TALBOT BAINES REED (1852 - 1893)
Victorian author of popular boys books and acknowledged expert in typography.
By: Geoff Warke
INTRODUCTION AND FAMILY BACKGROUND
Talbot Baines Reed was born at St Thomas`s
Square, Hackney on 3rd April 1852, the third son of Sir Charles Reed, Chairman of the
London School Board and M.P. for Hackney. Over his relatively short life he was a prolific
and successful author and his school stories for boys remained popular into the second
half of the 20th century. Among his best-known works are The Fifth Form at St. Dominic`s
and The Willoughby Captains. He was also an early and significant contributor to The Boy`s
Own Paper (B.O.P.), which commenced publication in 1879 and in which most of his fiction
teenage years, he was to accompany his father on trips to Co Londonderry and he retained a
strong affection for the north coast of Ireland over the course of his life. In 1876, he
became married to Elizabeth Jane Greer from the small village of Castlerock and for most
of their married life their home was Bloomfield Villa in Phillip Lane, Tottenham.
Talbot Baines Reed`s immediate family were descendants of John Reed, a colonel in Cromwell`s Commonwealth army. His grandfather, Dr Andrew Reed (1787-1862) was a philanthropist, Congregational church minister, hymn writer and social reformer who established several charitable institutions, most notably the London Orphan Asylum founded in 1813.
PORTRAIT OF SIR CHARLES REED
SIR CHARLES REED (1819 -1881)
In 1836 Dr Andrew Reed`s third son Charles was apprenticed to a wool manufacturer in Leeds. There, as secretary of the local Sunday School union he made the acquaintance of Edward Baines, the town`s Liberal M.P. and whose family owned the Leeds Mercury newspaper.
Charles Reed soon found himself attracted to Edward Baines`s daughter Margaret and in 1841, with the intention establishing himself financially, he took the decision to return to London and acquire his own printing business. By 1842, he had become a partner in the firm Tyler and Reed, printers of Bolt Court. By 1844, his business had become commercially successful and he married Margaret Baines. That marriage was the first of five linking the Baines, Reed and Greer families.
marriage was the first of five linking the Baines, Reed and Greer families.
His business interests continued to prosper and in 1861 he
acquired the famous Fann Street type foundry. By 1863 he was involved with the Irish
Society and making regular trips to Co. Londonderry, eventually, in 1865 as Assistant
CITY OF LONDON SCHOOL - MILK STREET - CHEAPSIDE
Talbot Baines Reed`s childhood
home was at St. Thomas`s Square, Hackney. In the close-knit and happy
household deeply held religious beliefs went hand-in-hand with sport and
HENRY ASQUITH - PRIME MINISTER 1908-1916
brothers went up to Cambridge, as did his cousin and life-long friend Talbot Baines from
Leeds. But in 1869, Talbot chose rather to enter the family type founding firm. Even then,
`Mister Talbot`, as he was known to the employees, seemed to have developed a respect for
typography as an art form and he became enthralled by the ancient typographical materials
his father`s firm had inherited.
Work at Fann Street did not inhibit his physical endeavours. In 1872, he accompanied his eldest brother, Charles to Switzerland and in May of that year, in pouring rain walked the fifty miles to Cambridge. In June 1873, he repeated the feat when with a friend in tow, he left his Earlsmead home in Tottenham at four o`clock in the afternoon, and walked into Cambridge the next morning, arriving in time to have breakfast with his cousin Talbot Baines at eight o`clock. The pair had walked some fifty miles in sixteen hours with only a break of one hour for some supper.
Castlerock Presbyterian Church
CASTLEROCK NORTHERN IRELAND CONNECTIONS
In the foyer of Castlerock
Presbyterian Church in Co Londonderry is a memorial tablet to memory of
Elizabeth Jane Reed, wife of Talbot Baines Reed.
in 1871, on one of Charles Reed`s visits, that we first find mention of Talbot Baines
Reed`s association in Castlerock. Charles Reed was part of an Ironmonger`s Deputation
visiting their estates at Aghadowey just south of Coleraine. Along with his father, Talbot
Baines Reed and his cousin Talbot Baines from Leeds were staying at Springvale in
Castlerock as guests of Samuel Greer.
On Monday 28th August, the two young men had gone swimming and Talbot Baines had got into serious difficulty in deep water. While changing on the rocks, Talbot Reed noticed his friend`s struggles and without regard for his own safety, immediately dived in, keeping Baines afloat until help arrived.
