Tag Archives: John Johnson Collection

Tricks of the trade

I love the trade cards we hold at the Archives Centre, I always have done. They are so decorative as well as being packed with information about the business they are advertising, who owned it, what it sold and where it was located.

Trade card of William Woodward, nightman, 1 Marylebone Passage, Wells Street, c1820 (Ashbridge 411 Acc 1909). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of William Woodward, nightman, 1 Marylebone Passage, Wells Street, c1820. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Westminster City Archives has over 300 trade cards, mostly dating from the mid-18th century, so the main decorative feature is Rococo shell patterns in keeping with the style of the time. They also frequently include a picture of the workshop or shop and the products they made or sold. Business premises were known by signs, a bit like modern public house signs, before street numbering was introduced in the 1760s.

Trade card of Evan Bynner, family grocery warehouse, 35 Little Newport Street, late 18th century (Box 63 No. 2e). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of Evan Bynner, family grocery warehouse, 35 Little Newport Street, late 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

One of my favourite cards from the collection is that of Evan Bynner, family grocer, whose trade card contains a picture of a Chinese man in a conical hat. Trade cards often contain interesting information about racial stereotypes in the 18th century, as we can also see from the one for Barrett’s old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House.

Trade card for Barrett's old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House, Strand, 18th century (Box 63 No. 33f). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card for Barrett’s old tobacco at the sign of the Two Black Boys against Somerset House, Strand, 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

We have a postcard for sale in our bookshop of the trade card of William Woodward of Marylebone (pictured at the top of the page), who removed nightsoil (no prizes for guessing what that was in the era of chamber pots!) and other rubbish, emptied drains and cesspits, and swept chimneys in about 1820.

Trade card of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, at the sign of the Cap and Habit, Beaufort Buildings, Strand, mid-18th century (Box 63 No. 13b). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, at the sign of the Cap and Habit, Beaufort Buildings, Strand, mid-18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Other interesting trades show up in the trade cards of John Perry, maker of jockey and hunting caps, and Richard Siddall, chemist. Perry’s language is as flowery as the border on his card – he “Makes and sells all sorts of Caps, Ladies Habits & Gentlemens Cloaths in ye Neatest manner and at the most reasonable Rates” – and Siddall’s weird and wonderful picture makes him look more like a medieval alchemist than a purveyor of “Chymical and Calenical Medicines With all Sorts of Druggs”.

Trade card of Richard Siddall, chymist (sic), at the sign of the Golden Head, Panton Street, 18th century (Box 63 No. 29f). Image property of Westminster City Archives.

Trade card of Richard Siddall, chymist (sic), at the sign of the Golden Head, Panton Street, 18th century. Image property of Westminster City Archives.

The most famous trade card collection in the country is the Ambrose Heal Collection. Ambrose Heal was a member of the Heal’s furniture shop family on Tottenham Court Road, who bequeathed his collection to the British Museum. He also wrote several books on the subject, one of which, called London Tradesmen’s Cards of the XVIII Century: An Account of Their Origin and Use, 1968, containing over 100 illustrations, can be seen in the Archives Centre search room. Why not come along and have a look for yourself?

And if all this has whetted your appetite, have a browse through a fascinating collection of trade cards via the John Johnson Collection of ephemera, held at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. You can view the collection online – just log in with your library card number!




Londoners get used to seeing animals that you might not expect in the city. Visitors to Docklands often see seals – apparently there are over 700 living in the Thames, while a regular sight on the Strand is a gentleman walking his ferret. It’s unlikely that any Books & the City readers have seen a pig floating down the Thames on an iceberg, or an elephant walking across the river, but these events really happened during the last Frost Fair in the winter of 1814.

