Dolby’s first shop at 34 Wardour Street depicted in Horwood’s 1799 map of London

Thomas Dolby was the only publisher of satirical prints in early nineteenth-century London to leave a detailed account of his life behind him for posterity and they are an invaluable source of information for the historian of print. With the records and personal papers of many of the individuals involved in the Golden Age of British caricature being almost completely obliterated from the historical record, with what little remains being highly fragmentary and opaque, the memoirs provide one of the most complete and colourful accounts of life in the London print trade at the dawn of the nineteenth-century. In many instances they convey information which probably could not be reflected in other business records even if they were to survive, such as the personal relationships which often underpinned formal connections between retailers and their suppliers and the often cutthroat nature of commerce at this time. Dolby’s career as a publisher was similar to that of other self-made men of his generation, such as Thomas Tegg and William Hone, in that he came from humble origins and built a highly successful business by catering towards the rapidly expanding lower and middling class markets for books, prints and other printed materials. By the early 1820s Dolby had built a business which simultaneously straddled several different branches of the publishing trade, as well as ancillary trades such as stationary and the manufacture of paper. What follows is primarily derived from the memoirs, supplemented with material gleaned from newspapers, published works and online archives.

Thomas Dolby was born in the tiny Huntingdonshire village of Sawtry on 6th July 1782. He was the fourth child of eight belonging to an agricultural labourer who was also named Thomas and his wife Mary. The majority of Dolby’s childhood was occupied by the need for him to labour alongside his parents in the fields and his schooling was necessarily confined to the winter months when he was no longer required to help keep food on the family table. Fortunately Dolby possessed an aptitude for hard work and a keen intelligence which manifested itself in an insatiable love of books. From his earliest years he began supplementing his meagre education by reading anything and everything he could lay his hands on. He rapidly exhausted the family’s meagre book-collection, which consisted of little more than “an old octavo Bible… a church prayer book… [a] Dyche… and a book of pious ejaculations which belonged to my grandfather”, and began to seek out other reading material in the homes of the family’s friends and neighbours [1]. His memoirs contain an account of an occasion on which the young Dolby began walking several miles every day in order to call on an uncle who had recently acquired a copy of Robinson Crusoe that he wished to borrow. By the time Dolby reached the age of 11 his reading skills had surpassed those of most of the men in his village and consequently his father would often invite a group of friends to the house in order to listen to young Thomas reading aloud from a copy of the local newspaper.

Dolby’s childhood was a happy one but he inevitably began to grow tired of the intellectual limitations that life in Sawtry placed upon him. At the age of 21 he decided to leave home and, having no plan beyond the vague idea that he would like to own his own bookshop one day, found employment as a servant at the large prisoner of war camp at Norman Cross near Peterborough. Dolby’s employer was Major-General Charles William Este, an elderly army officer then in his 65th year, who was responsible for commanding the garrison at Norman Cross. Este seems to have taken a shine to Dolby, making him his personal valet and eventually taking him back to London when he was recalled there in April 1805 [2]. Dolby went gladly but recalled being somewhat underwhelmed by his first impressions of the big city: “The first thing I took notice of and disliked was the brick houses; I always thought London was built of stone… Piccadilly camp up to my expectations of London grandeur, but that silly-looking brick building, St James’s Church, spoiled all. [3]” Nonetheless he appears to have settled into London life, running Este’s household on Great Portland Street and spending the majority of his spare time exploring the city’s countless bookshops. It was during these excursions that Dolby’s dream of owning a shop of his own finally began to crystalise into a plan of action. Romance was to provide the catalyst he needed to finally strike out on his own; in 1807 he met and married a girl named Sarah and soon found himself with a growing family of his own to support.

