Street View: 55
Address: 117-120 Aldersgate Street
Although Tallis has 120 written above the building on the right in the elevation, the street directory clearly numbers it as 117-119, the premises of Wood and Sharwoods. Number 120 is the house on the left, the private residence of R.M. Wood. Although Wood and Sharwoods are listed as Printers’ Brokers in the directory and as Columbian Press Manufactury and Printing Material Warehouse in the picture, their business was better known as the Austin Letter Foundry.
The foundry was started sometime before 1819 in Worship Street by Richard Austin who was succeeded by his son George. After the death of George, the foundry was acquired by Richard Mason Wood, who, in partnership with Samuel and Thomas Sharwood, removed the business to Aldersgate Street, still calling it the Austin Letter Foundry. Wood died in 1845 and the business was continued by the Sharwood brothers until 1856 when they both died and the business was put up for auction and dispersed.(1)
The paragraph above is in short what Talbot Baines Reed wrote about the foundry, but there is more to tell. The building shown in the elevation is non-typical and certainly does not look as if it consisted of existing houses adapted to the business, but much more as if it were purpose-built. In Horwood’s 1799 map, we can see that the plot has not been shaded in the usual manner, perhaps indicating an empty plot, but when exactly the building that became the foundry was erected is unclear.
Richard Mason Wood, the son of James and Ruth Wood, had been in partnership with John McLachlan as printers and auctioneers at 16 Chiswell Street. The partnership was dissolved in September 1830.(2) Although the announcement in The London Gazette does not say so, Wood was to remain in Chiswell Street. When his first three children were baptised (James 1830, Ruth 1833, and Richard Mason junior 1835), Chiswell Street was given as the family address. In the baptism entries, Richard’s occupation is variously given as stationer, printer and type founder. When two more children, Rowland and Austin, were baptised in 1845 (they had been born in 1838 and 1840 respectively), the address was given as Aldersgate Street. We can be a bit more precise as regards the date of the removal from Chiswell to Aldersgate Street by an advertisement of 1836 in which Wood and the Sharwoods announce their Catalogue number 11 and their new address for the Austin foundry.(3) When the partnership between Wood and the Sharwoods started is unclear, but in an 1835 advertisement, they announce their Catalogue number 10, and if the intervals between the catalogues was fairly constant, the partnership may well have started in 1830 when McLachlan withdrew. The 1835 advertisement also tells us that the firm had recently purchased the Austin foundry, then still at Worship Street.(4)
Richard Mason Wood and the two Sharwoods continued at Aldersgate Street with their type foundry and printers’ material business. They brought out regular catalogues of the printing material they could supply, not just small items, but also complete Columbian and Albion printing presses.
Richard M. Wood died in late 1845 and in his will, he names his former partner John McLachlan, appraiser, still of Chiswell Street, and his present partner Samuel Sharwood, as two of the executors. Wood’s estate is to be sold off and invested for his children until they reach the age of 21.(5) Thomas and Samuel Sharwood continued the business and produced, for instance, the new type specially designed for Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper.(6) They even advertised their business as far away as in the Tasmanian Launceston Examiner. Unfortunately, Samuel Sharwood died in early 1850 (not in 1856 as Reed would have it), just 39 years old.(7) Thomas died 18 November 1855, 43 years old. The business was indeed sold off as Reed had said and an advertisement in the Liverpool Mercury of 7 April, 1856, announces that Messrs. Dew and Keysell, auctioneers of Camomile Street were to sell the first portion of the stock of printing material.
The premises themselves at 117-119 Aldersgate Street were taken over by printer William Hill Collingridge of the City Press. The sons of Richard Mason Wood: James, Richard Mason junior, Rowland and Austin, all went into the type founding business, forming various partnerships and continuing the name of the Austin Type Foundry, albeit at a different address, but that is another story.
Below some specimen of the type, borders and ornaments supplied by the Austin Letter Foundry, taken from their 1838 catalogue (online here).
(1) Talbot Baines Reede, A History of the Old English Letter Foundries (1887).
(2) The London Gazette, 14 September 1830.
(3) Derby Mercury, 11 May 1836.
(4) Hull Packet, 7 August 1835.
(5) National Archives, PROB 11/2026/95.
(6) Announced by Lloyd’s Weekly Newspaper in the issue of 23 January 1848.
(7) He was buried in 11 January 1850 at St. Mary’s, Hornsey.
(8) Obituary notice in The Gentlemen’s Magazine, 1856 and announcement in The London Gazette, 8 August 1856, asking creditors to state their claim on the estate.
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