CASTLEROCK CHRONICLE 1871
heroic deed was favourably commented on in the local press and just a few months later, on
4 December, the Morning Advertiser reported that Talbot Reed had been given a valuable
testimonial by the Royal Humane Society for saving a youth named Baines at Castlerock.
Talbot had found Castlerock, with its bracing air and the broad Atlantic waves breaking on
its shore, ideally suited to his robust character. But as well as the opportunity to swim,
shoot and walk, the annual holidays at Springvale eventually led to an attachment of a
more affectionate nature for, over the course of his frequent visits, he had become
smitten with Samuel Greer`s second daughter Elizabeth Jane, better known as Liz to her
The following year, on 15th June 1876, Talbot Baines Reed and Elizabeth Jane Greer were married in the small Presbyterian Church in Castlerock, Co Londonderry. Three weeks after the wedding, the minutes of the Church Committee recorded that Mr Talbot Baines Reed of London had `made a present of 22 volumes of excellent books for use of the Sabbath School` - an appropriate gift from someone grounded in both the printing trade and the Congregational Church. In the years that followed, Talbot Baines Reed was a regular visitor to Castlerock and he and Liz were to be regular contributors to the Church where they were married.
Sir Charles Reed had always encouraged his sons to be self-reliant and independent. Although a remarkably modern attitude, this was to have tragic consequences in the early summer of 1879. By that time, the Reed`s had made many acquaintances in Ulster and Talbot`s youngest brother Kenneth, along with William Anderson of Holywood, who was related to the Greers, had decided to undertake a canoe trip on the waters of Upper Lough Erne and Lough Allen. Although only seventeen, the boys were both strong swimmers and had demonstrated their competence by completing a similar expedition the previous year on Lough Neagh. The weather that summer of 1879 however was atrocious with gales and constant rain causing rivers and streams to overflow. Partway into the expedition, Kenneth wrote home to London with the news that thousands of acres were under water and paddling was hard, slow dispiriting work. That letter reached London on Monday 7th July and as it turned out, those were the last words Sir Charles Reed ever received from his youngest son. On Thursday 10th July, a telegram was received in London from the police at Dowra to say that the boats and other sundries had been found on the lake shore and that the gentlemen were presumed drowned. Lady Reed and Talbot`s brother Andrew set out at once, with Sir Charles overtaking them at Holyhead. The family, accompanied by Thomas Greer, their future son-in-law from Castlerock, spent the succeeding days combing the shores of Lough Allen in a fruitless search. Acknowledging the worst, they had thought to bury Kenneth`s body in the family plot at Abney Park in Highgate but his body was never recovered though that of William Anderson eventually was.
The following summer, after a visit to Westoncrofts in Ballymoney, their daughter Margaret`s new Ballymoney home, Sir Charles and Lady Reed then proceeded on a poignant trip to Lough Allen to revisit the scene of their son Kenneth`s loss and examine a memorial tablet they had placed in the little church at Dowra.
ILLUSTRATION OF EARLSMEAD HOUSE
HOMES IN TOTTENHAM
After their marriage in 1844, Charles and Margaret Reed for a brief period lived in New Broad Street. They then moved to St Thomas`s Square, Hackney, where they raised their family of five sons and three daughters. It was there that Talbot Baines Reed was born in 1852. The house in St Thomas`s Square lay adjacent to two burial grounds, a circumstance which brought about light-hearted teasing from Charles Reeds` friends and in-laws. The family, however, were to enjoy living at that property for the next twenty years. In 1864, they moved to a house in Upper Homerton which Charles named Earlsmead after the small estate in Surrey where his family had originated. After seven years in that house, by 1871 Charles Reed`s increasing prosperity had enabled the move to their final home, a handsome mansion with three acres of garden and an orchard at Page Green, Tottenham
their practice, they had brought the name of their home, Earlsmead, with them and just a
few years later, it was to provide the title for the Earlsmead Chronicle, a manuscript
magazine compiled by members of the Reed family and their many cousins in in London, Leeds
and Northern Ireland, which was passed around for reading from home to home. Published
once a quarter, young Talbot Baines Reed was the editor.