I.R. Cruikshank, Figures in the Fog, published by Thomas Dolby, 1820

I.R. Cruikshank, Figures in the Fog, published by Thomas Dolby, 1820

When Dolby announced that he was leaving Este’s service the old general was kind enough to offer him a £40 loan to support his former valet’s new business venture. Dolby spent all of the money on the lease to a shop and living quarters located at 34 Wardour Street in Soho and the remainder of his own savings on stock.  He recalled that “On commencing, I called myself on my cards a ‘Bookseller and Stationer’; but from my total ignorance of both those branches of trade, I made but little progress. I laid out the little stock of ready money I had saved in bibles, prayer books, and the most useful elementary treatise on various branches of science, and displayed them in the window; but nobody stopped to look at them, much less come in to buy one.” It is little wonder that he describes his first months in business as ones in which he “… toiled like a camel and fared like an ass” [4]. Dolby was to quickly learn that success in bookselling appears in part to have been based upon the discovery of a unique selling point which would distinguish an otherwise unremarkable shop from the hundreds of other places also selling Bibles, educational books and other workaday texts.

In Dolby’s case salvation was to come in the unlikely form of Napoleon Bonaparte, whose invasion of Spain in the summer of 1808 threw the British public into a paroxysm of speculation about the future of the war in Europe. Dolby noticed immediately that his “…neighbours, who [had] manifested such a cold indifference to bibles, prayer books and school books, [now] displayed a most voracious appetite for news” and were drawn to any printed source of information that crossed their paths [5]. Sensing a gap in the market, Dolby ploughed what little cash he had left into publishing a daily newssheet which offered readers a brief summary of the day’s headlines at the cost of a few pennies. The success of this endeavour was to total transform his fortunes, sending money pouring into his coffers and allowing him to repay Este’s loan and still make a profit by the end of his first twelve months in business. The news publishing side of his business went from strength-to-strength and by 1809 he had begun describing his premises as a “newspaper office” in his trade advertisements and by the following year could contentedly note that he “had become positively rich; I might be worth some fifty pounds or so” [6]. His good luck proved to be short-lived however and in the spring of 1810 he was struck down with the first bout of what would prove to be a long-running battle with quinsy, an infection caused by acute tonsillitis. He was bed-ridden for months and thus incapable of spending hours each day walking across London to collect stories and information for his newssheet. Publication ground to a halt and his business suffered. Within the space of a few months the achievements of the last two years had been all but wiped out: “My shop was neglected; I lost my customers; my trade was destroyed; my money all spent” [7].

Dolby’s business survived and would go on to thrive in the years that followed, but his recollections of the years between 1811 and 1815 are otherwise dominated by the unhappy death of his daughter Rebecca. Rebecca Dolby was just 3 years old when she became gravely ill with a sickness which bore all the hallmarks of syphilis. Reeling with shock and horror, it slowly dawned on Dolby that his apprentice had been also been unwell recently and had been sent to the family’s doctor for treatment. This doctor was duly called for and on hearing the specifics of the case immediately confirmed that the young man had contracted syphilis several months ago from a prostitute. Incensed, Dolby returned home and wrung a confession from the miserable youth before casting him out onto the streets. Only his fear of the gossip and scandal that would ensue stayed his hand from calling a magistrate and pursing the matter through the courts. Rebecca Dolby would linger on for another a couple of years before eventually dying in the spring of 1815. Her death seems to have devastated her father and mother, whose grief was mixed with a profound sense of anger and guilt at the fact that they had failed to protect the infant from her abuser.

I.R. Cruikshank, The Devil's Ball.... published by Thomas Dolby, 1820

I.R. Cruikshank, The Devil’s Ball…. published by Thomas Dolby, 1820

The death of General Este in the summer of 1812 was a cause for further sadness. Este had kept in touch with Dolby over the years and shortly before his passing had even used his influence to ensure that his former valet was appointed as an officer of the Two Penny Post. With this appointment Dolby was able to secure a valuable source of income from the sale of stamps and postage and was also able to use the postal system as a free distribution network to circulate his own books and journals to booksellers in the provinces [8]. With his income from other sources growing, Dolby decided that his health would no longer allow him to spend hours walking across London every morning to gather stories for his newssheet. He also calculated that with the war against Napoleon rapidly coming to a close, the public’s interest in news was likely to drop-off in the near future. Consequently, he sold the rights to the title of his newssheet to a rival publisher for £80 in 1814 and used the money raised to increase his stocks on books and stationary.

