Article MT233

Birmingham Ballad Printers

Part One: A - J

Birmingham was perhaps the most important provincial centre for ballad printing, an activity which began there in the mid-eighteenth century and continued until the late nineteenth.  Some fifty printers came and went, sometimes fleetingly, after issuing a handful of titles or even a solitary sheet, sometimes lasting ten to thirty years or more, and, like Bloomer, Russell, Pratt or Wood, and producing major collections.  When Joseph Russell died in 1840 he left £12,000, the proceeds of nineteen years in the ballad trade.  Others struggled, with premises in marginal courts and alleys, and frequent changes of address.  Most had sidelines such as the sale of books and stationery, and many were also general printers.

I have attempted to date printers' work, chiefly by reference to trade directories, but also with the help of publications such as Working Papers for an Historical Directory of the West Midlands Book Trade to 1850, edited by P B Freshwater, Pamela C Freck, Nesta Jenkins, and Christine L Williams (7 fascicules, Birmingham, 1975-1987).  The British Book Trade Index has also been invaluable (, like the Roud Broadside Index (available via: and the online access to the single sheet ballad collections in the Bodleian Library (

Ballads were cheap, flimsy and ephemeral items, the literature of the poor.  Many have been lost, but a number of collections, often pasted by collectors into scrapbooks, have survived and been preserved in Birmingham Central Library.  Other items are scattered in varying numbers in libraries from London to Liverpool, from Norwich to Nottingham, and even in Glasgow and Inverness.  I am indebted to the wide range of establishments listed below, and also , Jim Clayson, the late Peter Carnell, Steve Gardham, the late Tom Langley, Adam McNaughtan, Steve Roud, the late Leslie Shephard, Malcolm Taylor, Dorothy Thompson and Mike Yates.

Ballads are listed by sheet, in alphabetical order of title, using the abbreviations and conventions listed below.  The work will be completed by an alphabetical index of all the titles and tunes listed - probably in instalments as with this article..

References infrequently occurring are given in full; otherwise, these abbreviations are used:

* Indicates item without imprint, but ascribed to printer in whose list it appears.

First lines, where given, are in round brackets.  A number after a title in square brackets is is the serial number given by the printer to the sheet listed.  A date in round brackets after a title is mentioned in the text of the sheet or can be deduced from it.

Part 1: A-J

Joseph Allen (1837-1866)
Allen simultaneously ran a stationery shop at 215 Deritend (sometimes referred to as 215 High Street, Deritend) and printed at 11 Cannon Street. From 1854, the latter address became 11 ½ Cannon Street.  Allen's son joined him there in1862, and the partnership lasted for twenty years. . James Belcher and Son (1807-1849)
In 1807 James Belcher Junior joined his father's printing business at 5 High Street and, two years later, became sole owner after the latter's death, though the imprint did not change until 1835. Theophilus Bloomer (1817-1827)
Theophilus Bloomer was a printer, copper plate engraver, bookseller, stationer and bookbinder at 38 Snow Hill (1817), 10 High Street (1817-18) and 133 Digbeth (1818-20).  From the back 10 High Street, as well as selling items from his Travellers' Vocal Museum he advertised: 'Rags taken in, and exchanged'.  As a bookseller, stationer, bookbinder, printer and children's book publisher he operated successively from 42 Edgbaston Street (1821-22) and 53 Edgbaston Street (1822-27), the latter address designated as T Bloomer's Cheap Traveller's Warehouse.  After 'a long and severe affliction', Bloomer died in 1827 at the age of 31, and was briefly succeeded by his widow, Sarah Bloomer. Sarah Bloomer (1827)
53 Edgbaston Street: see above. Job Brueton (1866-1901)
Brueton was at 76 Stafford Street, initially as a stationer.  Three sheets issued in the 1860s (marked +, below) bear the words 'Sold by J Brueton', but in the following decade the imprint reads: 'Birmingham, printed by J Brueton, 76 Stafford Street. The Cheapest House in the Trade for Stationery, Ballads, Song books, Children's Tale and other Books, Wholesale & Retail'.

Esther Butler (1758-1773) The distinction of being both the first woman printer and the first ballad printer in Birmingham goes to Esther Butler, who succeeded Henry Butler (who must have been either her father or her husband, probably the latter) at 74 New Street.  A couple of chapbooks printed by Henry have survived, one in prose, The Parents' Best Gift (1749), and the other in verse, A Choice Pennyworth of Wit (?1720). Of the five surviving chapbooks associated with Esther, two have her imprint, two (marked +) bear the words, 'Sold by E. Butler', and the fifth (*) is ascribed to Esther on grounds of typography and a repeated woodcut.