Frost Fair held on the Thames, February 1814 (Image property of Westminster City Archives)

Frost Fair held on the Thames, February 1814 (Image property of Westminster City Archives)

200 years ago, according to the Cheltenham Chronicle of 20 January 1814

“A pig was yesterday seen sailing down the river Thames between Westminster and Blackfriars-Bridge on a large fragment of ice, with great gravity. He occasionally squeaked with peculiar shrillness, which a waterman construing into a paii [?] for a pilot, he put off and after a long contest with the floating masses of snow, he succeeded in delivering the swinish navigator from his perilous situation”

By the start of February the Thames was frozen over completely and the last Frost Fair was underway. According to the Times of 2 February,

“The Thames …continued to present the novel scene of persons moving on the ice, in all directions and in greatly increased numbers. The ice, however, from its roughness and inequalities is totally unfit for amusement though we observed several booths erected on it for the sale of small wares; but the publicans and spirit-dealers were most in receipt of custom…we did not hear of any lives being lost but many who ventured too far towards Blackfriars bridge were partially immersed in the water by the ice giving way.”

You can check out the Times of 1814 for yourself by logging in with your Westminster library card on our Online Resources page.

The Frost Fair lasted for four days. A sheep was roasted, skaters skated, skittles were bowled, enterprising printers set up presses to print cards and flyers ‘on the ice’, and a good time was had by all (except the sheep). One printer, George Davis, managed to publish a 124 page book during the fair. It was called (deep breath now)

Frostiana - from the John Johnson CollectionFrostiana; or, A history of the River Thames, in a frozen state; with an account of the late severe frost; and the wonderful effects of frost, snow, ice, and cold, in England, and in different parts of the world; interspersed with various amusing anecdotes. To which is added, the art of skating

You can read a rather splendid facsimile of this book as part of the John Johnson Collection, another of our online resources that you can access simply by entering your library card number.

Once the ice melted after four days, that was the end of Frost Fairs in London. However it was not the last time the Thames froze – there was plenty of ice in 1895 and the river froze at Windsor in 1963. However, the demolition of the  old London Bridge (which originally had 19 arches that slowed the flow of the river) and the building of a new one in 1831, plus the creation of the Embankment led to a faster flowing river. Sadly it’s unlikely any of us will be skating to work along the Thames any time soon, but you can still find a reminder of the Frost Fairs in the pedestrian tunnel on the south side of Southwark Bridge where there is a series of engraved friezes by the sculptor Richard Kindersley including the inscription

Behold the Liquid Thames frozen o’re,
That lately Ships of mighty Burthen bore
The Watermen for want of Rowing Boats
Make use of Booths to get their Pence and Groats
Here you may see beef roasted on the spit
And for your money you may taste a bit
There you may print your name, tho cannot write
Cause num’d with cold: tis done with great delight
And lay it by that ages yet to come
May see what things upon the ice were done


Removing barriers

Stephen HawkingToday, 3 December, is the ‘International Day Of Persons with Disabilities‘, a slightly clunky title for a day that the United Nations has been observing since 1992.

This year’s theme is ‘Removing barriers to create an inclusive and accessible society for all’.  15% of the world’s population have some form of disability and it’s a group any of us could join at any moment.

At Treasure Hunt Towers we were big fans of the Paralympics and were truly in awe of some of the swimmers who were missing limbs, the blind footballers and the wheelchair boccia players. So we thought we’d devote this Web Treasure Hunt to a few people with disabilities who have become world-famous in their own spheres.

Children's books by Stephen and Lucy HawkingIt makes sense to start with the extraordinary physicist Stephen Hawking, who launched the Paralympics Opening Ceremony with the words

“Ever since the dawn of civilisation, people have craved an understanding of the underlying order of the world – why it is as it is and why it exists at all.”

Hawking was diagnosed with motor neurone disease in 1963 and was given two years to live, but celebrated his 70th birthday earlier this year, having gone on, post-diagnosis, to Cambridge to become a brilliant researcher and then Professor. He is also a prolific author – check out one of his books and prepare to have your mind blown!

Books by Jorge Luis BorgesJorge Luis Borges, Argentinian short-story writer, philosopher and director of the Biblioteca Nacional (National Library) found his eyesight failing in this thirties and was completely blind by his fifties. However he continued to write books and screenplays and deliver lectures, helped by his mother who acted as his secretary since he never mastered Braille.