“In 1817”, Dolby writes, “we all went political mad. Parliamentary reform was the order of the day… I had all along entered into government policy in the wars against Napoleon, until that great man fell and came to us for protection;… I felt indignant at finding that the generosity he gave us all credit for, and sought, was not found on his approach to our shores. This was, I believe, the first political vexation I ever met with. Our domestic politics I had never looked into: but finding a hubbub gathering about me concerning parliamentary reform…  I looked into the Duke of Richmond, Bentham, and other political writers, and finding from their and other statements that things did want a little purifying, I became a parliamentary reformer too. What confirmed my convictions the most powerfully of all was the cruel and vindictive sentences passed upon the Messrs Hunts [sic], White, Hart, Cobbett, and every popular writer who happened to be caught in the toils of the law” [9]. Dolby seems to have embraced the reformist movement whole-heartedly and by February 1818 was taking a leading role in the organisation of a benefit fund for imprisoned radical publisher William Hone. Two month later he had combined with a group of like-minded businessmen to establish a permanent fund to support writers and publishers who found themselves in a similar position. The highly intemperate language used in a newspaper advertisement for the fund provides some indication of the speed with which Dolby was moving from the fringes to the ideological epicentre of the radical movement:

INDEMNITY ACT for DESPOTIC IMPRISONMENT and OFFICIAL TYRANNY – The COMMITTEE appointed to direct the SUBSCRIPTION for the RELIEF of the UNFORTUNATE VICTIMS of the late SUSPENSION OF the HABEAS CORPUS feel themselves called upon again to address the public on behalf of these injured individuals.

The number of Claimants on this sacred Fund is much greater than was anticipated. Upwards of fifty men in England have been torn from their homes and families, and have been imprisoned collectively 8,206 days, to quiet the fears of an imbecile Administration, to colour the most dangerous devices against the law and liberties of our country…

The Subscriptions already collected do not amount to more than 1,200l., and of that sum near 1,000l. has been already distributed amongst fifty claimants, in sums apportioned to the circumstances which have been represented to the Committee. But the public will readily perceive how totally inadequate to their existing wants must be the relief which the Committee has yet been able to afford – many of them are still the objects of a paltry persecution by the minor satraps of the system; and the Act of Indemnity for the guilt of the author of their sufferings has finally closed them the doors of that justice which the English Constitution has declared should be denied to no man, but which is denied to these men, whose only crime was seeking to recover the laws, by those who have wantonly outraged them…

The Committee cannot, however, doubt but that all who wish protection will offer it to those who are in need of it; that all who wish well to the prosperity of their country will come forward in [sic] behalf of those who have suffered in that country’s cause; and that all who hate tyranny will show their abhorrence of its measures, by raising its wounded victims from the ground [10].

A year later Dolby was organising Henry Hunt’s campaign to win the parliamentary seat for Westminster in the 1818 general election.  By now he was rubbing elbows with the leading figures of the reformist movement, including men like Hunt, William Cobbett, Thomas Wooller and Major Cartwright.

A Peep into Ilchester Bastile [sic], The frontispiece to an 1821 by Henry Hunt published by Tomas Dolby.

A Peep into Ilchester Bastile [sic], The frontispiece to an 1821 by Henry Hunt published by Tomas Dolby.