Thomas Butterwick (1852-1853)
Although Butterwick was a newsagent at 3 Tanter Street from 1846 he did not begin printing until his move to 75 Stafford Street in 1852.  As well as a small number of broadsides he printed and sold A Choice Collection of Christmas Carols for the Present Season (HG), containing Hark! The Herald Angels, The Babe of Bethlehem, The Star of Bethlehem, Dives and Lazarus, The Moon Shines Bright, New Star of Bethlehem, God rest you Merry Gentlemen, While Shepherds Watch, The Virgin Unspotted, The Holly and Ivy and Christmas Night. M Carroll (1850s)
In the mid-fifties, Carroll, a 'Safety Shawl Pin, Coat Loop, Glass & Gilt Toy Manufacturer' of 25 Edgbaston Street published three single sheet songsters crammed with popular songs of the day and of earlier periods.  There is no indication of the printer.  Carroll had no further involvement with street literature, though he was still in business as late as 1899 as a gilt toy manufacturer at 2 Prospect Row. Charles Caswell (1863-1901)
During almost forty years as a printer, Caswell issued only a handful of street ballads, all from Broad Street, where he was successively at number 135 and (from 1876) at 200.  From 1892 until 1901 his premises were at 16 Edmund Street. Thomas Dodsworth (c.1873-c.1880)
Dodsworth was a writer of music hall songs, the texts of some of which he issued on single sheets, with the note: 'Music to the above song (also to others) can be had for 7 stamps, Mr T Dodsworth, 4 Florence Square, Florence-st., Holloway Head, Birmingham'.  No printer's name appeared. John Green (? 1870s)
Perhaps because his stock-in-trade consisted primarily of bawdy material, Green limited himself to providing the information, 'Printer, Birmingham'. James Guest (1834-1879)
Guest, born in Birmingham in 1805, began his working life as a brassfounder.  His radical convictions – he became a leading member of the Birmingham Political Union and helped to found an Owenite co-operative society in the town - induced him to open in 1830 a newspaper and stationery shop at 93 Steelhouse Lane.  He insisted on selling unstamped newspapers (that is, without the statutory duty of 4d. per copy) and in 1834, on refusing to pay fines of £5 for doing so, he, another printer (Thomas Watts) and four others were imprisoned for three months in Warwick Gaol.  In1843, while retaining his printing plant in Steelhouse Lane, he opened further premises at 52 Bull Street.  His main activity was the printing and sale of books, though he continued as newsagent, stationer, bookbinder and seller both of music and musical instruments.  When he retired in 1879 the sale of his plant and stock took ten days.  He died in January 1883.  His one excursion into street literature seems to have been a small group of carol sheets.  I have been unable to trace A New Carol Book, which, according to Percy Dearmer (Oxford Book of Carols, 1928), was published in Birmingham by Guest, its 48 pages containing, 'among several long compositions of no merit, Hark! The herald angels, On Christmas night all Christians sing, Dives and Lazarus, The moon shines bright, God rest you merry, and the Holly and the ivy'. Harris, no.6 (The Dead Men).
From the Roy Palmer Archive.William Harris (1828-1861)
At 179 High Street, Deritend, Harris was initially a bookbinder, but added general printing from 1828.  In 1861 he was succeeded by Mary A. Harris (probably his widow), who in turn was followed six years later by William Edwin Harris (possibly their son).  The latter later transferred the business to 28 ½ High Street, where it continued until 1898.  Only William Harris issued broadsides, probably in the 1840s. Robert Heppel (1827-1838)
Heppel was a letterpress and copperplate printer at Cary's Court, Moor Street (1820), 6 Hen's Walk, Dale End (1822-25), and 113 Coleshill Street (1827-30s).  Although he subsequently moved to 258 Stafford Street (1845) his ballad printing belonged to earlier stages, mainly at Coleshill Street. William Jackson and Son (1839-1852/3)
The booksellers, stationers and printers, Jackson and Son, succeeded the veteran ballad printer, Joseph Russell, at 21 Moor Street, on his retirement in 1839.  Like him, they are also recorded at 23 Moor Street.  In 1850 they moved to 69 Digbeth.  The return to Moor Street (at number 6) may have coincided with a handover to Thomas A Jackson, presumably the son.  Jackson & Son printed and sold from 21 Moor Street three collections under the title of A New Carol Book (HG), of which the two I have seen contain Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Christmas Night, Dives and Lazarus, The Moon Shines bright, God rest you Merry Gentlemen, The Little Room, Creation of the World, Lift up your Heads, Old Christmas Evening, Twelve Points, The Shepherds Amazed, the Man that Lives, The Sinner's Dream, Joseph and Mary and Holly and Ivy (no.2), and The Star of Bethlehem, The Fountain, Hark! Hark! What news the Angels bring, The Second Christmas Carol, The Seven Virgins, Rising of the Dead, Coleman's Carol, Sinner's Redemption, The New Star of Bethlehem, Joseph was an Old Man, The Seven Joys and Christmas drawing near at Hand (no.3). Thomas Aston Jackson (1852-1853) A directory for 1852-3 records William Jackson and Son at 69 Digbeth and T A Jackson at 6 Moor Street.  A possible explanation is that the latter, son of the former, took over from his father and moved the business.  His most frequent imprint is on the lines of '6 Moor Street, removed from 69 Digbeth'; and despite the passing of over a decade since Joseph Russell's retirement he often subscribes himself as 'Thos A Jackson (late Russell)'.  A good proportion of his sheets are straight reprints of those of his father, and his independent career seems to have been short-lived. Daniel Jones (1828-1829)
Jones was a copperplate and letterpress printer, paper dealer, type founder, engraver, stationer and factor at 10 Caroline Street and later at 53 Edgbaston Street.  He took over at the latter address from Sarah Bloomer, and issued from it what seems to be his only broadside ballad.

Roy Palmer - 11.2.10

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Article MT233

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