In September 1875, Talbot`s younger sister Constance died at the age of twenty. Sir Charles Reed`s memoir mentions that on the day of her funeral, Sir Charles went to inspect a house about which one of his sons had to decide. This may well have been Bloomfield Villa on Phillip Lane.
BLOOMFIELD VILLA -PHILIP LANE
Photograph Henry Hunnings
Courtesy Bruce Castle Museum
|After their marriage
in 1876, the couple`s first home, the one perhaps alluded to in Sir Charles Reed`s Memoir,
was Bloomfield Villa in Philip Lane.
For much of the early part of 1877 Talbot`s sister-in-law, Marion Greer from Castlerock, was staying with Talbot and Liz at Bloomfield Villa. Marion kept a journal and the first part from 1st January to finds various members of the extended Baines and Greer families staying with the Reeds both at Earlsmead and Bloomfield Villa.
He states that one of these stories was entitled `Dunluce` and Hutchison has also suggested that the storyline for `Dunluce` may have been worked up in later years to become Talbot`s first historical novel, `Sir Ludar`, which was written in 1889. (Dunluce is a castle on the North Antrim coast, an area very familiar to him).
Pleasant Fields, just north of Philip Lane at that time were still open farmland and they
perhaps reminded Marion Greer of her home at Springvale in Castlerock. Marion records
going for walks in the fields on several occasions, either on her own or, as on 9th
February when `Liz and I had a walk down Tottenham and home through the fields which were
not quite as wet as the last time I was in them`.
Talbot Reed became a father for the first time on 14th April 1877 when Liz gave birth to a little girl, Marion Constance Reed. On 26th April, Marion Greer wrote `Spent the morning at Bloomfield, so jolly to be there again`. There was a constant stream of visitors and Marion recorded that although Lady Reed had already made a few unofficial visits, a more formal visit took place on 28th April when grandparents Sir Charles and Lady Reed visited Liz, Talbot and Marion Constance. Sir Charles, perhaps following a family tradition, presented his new grand-daughter with one Guinea (£1-1s).
That summer of 1877, the Reeds had a wonderful two months holidaying at Castlerock. Liz and little Marion Constance had arrived early in July while Talbot, heavily committed to the Caxton exhibition, stayed on in London, not arriving until the end of July. Sadly, after such a rewarding period, the next event in the lives of Talbot and Liz proved to be heart-breaking. Just three weeks after returning to their London home at Bloomfield Villa, little Marion Constance passed away. Marion`s entry for Monday 24th September is a stark statement `Papa had a telegram to tell that Lizzies baby had died`. The child had died on that same day of causes not immediately apparent and she lies in Abney Park cemetery, Stoke Newington, alongside her father.
MOUNT PLEASANT FIELDS c1892- AREA TO NORTH OF BLOOMFIELD VILLA
FRONT COVER - BOYS OWN PAPER
The Boys Own Paper: By the 1870`s, increasing
numbers of children could both read and write and there was a growing demand for decent
quality reading material for young boys and girls. The proliferation of `penny dreadful`
magazines gave Victorian moralists cause for concern and in July 1878, a sub-committee of
the Religious Tract Society recommended publication of a magazine for boys, `The Boys Own
Paper`. Andrew Hutchinson, an experienced editor, was appointed to that roll and that
autumn, as he was reviewing material for the projected new magazine, he received a
manuscript from Talbot Baines Reed which he was to publish on the first page of the first
number: `My First Football Match`, `By An Old Boy`.
success of the Boys Own Paper was instant which is not surprising as other writers in
those early editions as well as Talbot Baines Reed included Captain Matthew Webb, first
person to swim the English Channel, R.M. Ballantyne, Jules Verne and Arthur Conan Doyle.
After The Troubles of a Dawdler in 1879, a system then developed where after Reeds` stories were serialised in the Boys Own Paper, they would then appear as novels in their own right. A stream of stories followed: `The Adventures of a Three Guinea Watch` in October, 1880, `The Fifth Form at St. Dominic`s` in 1881, `My Friend Smith` in 1882, `The Willoughby Captains` in 1883, `Reginald Cruden` in 1885, `A Dog with a Bad Name` in 1886, `The Master of the Shell` in 1887, `Sir Ludar: A Story of the Days of Queen Bess`, in 1889, `The Cock House at Fellsgarth` in 1891 `Tom, Dick and Harry` in 1892 and his final book, `Kilgorman` in 1893. Although most of his stories were about public schools, and it is perhaps worth mentioning that Talbot himself was never other than a day boy.