Dolby’s politics and his business activities became increasingly interrelated during this period. After divesting himself of his newssheet he had effectively put his presses at the service of the radical movement, publishing reformist books, tracts and journals in increasingly large numbers after 1816. By the spring of 1819 he had become one of only two official publishers of William Cobbett’s hugely Political Register and had also begun producing two political journals of his own: The Pasquin; or general satirist and Dolby’s Parliamentary Register. It is also around this time that he began publishing and selling satirical prints. His prints can be divided into two distinct groups: conventional single-sheet satires attacking the government and espousing the cause of parliamentary reform, and woodcut-illustrated pamphlets in the style of William Hone and George Cruikshank’s The Political House that Jack Built (1819) [11]. The majority of Dolby’s surviving satirical prints were published during period between August and October 1820, when public opinion was gripped by the drama of Queen Caroline’s trial, although the British Museum collection indicates that a smattering of prints may also have been commissioned between 1821 and 1823, after which point Dolby’s use of satirical or humorous engravings was confined to book illustrations [12]. Isaac Robert Cruikshank seems to have been Dolby’s preferred artist, engraving all of his surviving plates and woodblocks save for a set of illustrated views of George IV’s coronation which were executed by his brother George. The names of the printers William Molineaux and James Swan also appear in the publication lines of a number of the illustrated satirical pamphlets published in 1820, suggesting either that Dolby was unwilling to invest in the equipment required to print images in his own printing office, or his print works were overwhelmed by the volume of demand for material during what must have been an extremely busy period [13].

On 29th September 1819, Dolby acquired a new shop at 299 Strand. The Strand was one of London’s busiest and most prestigious commercial thoroughfares and the decision to relocate there provides us with some indication of the robust financial health of his business in this period. The shop itself consisted of a two storey building with a single room on both upper and lower floors. This was far too small for Dolby’s purposes and he was therefore forced to retain his original premises at 34 Wardour Street for two years, after which time he was able to acquire the lease the building which stood at the rear of his shop on the Strand, at 30 Holywell Street, and combine the two properties into a single site. The enlarged premises also provided further opportunities for additional business activities, with Dolby setting himself up as a vellum binder and also entering the rag trade in order to subsidise the costs of producing the rag-based paper which he used for publishing.

One of the consequences of Dolby’s involvement with the radical movement was that he became the target of a constant stream of hostile litigation which aimed at silencing his presses and their constant criticism of the government [14]. The most serious of these legal battles commenced in the spring of 1821, when he was arrested and charged with seditious libel on the basis of evidence presented by the committee of the Constitutional Association. The Association was a loyalist political organisation which had been founded by a small clique of wealthy conservatives who were determined to use the considerable resources at their disposal to stamp out disloyalty and immorality amongst the general public [15]. The threat of civil court action, which would often prove to be ruinously expensive for the defendant regardless of the outcome, was frequently used to coerce publishers into handing over stocks of books, prints or pamphlets which the Constitutional Association deemed to be unsuitable and entering into agreements not to publish similar materials in future. In Dolby’s case the Association initially offered to settle the case if he changed his plea to guilty, agreed to submit to censorship of his works in future and promised to turn informer on other radical publishers.

This time the Constitutional Association’s heavy-handed tactics backfired spectacularly, providing Dolby and his allies with a perfect opportunity to highlight the corrupt and illegal practices being used by those claiming to be acting in defence of public morality. The radical MP Dr Stephen Lushington raised Dolby’s case in Parliament, arguing that in addition to entrapment and blackmail, the Association had also been attempting to subvert the jury system by packing the special jury rolls for Middlesex with its own members. Such practices, he concluded, were not only illegal but also set a dangerous precedent by encouraging private organisations to undermine the state’s role in law enforcement. The speech provoked cheers in the House and prompted a number of MPs who were members of the Association to immediately distance themselves from its actions. Sir Montague Cholmeley for example, immediately leapt to his feet to say that whilst he was sure that the Association had acted with the best of intentions, he could not comment on the specifics of the case because he had been too busy to attend their meetings in recent weeks [16]. By June 1821 the courts had begun throwing out outstanding libel cases which had been brought by the Constitutional Association and even the Times, nominally a Tory newspaper, was describing them as a collection of “designing, worthless men” [17].  Unfortunately Dolby’s case was to grind on until November 1823, when he was eventually found guilty and ordered to surrender any unsold copies of the seditious publications he still had in possession. The sentence was effectively meaningless, as by this time the journals involved in the case had long since disappeared from print and the remaining stock had largely been recycled into new paper. Dolby concluded that the judge had simply been glad to see the back of a case and had therefore given him the lightest sentence possible in order to encourage him not to lodge any further appeals.

