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Posted - 23-06-2016

Collections / Digitisation / Research

The life and times of Mr Herbert Ellerby: Linking Llandudno, Lancashire, and Moggill, Australia

A guest post by the National Library’s Wikidata Visiting Scholar

More than three-quarters of the 4,800 prints in the Welsh Landscape Collection have now been added to Wikidata as part of the Linking Landscapes project, which was launched in April. The goal of this project is to create high quality Wikidata for the entire collection, with every print being represented by an item in the database and linked with other items by statements that capture the characteristics of each work. In order to achieve this goal, metadata for the collection have been converted into statements that are comprised of Wikidata properties and values, thus forming links between the prints and other entities in the database. The properties correspond to metadata elements, such as title, description, artist, publisher, date, medium etc., and the values can record temporal or quantitative data, such as publication date and dimensions, or can link to related Wikidata items. These items can be the people involved in creating and distributing the prints, such as artists, engravers, printers and publishers, production methods like etching, aquatint and mezzotint engraving, subjects depicts, for example geographic locations, and descriptors of image content, which can include objects, concepts and activities.

After the initial process of assigning a Wikidata property to each metadata element and structuring the metadata in a spreadsheet so that it was in a suitable format to upload via the Quick Statements tool, it was possible to replace a large amount of the semantic metadata with the Qxx number of the corresponding Wikidata item. Metadata for approximately 3,000 prints were fully converted into Wikidata statements in this manner, which enabled the project to progress quickly. Lists were generated of the geographic locations/features, artists, and publishers that remained in their semantic form due to either the absence of an equivalent Wikidata item or lack of necessary information to identify and/or disambiguate them.

Most of the publishers have now been identified using a combination of the Virtual International Authority File (VIAF) and British Book Trade Index (BBTI) databases and the information, such as addresses, contained within the prints themselves. In many cases, the publishers and artists overlap, particularly where the publisher is a lithographic printer or print seller for example, and the same resources, along with Benezit Dictionary of Artists, have, therefore, also been valuable for identifying and describing artists and engravers in the collection. The information gathered from these sources has been used to create Wikidata items for some 150 publishers and, if possible, a statement containing the VIAF identifier has been used to link these data to existing authority files. In the instances where a publisher does not have an entry in either VIAF or BBTI, it has been necessary to conduct further research to identify them, drawing on a range of digitised newspapers, directories, books and documents. Bring together the information available in range of dispersed sources has the potential produce interesting, and somewhat unexpected, results, as the example below shows.

The Library of Congress’ copy of the fourth edition of John Hicklin’s The hand-book to Llandudno has been digitised and we find, bound in the back of it, sixteen pages of publisher’s advertisements under the title Catherall and Prichard’s hand-book to Llandudno. Although Catherall & Prichard were co-publishers of this book and, as stated in the colophon, they were also responsible for its printing, the mere presence of the colophon before these extra pages and the change in running head confirm that they are not part of Hicklin’s work. This well disguised supplement was included by Catherall & Prichard, who evidently seized the opportunity to increased their earnings on this title by selling advertising space to local traders, thus providing them with a medium through which they could promote their establishments to an audience of Victorian tourists who purchased this travel guide, which had been published in London, Chester and Bangor, before or during their visit to the Queen of Welsh Resorts, Llandudno. These advertisements are a valuable source of information concerning several of the publishers in the Welsh Landscape Collection.

The firm Catherall & Prichard, comprised of the Chester bookmen Thomas Catherall and George Prichard, was itself responsible for publishing around eighteen of the prints during their partnership; Catherall also issued nearly one hundred prints under his name alone. At the foot of the third page of Catherall & Prichard’s hand-book, William Bridge (1808-86), a bookseller and stationer based in Conwy, who published around fifteen of the prints in the collection, advertises the Llandudno branch of his circulating library which, in addition to lending books for a fee, offered visitors to the town a selection of newspapers from London and the provinces every Saturday, presumably received in the weekly delivery of books and periodicals that he received from London. Indeed, Bridge’s Llandudno premises seems to have catered for the tourist market, which flourished after the town was connected to the railway network in 1858, with ‘views’, i.e. prints and photographs, and hats, both straw and fancy, for ladies and children amongst his range of souvenirs. On the very same page is the advertisement of another bookseller, Herbert Ellerby (1817-95). Unlike Bridge, who lived and worked in Conwy all his life, Ellerby was new in town.

