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The Edwards of Halifax Bindery

P. J. M. Marks


THE story of the Edwards family of Halifax is the stuff of a Victorian three volume novel/ William Edwards (baptized in 1722, died in 1808), a provincial publisher and bookseller, built up a firm which became influential in the book trade in England and abroad. William (1753-86), his first son, was a ne'er do well His cloth manufacturer's business was purchased for him by his father, who also had to pick up the pieces when it failed by bailing young William out of debtors' prison. Four other sons were partners in the bookselling business but were also known for their individual accomplishments. The second son, James (1756-1816), described as an 'EXOTIC [sic] bookseller', was also a publisher, gentleman spy, and bibhophile; even his coffin was made from the empty bookshelves of his library. James and his brother John opened a London bookshop in Pall Mall in 1784 which continued until 1799. John (1758-91) was also an artist of some accomplishment (and has attracted posthumous attention for the repeated but erroneous reference to his having been guillotined in the Terror). Thomas (1762-1834) dutifully stayed at home and ran the Halifax shop selling books and patent medicines (including the entertainingly named True Daffy's Elixir, Dr Walker's Jesuit Drops, and Dr Baliman's Golden Spirit of Scurvy Grass!). He also supervised trips to bind the libraries of local worthies, and was alleged to have been a local political activist. The youngest son, Richard Edwards (1768-1827), was a patron and publisher of William Blake and owned his own bookshop in New Bond Street from 1791 to 1798.

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