Aside from his legal battles with the Constitutional Association, Dolby’s recollections of the years 1822 and 1823 were once again preoccupied with his family. The strain of the trial had taken its toll on Sarah Dolby and in May 1821 she was to suffer the first of what would be a series of seizures. She would eventually expire at the age of 35 on 1st January 1822 and was buried in the eastern extremity of St Clement Dane’s churchyard. Left with a substantial business to run and four children to look after, Dolby employed a young country girl named Mary who had been sent up to London by his sister to act as a nanny and housekeeper. The pair eventually fell in love and married in a simple ceremony conducted in the small Huntingdonshire village of Conington, approximately two miles from the Dolby family home in Sawtry. Another point of note is that Dolby’s brother Samuel had also moved to London at some point during the winter of 1818/19 and established a tobacconist’s shop at 7 St Anne’s Court. By 1824 he had moved to 96 Wardour Street and subdivided the property into two separate businesses which were joined by a connecting door. In one half Samuel continued to sell tobacco, whilst in the other he sold stationary, books and journals, many of which appear to have been supplied by his brother [18].


Dolby’s premises at Stand / Holywell Street and Catherine Street highlighted on Horwood’s maps of London.

Although Dolby continued to reprint and sell political works in his shops, by the spring of 1824 his focus had very much shifted towards the production of educational and cultural works. Some of these were original titles, such as Catechisms of the Arts and Sciences, but a great many more were reissues of earlier titles that he had acquired the copyright for and could reissue under his own name. This included works such as Hume’s History of England, Hook’s Roman History and English Grammar. Perhaps his most notable publication of all from this period was Dolby’s British Theatre, a collection of plays which were issued in monthly volumes from 1823 onwards. A major feature of the series was that it did not limit itself to reproducing the scripts of plays performed solely at the Royal theatres, but gathered material from a much wider selection of popular playhouses. A historian of theatre has credited it both with a vital role in disseminating contemporary theatrical texts and also preserving the full canon of Georgian popular drama for posterity [19]. Its success was such that Dolby’s creditors considered his British Theatre to be the prize pick of his assets which were to be seized following his eventually bankruptcy.

By the spring of 1824 Dolby had concluded that he once again required larger premises and relocated his business to a bigger shop at 17 Catherine Street. Unfortunately the move coincided with the first signs of the financial difficulties which would eventually consume his business and result in bankruptcy. In his memoirs Dolby blames this failing on both the fickleness of the public’s appetite for literature and also on the sharp business practices of his suppliers and creditors. The supply of paper seems to have been a particular bugbear, with wholesalers such as Key & Co., Dutton & Co. and Tipper & Fry, frequently sending out high quality samples which would not correspond with the reams of lower grade paper which would eventually arrive when the order was fulfilled. This problem became chronic as the perceived health of Dolby’s business deteriorated and it became obvious that wholesalers were in the habit of trying to palm off unsaleable quantities of cheaper paper onto less reliable customers whose credit they felt that they could not rely upon. An experiment with stereotype printing also proved to be financially disastrous, as the type foundry struggled to produce print-worthy plates and then insisted on retaining the finished types until payment for their work was completed in full. This hard-line approach was totally counter-productive, as it forced Dolby to temporarily suspend publication of his most popular journals and thus guaranteed that he was unable to settle his bill with the print foundry.