Herbert Ellerby was born in York, the fourth born child of William (1771-1839) and Martha (1783-1859). His father was a shoemaker in Leeds until he became a travelling agent for the Religious Tract Society, and it was due to the responsibilities of this role that the birthplaces of his six children were distributed between Leeds, York and Whitby. The family crossed the Pennines when William Ellerby established a Religious Tract Society bookshop at 31 Piccadilly, Manchester and it was here that Herbert cut his teeth in the book trade. After William Ellerby died on 6 July 1839, Herbert supported his mother, who had signalled her intention to carry on trading from the Religious Tract Repository in the Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser of 20 July 1839. Shortly after the Repository had relocated to Market Street in 1842, the booksellers were trading as M. Ellerby and Son, an acknowledgement of Herbert’s role in the business, and their advertisements were a regular feature in the Manchester Guardian, until the announcement of their closing down sale appeared in the 17 March 1849 issue of the same newspaper.

Three months later, Herbert Ellerby and his wife Sarah, who he married in 1845, their daughter Maria, and Mrs Ellerby senior were the only cabin passengers on board the Lima when it set sail from Whence, London for the four month journey to Port Jackson, Australia. The crossing does not appear to have been entirely to Ellerby’s satisfaction. In a letter, published in the Sydney Morning Herald, 31 December 1849, he recounted how ‘many of the passengers … [were] victimized to a considerable extent’ and described ‘the conduct of Dr [John Dunmore] Lang’, who chartered the Lima, ‘as cruel and unjust in the extreme’. It seems that his discontent did not end there, for the Moreton Bay Courier reported that Ellerby had sued two of his fellow passengers in a dispute over the conveyance of his luggage. After a bad start to his life down under, Ellerby completed the purchase of fifty-five acres of land at Moggill, Brisbane, for fifty-five pounds, in March 1851. It was reported that he planned to use fourteen acres to grow cotton. It is possible that he was successful in this venture, since on 20 January 1855, the Cheshire Observer and General Advertiser noted that a warehouse in Todd Street, Manchester belonging to Herbert Ellerby had burnt down, destroying cotton with a value of £60. The Ellerbys had sailed back to London in March 1854, with two additional members, daughters Jessie and Francis who were born during their time in Australia.

Herbert and Sarah Ellerby arrived Llandudno their three daughters and his mother, during the summer of 1856 and established a bookshop, known as the Central Library, at Tudno House, Church Walks where they had taken up residence. Ellerby’s time in the town is well documented by the advertising and directory listings in The North Wales Chronicle and Advertiser for the Principality, which reveal that he was lending books for a penny per day in 1858, when his first promotional material appeared. In the 24 July 1858 Chronicle we find Ellerby’s announcing a recently published ‘1s. packet of Llandudno Views’, which he ‘offered at 9d’. It is possible that this packet contained some of the prints in the Welsh Landscape Collection, which were engraved by Rock & Co., and published by H. Ellerby in late August and early September 1857. Amongst these five prints, there is one that is distinguished by an initial W., partially erased but not replaced with an H., leaving a gap before the family name. On another print, we find the name W. Ellerby intact, an indication that Herbert’s elder brother, the printer and publisher William Porter Ellerby (1812-81), who was based in Manchester, had some connection to the business in Llandudno.

