It’s odd, but I often don’t tend to think about the people who wrote the old books I fill my evenings reading – I know a bit about Hasted, but of the several great Victorian guys, I’m pretty ignorant. It just never occurs to me that these chaps walked around the streets I walk around; saw at least some of the buildings and places I see.
So once again my hatred of family history was challenged when I heard from Harriet, the great, great granddaughter of Henry Richardson, who wrote Greenwich: Its History, Antiquities, Improvements and Public Buildings, published in 1834. She doesn’t live round here any more, but is planning a trip to visit the places her great, great granddad wrote about, using his work as her guidebook.
She sent me a couple of pictures from the family album. The one at the top of the post is of Henry Richardson himself, looking every inch the stately Victorian gent with his splendid beard, taken in the late 1870s. He lived a long life, dying at the ripe old age of 94 – but, hey, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Henry Samuel Richardson was born on 31 Aug 1811, the second son of William Brown Richardson of Greenwich, a printer. Here is a picture that Harriet thinks is almost certainly William. The caption in the family album is “sitting in front of his printing press.”
Everyone in the family, as might be expected for people living in Stockwell Street, was baptised at St Alfege. He, too, went into the family business as a stationer. Henry wasn’t a historian, but he kept getting people coming into his stationery/bookshop asking for a guide to Greenwich (curiously, around 150 years later, Nigel Hamilton gave the same reason for his seminal modern work Royal Greenwich). There was a gap in the market. He had the printing press, he had the bookshop, he had the customers – writing the darn thing was a mere bagatelle.
It certainly can’t have been much of a chore to write (unless it took many, many years) as he published it the same year he went to Yorkshire to marry Sarah Awty. Here she is – later in life, when she appears to have developed some kind of goitre.
Not that Henry hung around up north. The couple came back down to Greenwich and produced four children, all born and baptised in Greenwich. Most of them continued to live at 69 Church Street. The family printing business was at number 4. It was a fair-sized business – in the 1861 census Henry is listed as Stationer and Printer – Master employing four men and two boys.
On being widowed, Henry moved to Burney Street. The printing business passed down to Henry Jnr, and then to Hazel’s grandmother Winifred (whose married name was Cozens – hence the Cozens family album bit.) She was apparently “a tough old bird with a very astute business head” but after her, the business plan went a bit awry. It was supposed to pass to Hazel’s father, another Henry, but by this point the Twentieth Century had caught up with the world. Henry was in the recently formed RAF and wasn’t interested in the business (wonder if he had anything to do with Alexander Duckham up the hill at Vanbrugh Castle?) so the obvious contender was his younger brother Ernest, who wasn’t interested either. He was obsessed with becoming an actor (sadly he wasn’t very good) so the tough old bird held onto the business for years and sold it in the 1950s before he could ruin it. I’m not sure what happened to it after that.
Now – Stephen at Blitzwalkers – are you paying attention? A little wartime story for you. Henry (the RAF guy) was in Bomber Command during WWII. He had responsibility for armaments and one day was checking account details when he suddenly realised he needed to do something. Something that would be good for the war, but a bad thing for the business. His family’s firm had a very long-standing contract with the War Office to print labels for armaments for the RAF, but when he looked into things he discovered that the firm, based in Church Street in Greenwich which was currently being bombed to buggery, was the ONLY company in the whole of the UK printing and supplying armament labels for the Army, Navy and Air Force arms and armaments. One bomb and – well no one would know what any of their weapons were any more.
Harriet tells me that his actions on discovering this were not popular with the family, but pretty darn British, don’t you think…
Ebspig points out there’s a sad little picture of the bomb damage in Barbara Ludlow’s book Greenwich (Harriet– you can find it in West Greenwich Library, just past the old Borough Hall along the High Road, or almost certainly in Waterstones if you want to buy it) but also, on page 86, there’s a picture of your Gt. Gt. Grandfather’s shop – it’s a Pizza Express these days.
Sadly I don’t own Greenwich: Its History, Antiquities, Improvements and Public Buildings in its entirety – it was published in 1834 and it’s bloomin’ rare. What I do have, though, is a print-out from one of the online repositories (sadly mine doesn’t have the notes, though this one on GoogleBooks appears to have the full text.)
You could always get one of those print-on-demand jobs – they seem to be all over the internet these days. The one caveat I have is that Harriet tells me her copy is a modern reprint where the spellings have all been Americanised and she suspects this is because the person reprinting it thinks it’s a history of Greenwich Village (and hasn’t bothered checking) and is selling it as being written by a living Henry S Richardson who is an American psychologist. So I’d recommend the Google route myself – at least you get the original typeset, which is, of course, made in Greenwich (England), for Greenwich.
In his preface, Richardson says
“……and if the want thus shown to exist can be supplied by the present unobtrusive and unpretending production, the intention of the Author is accomplished, and the employment of his leisure hours will not be unrewarded”.
The want is still being supplied, Henry.
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