Following his father`s death in 1881, and illness affecting his elder brother Andrew, Talbot suddenly found himself Managing Director at the foundry. He was not, however, deflected from his writing and it was that same year that he started on The Fifth Form at St Dominic`s. Serialised in the Boys Own Paper between 1881 and 1882, the story gained him a world reputation. Subject to numerous reprints up until the early 1950`s, it is probably his most famous and influential book, inspiring school novels by many other authors over the following half-century. As the twentieth century wore on `The Fifth Form at St Dominic`s`, was made into a silent movie. His works became stalwarts of radio broadcasting for schools and in 1961, `The Fifth Form` was broadcast on television.
MONTAGE OF JUST A FEW OF THE BOOKS PUBLISHED BY TALBOT BAINES REED
TALBOT BAINES REED -COMPANY OF STATIONERS
FREEDOM OF THE CITY OF LONDON 6 MAY 1873
Although his brothers went up to Cambridge, as
did his cousin Talbot Baines, Talbot chose not to go to university and he entered the
family firm in 1869. He soon became known as `Mister Talbot` to the employees. Although
with his droll, self-deprecating humour, he would later describe the business as drudgery,
he was in fact captivated and soon became an enthusiastic scholar of the ancient
typographical materials which the Fann Street Foundry had acquired over the years as it
bought over other type founders.
1877, the family firm became known as Sir Charles Reed and Sons, having previously been
Reed and Fox. 1877 was also was the fourth centenary of William Caxton making England`s
first ever printed book. To mark the anniversary the Stationers set up a committee to
organize an international exhibition, with Sir Charles Reed acting as Chairman. Also
sitting on the committee was William Blades, a printer and foremost bibliographer of the
During previous business dealings with the
Fann Street Foundry, Blades had encountered Talbot and impressed with the young man
recruited him to the Caxton project. With the knowledge he had already acquired at his
family`s type foundry proving invaluable, Talbot was asked to curate the superb exhibition
of type specimens and write a preface for the catalogue. `The Rise and Progress of
Typography and Type-Founding in England`, was his first essay on the subject. As he became
more deeply involved, preparations for the Exhibition took up an increasingly large
proportion of his time in that period from February to June. His sister-in-law, Marion
Greer, staying at Bloomfield Villa was to frequently record in her journal `Talbot home
late` or `Talbot not in until ten`.
Talbot`s enthusiasm did not go unnoticed for William Blades,
impressed with Talbot`s love for the printing and typefounding crafts, suggested his protégé
should undertake a general history of typefounding in England. Talbot agreed and in the
following year embarked on a project that would take him the next ten years to complete.
1887 proved to be a year of triumph for Talbot Baines Reed when his `History of the Old English Letter Foundries`, ten years in the writing and the work in which he personally took most pride, was published. He was now recognised as a leading expert in typography and consequently was soon receiving invitations to the learned societies of the day. A talk on `Old and New Fashions in Typography` at the Royal Society of Arts was to gain him that Society`s silver medal. Reed was particularly proud of his typographic expertise and John Sime recalled Reed`s part amusement and part annoyance when he once arrived at a Yorkshire town to deliver a lecture on typography, only to find that the walls and hoardings of the town decorated with posters, announcing the lecture as by `Talbot B. Reed, author of A Dog with a Bad Name!
PICTURED LEFT AN EARLY PHOTOGRAPH SHOWING THE PREMISES OF SIR CHARLES REED & SON
ABOVE: A MAP SHOWING THE LOCATION OF THE FOUNDRY IN FANN STREET - OFF ALDERSGATE STREET - CITY OF LONDON
MEMORIAL STONE - TALBOT BAINES REED
ABNEY PARK CEMETERY - STOKE NEWINGTON
SUDDEN DECLINE AND DEATH
In 1880 Thomas Greer had married Talbot`s sister Margaret. The Greer`s owned two homes, Westoncrofts at Ballymoney and Kenmara, their holiday home at Ballycastle. Talbot Baines Reed was to spend much of the last year of his life at these two houses.
After the death of Samuel Greer, Springvale at Castlerock was sold and by the latter part of the 1880`s, Ballycastle and Ballymoney rather than Castlerock had become the focus of the Reeds` trips to Northern Ireland. When Thomas Greer died in 1928, his obituary mentioned his family connections with Talbot Baines Reed and that not only was Reed was a frequent visitor to Westoncrofts, but several of his books had been written there.