By June 1859, Ellerby’s Central Library had relocated to new premises on Mostyn Street, as depicted in prints by Day & Son (above) and W. Banks & Son, and he was now offering ‘a great variety of stereoscopic slides … [and] photographs of Welsh scenery’, in addition to his standard range of views, maps and guide books. Indeed, Ellerby seemed determined to cater to even the niche tourist markets and he announced in the Carnarvon and Denbigh Herald and North and South Wales Independent of 11 June 1959 that he had published J.M. Coley’s Medical guide for visitors at Llandudno, which he would post to anywhere in the United Kingdom for seven penny postage stamps. Facing competition from two other libraries in the town, Ellerby strived to make his new bookshop the premier haunt for the literary holidaymakers, and he bolstered his own list by offering ‘a selection from Mudie’. If any confirmation is required of just how enticing the town’s libraries were to its visitors, it is provided by Mr Morrell, who advertised his boarding house on Church Walks as ‘situated within three minutes’ walk of the public baths, libraries, and promenade’. But relations between the competing librarians must have, on the whole, remained amiable, for Ellerby published a series of photographic views in collaboration with the postmaster Mr Powell and one of his rivals, Mr Stavely, who could offer his subscribers, in addition to his library stocked with Mudie’s books, a reading and news room, billiards, and warm or cold showers and baths. This innovative combination was apparently not a success and the enterprise was wound up in July 1862. The original premises of the Public Baths, occupying the site of the present-day Grand Hotel, can be seen in one of the prints published Ellerby.

On 14 July 1859, Martha Ellerby died, aged 76. In the years that followed, Herbert Ellerby focused his energy on the Central Library, with his advertisements increasing in both size and number as he promoted his latest publications and new products. However, the loss of his youngest daughter, Henrietta, aged 17 months, on 15 November 1862 seems to have sapped the ambition from Ellerby. He ceased advertising entirely during 1863 and even in the following year those advertisement that carried his name were limited to new titles that listed the booksellers in the town who had stock on hand. Then, on 4 February 1865, an advert appeared in The North Wales Chronicle offering ‘For immediate disposal, A bookseller and stationer’s business, the best in the Town, and thoroughly established.’ Although, Ellerby does not elucidate his reasons for selling, he does reveal that ‘the time is limited’ and states sufficient reasons for the relinquishment will be given. Tantalisingly we are not privy to that information, but it seems probable that his hand was forced by events elsewhere. The London Gazette, 10 February 1865 documents the dissolution of a partnership between one William Porter Ellerby and Frederick Augustus Banks, who were advertising agents operating as Ellerby and Company, on the very same day that the Central Library was put up for sale. The extent to which Herbert Ellerby was exposed to the debts incurred by this concern is not known, but he found a buyer for his business within a month and the only further details of his departure from Llandudno are provided by George Felton of the Mostyn Estate Office, who had been instructed to sell Ellerby’s remaining belongings, household goods including his furniture and carpets, by auction at the Central Library on 14 March.

Ellerby left Llandudno with his family in the spring of 1865 and worked as a bookseller in Sandbach, Cheshire, for some years before moving to Manchester where he lived with his daughters. On 26 April 1895, Herbert Ellerby was admitted to Manchester’s Withington Workhouse, and died there a few weeks later on the 9 May. He is buried in Brooklands Cemetery, Sale, Cheshire, alongside his wife Sarah, and daughters Ethel and Marion. Even though Herbert Ellerby spent less than a decade in Llandudno, he is linked to the town by the prints and books that were published at the Central Library and the output his marketing campaign.

Hopefully, as the remaining items from the Welsh Landscape Collection are added to Wikidata more details will emerge about the artists and engravers who created these prints and the printers, publishers, booksellers and other traders who disseminated them. The activities of some of these individuals are not well documented so it will be fascinating to see if queries in Wikidata can reveal links between their work and others in the book and print trades in Britain during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. And even if no connections are discovered in the course of this project all is not lost because there is always the potential for a Wikidata item to link with another item in the future when more collections are added to the database.

Simon Cobb

Volunteer Wikidata Visiting Scholar

National Library of wales

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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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