With his sales declining and his business becoming increasingly reliant on credit to remain afloat, Dolby was poorly placed to weather the financial storm which broke over Britain during the course of 1825. The crisis started when a speculative bubble of investment in Latin American nations suddenly burst, prompting the Bank of England to immediately call in loans and hike its interest rates. The decision proved to be disastrous, immediately provoking a liquidity crisis in the British banking system which rapidly spread to Europe and North America [20]. Debit-ridden businesses like Dolby’s were immediately pitched into chaos as the complex webs of credit they relied upon evaporated and creditors rushed to secure immediate payment of outstanding loans. Thomas Dolby’s reckoning came in October 1825 when solicitors representing his three largest creditors -Thomas Dutton, wholesale stationer; Key & Co, paper merchants; and John Cumberland, book-binder – ordered him to settle outstanding debts of £21,089 18s 10d or face legal action [21]. The complete settlement of such an eye-watering sum, equivalent to several million pounds today, was out of the question, but Dolby had hoped that he would be able to raise sufficient capital to temporarily buy-off his creditors by selling one of his most profitable titles to a rival publishing house. In early November 1825 he duly wrote to the publishing firm of Knight & Lacey to offer them the stereotype plates and future publication rights to his complete histories of England and Ancient Rome for £4,000. Dolby had considered the offer generous but Lacey & Knitght, no doubt aware of the generally depressed state of the market, rejected it anyway, forcing Dolby to concede that had would have to declare bankruptcy.

'Poor Byrne as he was...' published by Thomas Dolby 1822. A crudely executed caricature by an anonymous artist. One of the last surviving single-sheet caricatures to have been published by Dolby.

‘Poor Byrne as he was…’ published by Thomas Dolby 1822. A crudely executed caricature by an anonymous artist. One of the last surviving single-sheet caricatures to have been published by Dolby.

Within days Dolby’s creditors had appointed a team of representatives who were required to take charge of the business and audit his remaining stock. If this wasn’t humiliating enough, he was outraged to discover that the agent they had appointed was a former hackney coachman named Simpson who had no prior experience of working in the publishing trade and was in the habit of getting roaringly drunk every evening. On one occasion the hapless coachman narrowly avoided burning the entire shop to the ground when he passed out drunk and knocked a candle over onto a wooden table, burning a hole right through the surface before it could be extinguished. Unsurprisingly, the business continued to flounder under Simpson’s supervision and Dolby’s creditors finally concluded that it would not be possible to recoup their losses without completely liquidating the firm and placing its remaining assets up for sale.

The contents of Dolby’s printing office were sold at auction on 10th January 1826. The press advertisement details the contents of the sale and provides an indication of the impressive scale of his business:

Superior Printing-office, Catherine Street, Strand. J. Delahoy respectfully informs the Profession, an all persons connected with the Printing Business, that he has received instructions to bring to PUBLIC AUCTION, the extensive PRINTING ESTABLISHMENT of Mr Thomas Dolby, a bankrupt, on Tuesday 10th January at 11 o’clock precisely, on account of the great number of lots. The effects comprise 10 iron stanhope printing presses, all by Walker; an hydraulic press, by Galloway, other printing, standing and cutting presses; 4 capital impressing stones, upwards of 20 new whole frames with racks and bulks, wrought and cast-iron chases in abundance, 32 brass-bottomed gallies, board racks and case racks, letter boards, nests of new large-drawers; wetting trough, ley trough, and sink, all lined with lead, excellent polling, about 12,000 glazed pressing boards, cylinder ink tables and rollers, empty cases, appropriate portion of furniture… with every other necessary appendage of a printing office. Together with upwards of 10,000lbs weight of metal type, in very excellent condition… [22].

The engraved copperplates and woodblocks which Dolby had used to illustrate his books and produce his caricatures were sold at a separate auction a few weeks later [23].

