Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Walker's Costume of Yorkshire (1814)

You may never have consulted George Walker’s The costume of Yorkshire published in 1814 but many of its illustrations may still be familiar due to their frequent use in books and on book covers - wonderful contemporary images of the costume and customs of the Regency period. The most famous of Walker’s plates is no 3, "The Collier", because it shows a man working at Middleton Colliery in south Leeds with John Blenkinsop’s recently invented steam engine in the background – the earliest known illustration of a steam locomotive on rails. The text reads:
"One of these workmen is here represented as returning from his labours in his usual costume. This dress is of white cloth bound with red, may probably be ridiculed as quite inconsistent with his sable occupation; but when the necessity of frequent washing is considered, surely none could have been adopted more conducive to cleanliness and health. The West Riding of Yorkshire, it is well known, abounds in coal, the consumption of which is prodigiously increased by the general use of steam engines. In the back ground of the annexed Plate is a delineation of the steam engine lately invented by Mr. Blenkinsop, agent at the colliery of Charles Brandling, esquire, near Leeds, which conveys above twenty waggons loaded with coals from the pits to Leeds. By two of these machines constantly employed by the labour of at least fourteen horses is saved." [p 7]

Plate 3: "The Collier"

George Walker (1781-1856), the book’s author and illustrator, was a subscriber to the Leeds Library being the holder of share no 39 from the death of his father, William, in 1817 until his own death. His father, a drysalter, was a founder member. He had purchased the share at the library’s foundation in 1768. The Walkers, like many other early subscribers, were members of the Mill Hill Chapel congregation: indeed, George’s paternal grandfather, Thomas, had been minister of the chapel from 1748 until 1763. George was the youngest of five brothers. The next youngest, Samuel, was killed in the Peninsular War with, Richard Beckett, the son of another well known Leeds family of the day: the two are commemorated in Leeds Minster.
George Walker’s education and training are recorded by Edward Hailstone in his introduction to the second edition of Walker’s Costume published in 1885. Schooling began in Mansfield before he was placed with the Rev Charles Wellbeloved at York. The intention was for George to follow in his father’s footsteps but he did not take to the business and instead began to pursue the study of natural history and the fine arts. He became particularly friendly with the celebrated naturalist, Charles Waterton of Walton Hall near Wakefield. His love of the fine arts caused him to play an active role in the establishment of the Northern exhibition of paintings at Leeds. He himself frequently sketched scenery, wildlife and figures .

Plate 22: "Thirty-third Regiment"
Walker's book contains forty-one coloured aquatint plates based upon the author’s original drawings. The forty numbered plates are each accompanied by text in both English and French – an interesting feature given Britain's relations with France at the time. Hailstone tells us that the French text was supplied by a M. de Lustrac who had fled France in 1798 and set up in Leeds as a language tutor. [p. 103] The Leeds Library copy was published as a complete item but in fact the book was originally published in ten monthly parts - each part containing four illustrations and text (with the tenth part additionally containing the frontispiece that appears in our copy). The plates each bear at their foot "Geo. Walker, Del.", "Publish'd by Robinson & Son, Leeds." followed by the date of printing and "Engrav'd by R. Havell" or "Engrav'd by R. & D. Havell." Each of the separate parts had had its own title-page stating that the printer, T[homas] Bensley of Bolt Court, Fleet Street, had printed the particular part for Robinson and Son of Leeds. The dates of printing are given in groups of four successively from 1 August 1813 to 1 June 1814 with the exception of 1 May 1814.
Hailstone tells us that the Leeds firm of publishers encouraged George Walker to produce the drawings and text that were to become The costume of Yorkshire. By the time the collected edition of 1814 was published, Robinson &and Son had become Robinson, Son, and Holdsworth: both firms are particularly associated with the Leeds Library because ‘Robinson’ was its recently deceased librarian, Mary Robinson, who died in 1813 - she had been librarian since 1774 as well as running a bookshop. The ‘Son’ was her youngest child, Joseph Ogle Robinson, who was later to become a well known London publisher and partner with Archibald Constable (1774-1827) – most notably in the publication of the works of Sir Walter Scott. Unfortunately little is known of Holdsworth other than he is thought to have come from nearby Wakefield.
There were also two important London publishers listed on the title-page of the complete 1814 edition – Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme and Brown in Paternoster Row and Rudolph Ackermann in the Strand. Ackermann was particularly noted at the time for his beautifully illustrated books. The book itself was again said to be printed in London by T. Bensley of Bolt Court, Fleet Street though for the two London firms in the first instance and then for the Leeds one. The title-pages of the monthly parts have the London firms only as distributors and not publishers.
The plates were created by members of a noted family of engravers - the Havells: each was either engraved by R[obert] Havell (1769-1832) or by the same R[obert] and D[aniel] Havell (1786-1822): the two men were first cousins once removed. Plates 1 to 24 (1 August 1813 to 1 January 1814) were jointly executed whereas those afterwards (including the additional frontispiece) were executed by Robert Havell on his own. The partnership is known to have broken up about this time and Walker's Costume may give a clue to a more exact date. Robert Havell's son, Robert (1793-1878), is best known for having been the principal engraver for John James Audubon's Birds of America. Daniel Harvell was later a frequent provider of engravings for Ackermann.
Geoffrey Forster
Librarian, The Leeds Library
3 December 2012
Further reading:
Abbey, J. R. - Life in England in aquatint and lithography 1770-1860: architecture, drawing books, art collections, magazines, navy and army, panoramas, etc. from the library of J.R. Abbey: a bibliographical catalogue, San Francisco: Alan Wfsy Fine Arts, 1991, nos 432-433 [first edition 1953]

Walker, George - The costume of Yorkshire illustrated by a series of forty engravings being fac-similes of original drawings, with descriptions in English and French, printed by T. Bensley, Bolt Court, Fleet Street, for Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, Paternoster Row; Ackermann, Strand; and Robinson, Son, and Holdsworth, Leeds, 1814
Walker, George - The costume of Yorkshire, Firle, Sussex: Caliban Books, 1978
[This reprint is largely based upon the 1814 edition with the omission of the French text and the addition of Edward Hailstone's introduction to the second edition of 1885: interestingly, the facsimile contents page numbers the plates in a different order to the Leeds Library copy suggesting more than one printing of the 1814 edition]

Walker, George - The costume of Yorkshire illustrated by a series of forty engravings being fac-similes of original drawings, with descriptions in English and French, [edited by Edward Hailstone], Leeds: Richard Jackson, 1885

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