodgings in Leytonstone without Esther, and is describing himself as 80 years old, single and a retired publisher. The family that he is lodging with is called Edmunds. There is no record of marriage for either Charles Groombridge or Esther Tilby, nor does there seem to be a birth or baptismal record for Ella S Edmonds.

It is very unclear what to make of all this. Charles seems to have lost interest in publishing sometime around 1870, and the firm seems to have passed into the hands of the three sons of Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge.

Groombridge and Sons: The third generation

There were five grandsons of Richard Groombridge who were potential contenders to carry on the publishing business. The children of his daughter, Sarah Charlotte Robinson, nee Groombridge had all emigrated to New Zealand with their parents in the early 1860s, and neither William Groombridge nor Charles Groombridge left any legitimate offspring. Emily Kettlewell nee Groombridge had six daughters and only one son; he was Harry Mason Kettlewell, who had been born in 1867, and was far to young to participate in the firm in the 1860s and 1870s. That left the five grandsons of Richard Groombridge’s two oldest sons.

Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge had three sons; Richard Henry Groombridge and George Simpson Groombridge by his first wife and Herbert Yorke Groombridge by his second wife. Henry Goombridge had two sons, Henry Watson Groombridge and Richard Deakin Groombridge. At the time of the death of Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge in 1865, his sons Richard Henry, George Simpson and Herbert Yorke were 20, 14 and 9 years old. Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge’s will was not granted probate shortly after his death in 1865 as is the normal custom. It was delayed until 1873. Since his brother Henry Groombridge was the executor, I am led to wonder if there was a family dispute about the fate of Richard Coleman Henry equity in Groombridge and Sons. Henry Groombridge’s sons Henry Watson and Richard Deakin, at the ages of 11 and 8 in 1865 were also too young to have a role in the business. With his brother Charles seeming to go off the rails, I suspect Henry had no option but to allow some role to Richard Henry Groombridge in the business. All of this would have come to a further crisis in 1868 when Henry Groombridge died, with his sons still too young to take an active role.

In the census of April 1871, we find all three of the sons of Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge living with his widow, Letitia, in Wimbledon. Richard Henry Groombridge was described as a Publisher, George Simpson Groomridge described as a Publisher’s Assistant and the youngest Herbert Yorke Groombridge was still a schoolboy. All three are unmarried. Interestingly, Letitia’s sister in law, Mary Jane Simpson of Hertford is also present as a visitor. She described herself as a publisher’s wife, although her husband, Edward Augustus Simpson only ever described himself as a bookseller and printer.

When we move on to the census of Apr 1881, the three men are all described as publishers. George Simpson and Herbert Yorke are still single and living in Wimbledon with Letitia Groombridge. Richard Henry Groombridge married in 1877. He and his family are living in Marylebone with his wife’s widowed mother. Neither of the two sons of Henry Groombridge are ever described as working in publishing. In fact, Henry Watson Groombridge never worked at all and never married. He lived his life off his inherited wealth, mainly in Worthing in Sussex, where he died in 1906 . His younger brother Richard Deakin Groombridge also lived in Worthing, where he died in 1880 at the age of just 23.

It seems to me that following the death of Henry Groombridge in 1868, the firm was run for the next 20 years by the three sons of Richard Coleman Henry Groombridge, with Richard Henry as the senior man. This ended on 29th August 1885 with the death of Richard Henry Groombridge at Westbourne Park underground railway station in Notting Hill. Neither of Richard Henry Groombridge’s sons entered the book trade, both becoming chartered accountants.

If we then look at the next two censuses, we see that George Simpson Groombridge described himself in 1891 as “Managing Director of Publisher” followed by “Publisher’s Manager” in 1901. He died in May 1908, leaving a widow and one daughter. Herbert Yorke Groombridge described himself in 1891 as a “Manager of a Publishing Company”, but in 1901 he reported that he was a manager of a wool washing company. In 1911, he was manager of a firm of shop fitters. He died in in Putney in 1932, leaving no children.

All of this is consistent with the known trading record of Groombridge and sons, which seems to have declined following the death of Richard Henry Groombridge in 1885 and slowly disappeared from the publishing scene around 1890. The latest dated book that was published by Groombridge and Sons that I can identify was issued in 1889, but many of Groombridge’s books were published undated, so it is possible that the firm was still operating into the 1890s. but not after 1900.

Publishing profile of R. Groombridge and Sons.

R. Groombridge and Groombridge and Sons were best known as publishers of books on religion, agriculture and natural history, although they did also reprint several of the novels of Grace Aguilar (1816-1847), a then popular writer on themes of Jewish history and religion. The Groombridges worked closely with the printer and engraver Benjamin Fawcett, (1808 -1893) and the artist A. F Lydon (1836-1917), publishing many of their finely illustrated books between 1844 and 1890. In particular, they published several books by Rev Francis Orpen Morris (1810-1893) on birds and butterflies which were generously illustrated in colour.

Benjamin Fawcett had been born in Bridlington in Yorkshire and had been apprenticed to a local Bookseller and printed called William Forth. Two years after finishing his apprenticeship, he started his own printing and engraving business in Driffield, a town about 15 km south west of Bridlington, on the main road to York. Benjamin Fawcett took on a local Driffield boy, Alexander Francis Lydon, as an apprentice in 1850. Lydon remained as an employee of Fawcett for most of his working life. Together, they were responsible for some of the finest printing in colour from woodblocks in the 19th century. It may be that the death of Fawcett in 1893, following his retirement as a printer a few years earlier had contributed to the demise of Groombridge and Sons.

This article represents an attempt to understand the family behind Groombridge and Sons, Publishers and Booksellers. Much remains unknown and perhaps remains to be discovered in the future. I am hoping to add to the two Groombridge books that I currently own, Mansfield Park from 1875 and an edition Robinson Crusoe from around 1860. You can see some of the several bindings of Robinson Crusoe that were issued by Groombridge at the web site on Robinson Crusoe that is based on the astonishing collection of Larry Voyer.