12 July 2019

Birmingham Printers Nᵒ.3: Thomas Warren, Lady Holte & Links to Samuel Johnson

Printed in Joseph Hill's Bookmakers of Old Birmingham (1907),
the original in Birmingham Archive.

Thomas Warren (1700-1767) was first noted as a 'bookseller' in 1727.* He sold a range of works, some of them known about through the shopping bills of Lady Holte, of Aston Hall, who visited frequently between 1729 and 1730. She bought two volumes of Gulliver's Travels; Hutchinson's 'On ye Passions'; spelling books, presumably for her children; 'Headley's method of Teaching'; the 'Beggars Opera', first performed in 1728; two volumes of 'Cyclopedia'; as well as many more publications. She had books bound and bought ink, and also paid for 'Reading' certain books, so presumably Warren offered a lending service. Warren also sold Holte other items, including a 'Pair of fine Pockett Globes' which he bought in from London. Books allowed the reader to explore the expanding eighteenth-century world, so the globes were an apt addition to the bookshop, and Warren sold books about globes and exploration too.**

Warren began printing in the early 1730s. His first known printed works were A Practical Discourse on Reconciliation (1729) by John Reynolds with the imprint 'Printed for and Sold By T. Warren, Bookseller, near St. Martin’s Church, Birmingham', so possibly printed elsewhere, and Multum in Parvo, or Jubilee of Jubilees (1732) imprinted 'Printed by T. Warren, over against the Swan Passage'. This area of High Street was where the printing trade was centralised in the eighteenth century. Warren also began producing The Birmingham Journal in 1732, the town's first newspaper. Only one copy of this publication is known to survive dated 21 May 1733 (see above).

Samuel Johnson (1775) by Joshua Reynolds.

In 1733 Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), whose uncle was a bookseller in Birmingham, visited the town and stayed with Warren, writing some articles for The Birmingham Journal. Warren also printed Voyage to Abyssinia which Johnson helped to translate into English, and a copy is held at Birmingham Archive. Residing at Warren's at the same time as Johnson was Edmund Hector (1708-1794), a surgeon in Birmingham who Johnson had been at school with. Johnson wrote to Hector in 1755 stating 'I was extremely pleased to find that you have not forgotten your old friend, who yet recollects the evenings which we have passed together at Warren's and the Swan'.*** This was the Swan Inn.

Johnson remained in Birmingham till 1735 and met his later wife, Elizabeth Porter, in the town.

Portrait of Edmund Hector.
Held at the National Portrait Gallery.

By 1755 Thomas Warren's son, another Thomas (1728-1814), had taken over the trade, and he retired to Castle Bromwich in 1801.

See books printed by Thomas Warren in Birmingham here.

Other Birmingham Printers: Nᵒ.1 Thomas UnwinNᵒ.2 Henry Butler (a printer of ephemera rather than books); Nᵒ.3 Thomas WarrenNᵒ.4 Thomas Aris.

* He subscribed to A Commentary Upon the Historical Books of the Old Testament.
** Bill of Lady Holte from Thomas Warren, 1729-30. 
*** Letter from Johnson to Hector, 15 April 1755, in: The Letters of Samuel Johnson: 1731-1772, ed. by Bruce Redford (Princeton Legacy Library, 2014), I, p. 104.

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