With the sales completed Dolby’s creditors fell to fighting amongst themselves almost immediately. A bitter legal dispute erupted when Dutton and Key discovered that Cumberland had somehow managed to acquire the rights to some of Dolby’s most valuable titles, despite the fact that the bankruptcy laws prohibited an assignee from purchasing assets from an insolvent debtor. Witnesses were then produced who claimed that they had overheard Cumberland saying that he intended to bid for the items he wanted via an agent, that he had been standing next to this agent during the sale and had secretly signaled his desire to bid by pressing down on the other man’s foot. Not surprisingly Cumberland denied the charges completely, stating that he had made no attempt to influence the outcome of the auction and that he had purchased the rights to the works in question from the successful bidder after the sale was concluded. The case rumbled on for four years, passing through the Court of King’s Bench and eventually ending in the Chancery Courts of Appeal in 1830. The final verdict does not appear to have been recorded in the press, but given that Cumberland continued to publish the title at the centre of the dispute – the British Theatre – until 1831, it seems evident that it was either thrown out or some sort of settlement was reached [24].

Dolby’s memoirs stop abruptly during the middle of his account of the bankruptcy proceedings and the history of his life becomes fragmentary from this point onward, with remaining references to him being largely gleaned from newspaper advertisement and the publication details of the few surviving works with which he is known to have been connected. What little evidence we have suggests that he remained active in the London print trade but on a much smaller scale, operating from a series of shops located in the more salubrious locales around Covent Garden and Seven Dials. One of the final anecdotes he records in the memoirs is the account of a conversation with John Cumberland in which the latter had suggested that he would be willing to employ Dolby as the editor of the publications he had formerly been responsible for producing. We do not know whether this plan ever came into fruition but it is clear that Dolby was back in business by 1827, publishing his memoirs and selling books, stationary and prints whilst his wife ran a millinery business from their constantly shifting business premises. BY 1830 his business had once again run into financial difficulty and he was declared bankrupt for a second time, the notice in the Law Advertiser reading:

… formerly of Bedford-street, Covent-garden, afterwards of Tavistock-street, Covent-Garden, then of Litchfield-street, Seven-dials, and at all the periods aforesaid of Parade-house, Thames-bank, and late of No. 340 Strand, stationer, book and printseller, (and by his wife carrying on the business of milliner) [25].

The frequent changes of address and the fact his wife was engaged in a separate trade are clear indicators of the financially precarious position that Dolby occupied during the final years of the 1820s.

By 1832 he had bounced back again and was working as an editor, compiling a volume of excerpts from Shakespeare which was published by the firm of Smith, Elder & Co. of Cornhill [26]. The following year he compiled The Literary Cyclopaedia, a collection of famous essays and other works containing “the ideas of the most highly gifted of mankind, on all subjects… for the purposes of conversation, domestic and public tuition, and the moral and intellectual improvement of society in general [27].” He briefly returned to politics in 1834, writing the pamphlet The Poor Laws Amendment Act – A Friendly Address to Young Females in Humble Life, showing the tendency of the recent alterations in the Poor Laws to improve their moral and social condition, for the publisher and printer William Molineaux of Fetter Lane [28]. The title of the pamphlet, as well as the fact that it was advertised as being available at a reduced price to “Magistrates, clergy and others purchasing for gratuitous distribution”, suggests that it was far more conservative in outlook than the political works Dolby had been publishing fourteen years earlier. His final work appears to have been The Cyclopædia of Laconics, published by George Berger of Holywell Street, Strand on 1st January 1836.

Thomas Dolby died of cancer on 24th June 1856. His obituary, which appeared in The Morning Advertiser a few days later, read:

In early life he suffered nobly for his zealous and practical advocacy of Parliamentary Reform, and he originated and promoted the diffusion of cheap, popular, moral, and useful literature, based on the pure and unerring principles of Christianity. [29].