You can find many of his works in Westminster Libraries – his short stories, with their themes of mirrors, libraries, dreams and labyrinths pioneered the genre of magical realism.  For more information, have a look at Contemporary Authors (you will need your Westminster Library card to log in).

Sarah BernhardtIn the late nineteenth century, Sarah Bernhardt was simply the most famous actor in the world. Nicknamed ‘The Divine Sarah’, after training at the renowned Comedie-Francaise she then toured Europe and the USA, even going to Cuba. She was renowned as the greatest tragic actress of her time, playing both male and female roles. She was also a pioneer of silent films and even appeared in a 1900 film of a scene from Hamlet with sound. You can see clips from some of her films on Youtube.

In 1905, she was performing in the dramatic version of La Tosca (adapted for opera by Puccini) in Rio Di Janeiro when she stumbled after leaping from the balcony in the final scene. She never fully recovered and, in 1915, her right leg was completely amputated. However, this didn’t stop her acting  – she played many of her most famous roles, including Cleopatra, Judas and Queen Elizabeth after her injury.

You can check out some biographies of Sarah in Westminster Libraries. If you’re interested in her theatrical successes, have a look at the John Johnson Collection where you can find facsimiles programmes of some of her plays including Hamlet at the Royal Adelphi Theatre and Lena at the Royal Lyceum Theatre (now home to The Lion King).

Naxos Music Library - log in with your Westminster library cardEveryone knows Beethoven lost his hearing, but he wasn’t the only composer with this condition. Bedrich Smetana was perhaps the greatest of nineteenth century Czech composers and wrote much of his most notable music, including the cycle of symphonic tone poems Ma Vlast (‘My Country’), after he had become completely deaf. You can listen to his complete works online at the Naxos Music Library, including his much-revived opera The Bartered Bride. If you want to find out more about his life and works, have a look at Oxford Music Online.

Itzhak Perlman, certainly one of the finest post-war violinists, is happily still alive and performing despite contracting polio at the age of four. He made a good recovery but has subsequently used crutches or a mobility scooter and sits while performing. He has  played the violin all round the world in venues ranging from Barack Obama’s inauguration to Sesame Street. Check out some of his performances on CD from Westminster Libraries or listen online via Naxos Music Library.

The WELDIS database contains loads of useful information for elderly and/or disabled people in WestminsterRemember, if you are disabled or caring for someone with a disability, Westminster Libraries have a range of services that can make life easier, from a Home Library Service for those who cannot get to a library to a range of specialist services and equipment. You can also check WELDIS, a very useful online directory of services, groups and information for older people and those with a disability or long-term illness.


Dainty blouses… e-resource of the week: The John Johnson Collection

“Dainty blouses for summer months”…
“a grand historical exhibition”…
“the most sensational feat ever attempted”…
“the lamentation of those who are cast for death”.Use the John Johnson Collection

If ever you found an advert overblown, or laughed at the boasts about the latest West End show; if ever you gasped with guilty pleasure at details of a juicy murder; if ever you sneered at (or secretly admired) the frocks at a charity premiere, then the John Johnson Collection is for you.

John Johnson was Printer to the University of Oxford in the early part of the Twentieth Century, and had a thing about ephemera – handbills, pamphlets, adverts… anything printed but not designed to last (or be collected!). JJ was interested in theatre, so a lot of the stuff he collected related to theatre and other entertainment, a rich source of colourful material. The physical collection is housed in that holy place of books, manuscripts and so on, the Bodleian Library in Oxford.

But the Bod recognised that the Internet was made for stuff like this, so they acquired a commercial partner (Proquest), and got digitising. You can still make an appointment to see the original items, but you can see so much of it online (nearly 68,000 documents, since you ask), and search it by category, author, artist, keyword, or date. If you choose to browse, it’s a bit clunky, but stick with it for rich rewards. It’s a veritable “olio of oddities”!