24 July 2011

James Ball and the bookbinders of London

I've learnt a lot about historical bookbinding and the bookbinders of London over the last few days. I've been working on finding references to my great great great grandfather James Ball. As I noted in my last post on him, he was a bookbinder, working in London, and then in Sydney after he had emigrated.

I know that he lived and worked at 20 Little Carter Lane, in the Doctors Commons area of London. He seems to have moved there in 1841, as he and his family are living there by June 7, when the 1841 England Census was taken. He didn't make it into the 1841 Post Office London Directory for that address though - the place was apparently occupied by Francis Beams, shorthand writer, before the Balls moved in.

Searching for information on the bookbinders of London I came across references to the Jaffray Collection, a collection of scrapbooks kept by John Jaffray, a London bookbinder, who was active in trade society and social reform in the 1800s. Amongst his collection of bookbinding-related ephemera held at the British Library there were two items which referenced a "J. Ball".

Apparently in 1838 there were three large employers (masters) of bookbinders in London who sought to dictate terms of employment which were unacceptable to a large number of their employees - they hoped to cut costs by employing more apprentices, despite there being quotas of apprentices compared to fully qualified bookbinders. A stand-off ensued for about 30 weeks during which time 16 journeymen bookbinders were charged with conspiracy against the masters. Unfortunately the newspapers of the day do not actually record the outcome of the strike, nor the court case. However the bookbinders held an annual ball just after the strike ended and the atmosphere was seemingly triumphant so one might assume the strike ended in their favour. I have also been unable to ascertain the names of the 16 charged with conspiracy, apart from two who sadly died before the end of the trial.

The information containing the name of J. Ball related to an appeal by the journeymen bookbinders of London, to their brethren from all trades in all parts of the United Kingdom. In order to fund the court case against the 16 journeymen bookbinders many bookbinders sacrificed part of their wage as did workers from many other trades across the country. The information related to the third appeal for funds and was signed with 14 names, one of which was J. Ball. I cannot tell if these were the remaining 14 bookbinders on trial (two of them had died by this stage) or whether the signatories were just those people organising the appeal. Whichever it was, I have not been able to find reference to any other "J. Ball"s who were bookbinders at that time.

Family information says that James was granted the Freedom of the City of London. According to family lore he was granted it because of his ability in addressing dinner gatherings as well as his ownership and managership of a London publishing firm. All the information I have found on London City Freemen suggests that to be granted the freedom of the City of London they needed to either be a member of a livery company or gain it through nomination, patrimony (a child of a freeman) or servitude (serving a full apprenticeship to a freeman), and it was essential to be a City Freeman before they could practice a trade in the City. James would most likely have been a member of the Worshipful Company of Stationers and Newspaper Makers (the Stationers Company). I'm not at all sure that there was any criteria about being a good dinner party speaker, but that makes a good story nonetheless! Likewise his being the owner and manager of a London publishing firm - all information I've found points to him being a small-time bookbinder, who may or may not have had apprentices in his employ. I have not been able to confirm that James was a City Freeman because I'd need to visit the London Metropolitan Archives or else pay someone to do it for me - neither of which is likely to happen any time soon!

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