Note – In order to keep the footnoting of this post manageable, I have only provided references for the memoirs in instances where I am quoting directly from the text.

  1. Dolby, T., Memoirs of Thomas Dolby, Late Printer and Publisher of Catherine Street, Strand, Written by Himself, (London, 1827), p.
  2. Este also held the honourary title of Lieutenant-Governor of Carlisle Castle and was reckoned to be worth some £13,000 on his death in 1812. He left the majority of his money his illegitimate children. See TNA Prob 11/1531.
  3. Dolby, p. 87.
  4. Ibid. p. 94.
  5. Ibid., p. 95.
  6. Morning Post 18 April 1809Dolby, p. 97.
  7. Ibid., p. 98.
  8. The network of retailers of sold Dolby’s publications extended at least as far as Glasgow in Scotland by 1820, as an account in the Times of 12th February 1820 states that Dolby’s political journals were amongst the materials recently seized from two radical booksellers in that city.
  9. Dolby, p. 108.
  10. Times 18 April 1818.
  11. Examples of single sheet satires published by Dolby include: Figures in a Fog (1820), Advice from the other world – or a peep in the Magic-lanthorn (1820) and Royal Congratulations (1820). His illustrated pamphlets include: The Queen and Magna Charta; or, the thing that Jack signed. Dedicated to all the ladies of Great Britain (1820) and The Royal letter-bag (1820).
  12. Such as the humorous woodcuts that I.R. Cruikshank produced for Dolby’s British Theatre see BM Ref. 1900,0613.578. See BM Satires 14391 for an example of a later caricature by Dolby.
  13. See BM Satires 13871 and 13994 respectively.
  14. Dolby had been the subject of both crown and civil prosecutions during 1819. In June of that year the bookseller John Wright had sued him for libel in relation to the publication of an issue of Cobbett’s Register in which it was alleged that Wright had swindled Cobbett on a number of occasions. Dolby was back in court again in August, facing charges of seditious libel which related to a piece in Sherwood’s Register which had described the militiamen responsible for the Peterloo Massacre as ‘murderers’. See Times 18 June 1819, 30 June 1819, 24 August 1819, 1 October 1819, 26 February 1820.
  15. The Constitutional Association was founded in December 1820. The organisation and it’s chair John Stoddart are perhaps best remembered today as the butt of William Hone and George Cruikshank’s faux satirical newspaper A Slap at Slop and the Bridge Street Gang (1821).
  16. Hansard, HC Deb., 6 June 1821, vol. 5, cc. 1114-9.
  17. Times 5 June 1821.
  18. See the excellent London Street Views blog for further information on Samuel Dolby –https://londonstreetviews.wordpress.com/2016/12/23/dolbys-dining-rooms/ 
  19. D. Worrall, Theatric Revolution: Drama, Censorship, and Romantic Period Subcultures, 1773 – 1832, (Oxford, 2006), pp. 17-18.
  20. See L. Neal, The Financial Crisis of 1825 and the Restructuring of the British Financial System, (1998)
  21. Times 30 October 1828.
  22. Ibid. 4 January 1826.
  23. Ibid. 19 January 1826.
  24. The last reference to the case I have been able to find appears in the Morning Chronicle of 11 July 1830 and states that Dolby and his wife had both been called to appear at an appeal hearing lodged at the Chancery Court.
  25. The Law Advertiser for the Year 1830, vol. viii, (London, 1830), p.60.
  26. J.O. Halliwell, Shakesperiana: A Catalogue of the Early Ed. of Shakespeare’s Plays, (London, 1861), p. 38.
  27. Morning Chronicle 23 December 1833.
  28. Presumably the same man that Dolby had employed to print the satirical pamphlet The Queen & Magna Charta in 1820. See BM Satires 13871. The advertisement for this work appears in Morning Chronicle 20 August 1834.
  29. Morning Advertiser, 30th June 1856, p.7.