As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases from amazon.com

About the Street Literature of Jemmy Catnach and Charles Hindley


A bibliomaniac’s journey through the highways and byways of book collecting is never straightforward. He forever strays off the beaten path, veering here and stopping there and finding even more books to collect.

                    Jerry Morris, My Sentimental Library, February 2020

We should not have known very little about Jemmy Catnach and the world of popular nineteenth century broadsides had it not been for the pioneer researches of Charles Hindley in the byways of English Literature.  It is ironic that we should now know very little about Hindley himself….

                   Leslie Shepard  Foreword in Hindley C. Curiosities of Literature
                                London: Broadstreet King Edition 1966

I don’t remember when exactly my venture into street literature began.  But I know it began with a book I found that contained the woodcuts of  James Catnach (1792-1841) (pronounced Catnack).  I bought this book some time before December 21, 2007 because that’s when I began cataloguing my books on Library Thing.  I catalogued The Catnach Press on January 17, 2008.  It was the 566th book I had catalogued on Library Thing.

 I bought The Catnach Press because I knew I had a decided lack of books about woodcuts in my Books About Books Collection.  The Catnach Press had a chapter titled, “The Life of Old Jemmy Catnach.”  Another chapter was titled “The Literature of the Streets.” And  then there were pages and pages of chapbooks and woodcuts.  Some of the woodcuts were by Thomas Bewick (1753-1828).  Jemmy’s father, John Catnach (1769-1813), employed Bewick to produce engravings for books he published.

I know I didn’t pay too much for The Catnach Press because the entire backstrip was missing.  I have since rebacked it.

The book itself was No. 126 of 250 copies printed.  The author’s name was not listed on the title page, and neither was the year the book was published. But I found out later that a Charles Hindley was the author, and that the book was published in 1869.

I am now toying with the idea of rebinding the book with marbled boards and marbled endpapers.  Granted, the marbled boards would look more pleasing to the eye, but restoring the book as close to its original condition as possible would, according  to some experts, retain its value ($100 or more).  But that marbled paper sure looks nice….

I now knew a little bit about Jemmy Catnach but virtually nothing about the book’s author, Charles Hindley, except that he died in 1893.  And it stayed that way for at least 12 years.  Last October,  however, I was browsing the listings on eBay, and I came across another book by him.  It was a copy of the 1887 second edition of The History of the Catnach Press. And this time his name was on the front cover and title page too, along with a list of numerous works that he edited.

Hindley covers both Catnaches in this book.  The father, John Catnach, was not a successful businessman, almost always on the brink of bankruptcy. The son, Jemmy Catnach, was quite successful as a printer of street literature, and later became known as “The Cock of the Walk.” Here are some engravings from the book:

Inserted in the book was a query letter from Charles Hindley to an English publisher by the name if William Tinsley.  Other than the letter, there were no marks of provenance to signify that this book was formerly owned by Tinsley.

I thought at first that Hindley was asking Tinsley if he wanted to publish The History of the Catnach Press.  And when Tinsley declined, Hindley’s son, Charles Hindley the Younger (1845-1900), published it ten years later.  In his letter to Tinsley, Hindley said he had acquired a letter that Jemmy Catnach had written to his sister in 1840, and that Hindley would include the letter in his book.  I checked and when I found Hindley’s letter in Tinsley’s copy of The History of the Catnach Press, that assured me that The History of the Catnach Press was the book Hindley wanted Tinsley to publish. But I was wrong, as you will soon see!

When Charles Hindley was gathering information and interviewing people for his Catnach Press book, he realized that he had gathered much information about the street literature of the other producers of broadsides, chapbooks and other street literature.  This led to the publication of Curiosities of Street Literature in 1871.  The booksellers Reeves and Turner, the publishers of The Catnach Press, published this book as well.  But again, the author’s name was not included on the title page.

While gathering additional information for Curiosities of Street Literature, Hindley acquired enough information to write two more books

The Life and Times of James Catnach [by Charles Hindley] London: Reeves and Turner, 1878

The History of the Catnach Press by Charles Hindley: London: Charles Hindley the Younger, 1886

I looked at an online copy of The Life and Times of James Catnach, and lo and behold Catnach’s 1840 letter to his sister was included in that book too!    This book was published shortly after Hindley’s query letter.  I now believe The Life and Times of James Catnach was the book Hindley wanted Tinsley to publish.

The bookman Percy H Muir wrote a brilliant essay on Catnachery that was published by the Book Club of California in 1955.

