Street View: 15
Address: 86 Fleet Street
Charles Tilt was the son of William Tilt, a confectioner of St. Paul’s Churchyard. After the death of William in 1807, the confectioner’s business was continued by his widow and son William junior; young Charles was apprenticed to a bookseller in Hampshire. From 1817 till 1826 he worked for various booksellers, among them Hatchard’s and Longman’s, but in October 1826, he started his own business in Fleet Street. He had his shop just on the corner of St. Bride’s Avenue and Fleet Street, and specialised in illustrated books and lithographic prints. In 1827, he secured the assistance of George Cruikshank for one of his cheap (one shilling) illustrated publications, The Diverting History of John Gilpin in which a horse runs off with the hapless Gilpin.
Cruikshank had published his Scraps and Sketches with James Robins, but when he was no longer able to continue the project, or as Cruikshank put it, “poor Robins neglects my business sadly, as well as his own”, the publication was taken over by Tilt under the title My Sketch Book. Tilt reduced the size of the publication, and hence the price, hoping to attract a different public. The sketches were, according to the paper cover, “to be continued occasionally”, and when part 6 came out in late 1834, a collection of parts 1-6 was brought out, bound in cloth. Cruikshank continued to work with Tilt, see for instance the illustrations at the bottom of this post, but the volatile character of Cruikshank and the sharp business acumen of Tilt did not necessarily make for a harmonious relationship, as, for instance, when a dispute arose over money when Cruikshank tried to sell the leftover stock of the discontinued Omnibus to Henry Bohn. And on another occasion when, instead of asking Cruikshank to retouch the worn plates of the Almanack, as had been agreed, Tilt sent them off to a cheaper engraver. Tilt’s assistant David Bogue’s quieter and more tactful ways often saved the day.(1)
The shop in Fleet Street was eminently suitable for displaying prints and books in the large windows along the front in St. Bride’s Avenue and around the corner in Fleet Street. It is said that is was sometimes so busy with window gazers that railings had to be put up to keep the crowds at bay, although these railings are not visible in any of the depictions of the shop. The anonymous reviewer of The Angler’s Souvenir, published by Tilt in 1835, commented on Tilt’s shop windows and said “we are not given to stare and linger at any show shop in the vast metropolis of England, not even at Mr. Tilt’s, No. 86, Fleet Street, or any other eminent print-seller’s exhibition, although henceforward we shall take a glance, all round the corner, at the above-mentioned gentleman’s pictorial displays”. He was to do that because he hoped to find other books on his favourite pastime, angling.(2) The reviewer had to have had a bit of patience as it was only in 1844 that David Bogue and Henry Wix published Isaac Walton’s Complete Angler. Besides prints, Tilt published various series of cheap illustrated books, among them several of miniature books, such as Tilt’s Miniature Classics Library, Tilt’s Elegant Miniature Editions, and Tilt’s Hand-books for Children. These last could be collected in a wooden case with the words “My Own Library”.
The 1841 census saw Charles Tilt and his wife Jane at Clapham; he is listed as a publisher, but that same year he decided it was time to retire and, according to publisher and journalist Henry Vizetelly in his Glances Back Trough Seventy Years; Autobiographical and Other Reminiscences (1893), Tilt entered into a partnership with his assistant Bogue because of “his general shrewdness and steady application to business”. The idea was that Bogue would gradually pay back the money he owed Tilt for the partnership, between forty and fifty thousand pounds, and publications began to appear with both their names in the imprint. In 1843, the partnership between Tilt and Bogue was dissolved with Bogue to continue the business on his own. So, all was set for Tilt’s retirement and the 1851 census duly lists him as retired publisher at Bathwick, Somerset.
However, David Bogue died in November 1856 of heart disease, aged just 48. Charles Tilt was asked by the executors of Bogue’s estate to help with winding down the business. By 1859, most of Bogue’s copyrights and stock, as well as the shop, had been taken over by William Kent (more on the later history of the shop in the post on Bogue). The 1861 census lists Tilt at Kensington, once again as a retired publisher. He died later that same year and left the not inconsiderable sum of £180,000, although not quite the million he was said to have amassed by Malcolm Macleod, who tried to establish a link between the Tilts and Oliver Cromwell in Notes and Queries, 3rd series, vol. 1, Jan. 1862.(3) Macleod, by the way, said that the Tilt family had in their possession “a massive gold ring, with his arms, initials, and date, engraved on it”. These arms consisted of “a chevron between three roundels; crest, a dolphin”. No idea if the ring still exists somewhere; if you have information, please leave a comment.
(1) More on the relation between Charles Tilt and George Cruikshank can be found in Robert L. Patten, George Cruikshank’s Life, Times, and Art (1996).
(2) The Monthly Review, February 1836, p. 157.
(3) England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations), 1861. The executors were William Henry Dalton, publisher, George Gladstone, ship broker, and Benjamin Brecknell, wax chandler.
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