In September 1892, Talbot and Liz attended a family wedding at Holywood in Co Down. It was to be Talbot`s last visit to Northern Ireland in full health. for it was shortly afterwards that his family became aware his health was starting to fail. By that time, he was Managing Director of Sir Charles Reed and Sons, a trustee for his family`s many charities and a church deacon. He was delivering talks to various Societies and was Secretary of the newly formed Bibliographic Society. As well as his novels, his seemingly ceaseless writing included regular contributions for the `Boys Own Paper` along with weekly articles for his cousin`s paper the `Leeds Mercury`.
was suffering from pulmonary tuberculosis and by January 1893 it was obvious to all that
his health was breaking down. As the Globe newspaper put it in its Literary Gossip column,
`Reed was too hard a worker and player`. Talbot knew he could not continue with matters
the way they were and with the presumption that overwork was to blame, with his family`s
blessing, he decided to go Northern Ireland for a few months rest to recuperate. He
returned to Highgate in May but by June had again become seriously ill.
He crossed to Ireland in September, once more staying with his sister Margaret and brother-in-law Thomas McGregor Greer, variously at their Ballymoney home `Westoncrofts` and in Ballycastle at their holiday home `Kenmara`. It was hoped that a quiet winter on the North Irish coast would restore his health. During that period, Liz remained at Highgate to nurse their son Charles, also ill.
Reed may have been ill, but that did not mean he had to set down his pen. Much of his writing in the final year of his life was done in Ballymoney at `Westoncrofts`, the Greer`s Ballymoney home. When Thomas Macgregor Greer passed away in 1928, his obituary acknowledged the family`s Talbot Baines Reed connection and confirmed that Reed wrote much of his work at Westoncrofts. We know of two letters he wrote in that final period of his life. The first, written at Westoncrofts to a group of friends in London, described Ballycastle and the second to his close friend and colleague, John Sime, was written in Ballycastle and we therefore must assume that he also stayed and wrote at `Kenmara`, the Greer`s then holiday home. Sometimes writing from an armchair, or sometimes from his bed, Reed`s work in 1893 included the final installments of his last schoolboy story `Tom, Dick and Harry`, his last novel Kilgorman and his articles for the Leeds Mercury. He also continued to keep up his correspondence with friends back in London, his letters wistful and displaying his lifelong emotional attachment to Ireland`s north coast.
These letters have a beautiful poignancy. On 6th October,
from Westoncrofts, he wrote to some friends back in Highgate, using metaphors from his
printing background to encapsulate the majestic beauty of Ballycastle. Although enormously
sad, it is hard not to detect something of Reed`s wry humour in these final missives.
And just three weeks before his death, he wrote from
Ballycastle to his close friend John Sime at Highgate, `, I wish you could see this place
to-day bathed in sunlight, Rathlin Island in the offing, Fairhead with its stately profile
straight across the bay, and beyond, in blue and gray, the lonely coast of Cantire, backed
by Goatfell and the lovely hills of Argyle`.
KENMARA HOUSE CASTLEROCK - ON CLIFFTOPS
|Talbot drew solace from his surroundings at Ballycastle and it may be that he had not given up hope but, if he had known the end to be so near, perhaps he would have returned to his family back in London much sooner. His deteriorated rapidly and on 7th November, the Greers arranged a consultation with Belfast doctors who advised an immediate return to London. On 14th November, he was removed to Highgate. His last piece for the Leeds Mercury was published on 18th November and just ten days later, on 28th November, in his own home at Hampstead Lane and surrounded by his family, he died.|
laid to rest on Saturday 2nd December in Abney Park Cemetery, Stoke Newington alongside
his father Sir Charles Reed, grand-father Dr Andrew Reed and infant daughter Marion
Constance, who had visited Castlerock in that happy summer of 1877. A memorial in the form
of a Celtic Cross, designed and carved in Irish granite by the O`Shea Brothers of Cork,
marks his grave.
RATHIN SOUND - VIEW FROM KENMARA
Inscribed with his thoughts on Castlerock and Kenmara shortly before his death
Article written by Geoff Warke - Local historain Castlerock Northern Ireland and biographer of Talbot Baines Reed.
Background Image - Book on Talbot Baines Reed - by Stanley Morison 1960