Muir did not think much of Jemmy Catnach and lets his readers know about it in his essay. He begins:

The Catnach Press, 2 Monmouth Court, 7 Dials was the imprint for the better part of a century on flimsy broadsheets which were sold quite literally by the million in the streets of London.  The production and distribution of such ill-written and worse-printed ephemera seems to offer a poor basis for immortality.  Yet ‘Jemmy’ Catnach, who founded the ‘Press’ that bears his name is the only one of the myriad producers of street-ballads down the centuries whose name and record is in the Dictionary of National Biography – that 70-volume enshrinement of the illustrious and infamous who have helped grace or disgrace our island story. 

To me, the 40 Catnach illustrations and five broadsides in Catnachery, look magnificent.  And they were taken from two of Charles Hindley’s books, The Catnach Press: A Collection of the Books and Woodcuts of James Catnach and The History of the Catnach Press.  



Muir mentions Hindley only once in the essay – as a footnote.  In the footnotes he correctly identifies Hindley as the author of The Catnach Press and The Life and Times of James Catnach.  He mentions that in 1886 Hindley’s son, also named Charles Hindley, published a rehash of the two books with the title The History of the Catnach Press, but Muir does not identify the author.  Charles Hindley the father was the author of that book as well.

The more I delved into Charles Hindley, however, the more I wanted to find out about him.  William Tinsley helped the cause to some extent.  In his own biography, Random Recollections of an Old Publisher, published in 1900, Tinsley wrote:

I published several interesting volumes by Mr. Charles Hindley, who was also a most industrious chronicler of the lives and works of James Catnach and Bewick, the celebrated wood engraver.  Perhaps there were few men in Mr. Hindley’s time who had a better knowledge of old signs, old ballads, and street cries, than he had.  In fact, had he been as good a writer as he was a talker, the curious books he published would have made excellent reading.

In an online preview of Street Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century by David Atkinson and Steve Roud, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2017, I read that the authors identified Leslie Shepard as “the only one who seems to have attempted any research on Hindley.”  Researching further I learned that Leslie Shepard (1917-2004) had written a new introduction for a 1966 edition of Hindley’s Curiosities of Literature that was published by The Broadstreet King.  And yes, I ordered a copy of it!

Shepard provides five pages of extensive information about Charles Hindley, including a bibliography of his works.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Shepard said that Charles Hindley was not listed in Modern English Biography Vol V, 1912, but his eldest son, also named Charles Hindley, who was also a bookseller was listed, and was credited with his father’s works!

Here’s some information about Charles Hindley the Younger.  He was one of the booksellers pictured in a celebrated engraving of a book sale at Sotheby’s Auction House in 1888.  Laurence Worms, proprietor of Ash Rare Books, published a series of nine posts about these booksellers on his popular blog, The Bookhunter on Safari, titling the series “The Book-Hunters of 1888. And on January 7, 2016, the Charles Hindley the Younger made his appearance on the blog.  He’s the one with the beard. On the right side of the engraving.  Poring over a large tome.

And now, back to Charles Hindley the Elder!

Charles Hindley’s book, Curiosities of Street Literature, provides a snapshot of the literature of the poorer people of England in the late 1800s.  Included are the prints, broadsides and chapbooks of Pitts, Tickle, Such, Walton, and many more.  Hindley divided his book into four divisions:

“Cocks” or “Catchpennies” Street Drolleries &c.

Broadsides on the Royal Family, Polticial Litanies, &c.

A Collection of “Ballads on a Subject”

The “Gallows” Literature of the Streets.

There was an added treat in my acquisition of this copy of the 1966 edition of Charles Hindley’s Curiosities of Street Literature.  Its editor, Leslie Shepard, inscribed the book to Tom Schlientz, a founding member of The Book Club of Detroit and the manager of John K. King Used and Rare Books in Detroit for 35 years.  This copy was also signed by The Broadstreet King himself, John Foreman.

If I continue collecting street literature, I may look at the books that  Leslie Shepard wrote or edited in this genre first.  And there are a few of them.  There are a number of glowing obituaries of him online.  Here is one from The Irish Times. There is a brilliant article about Leslie Shepard by Ian Russell in the Folk Music Journal Vol 9 No.1 (2006) that can be read via JSTOR.



We will be happy to hear your thoughts

Leave a reply

Trendy Home Site
Logo
Enable registration in settings - general
Compare items
  • Total (0)
Compare
0
Shopping cart