An Englishman's favourite Bits of England - Volume 7


1) British Shopping

2) London Livery Companies

3) British Cheques - There History

4) List of Early English Shopping Mall - 1568

5) Brief History of British Hallmarks

6) Life Story of Louis Wain 1860-1939 and his Funny Cats and Dogs on art

British Shopping and It's history

England is one of the oldest European countries ( 1500 years old ) and London itself was founded by the Romans in 53 AD. The history of British Retailers is what we British are famous for.

The London livery companies could be called the first retail conglomerates in the world

which originally started in London as Craft Guilds. Below is some of the history of british shops and their beginning:

Markets and Fairs
Although one might think that shops with fixed locations are a relatively recent phenomenon, a stroll down the excavated streets of Roman VINDOLANDA (89 AD) near Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland shows that even then the inhabitants were served by several stores. Obviously fairs and markets were major ways that people in rural areas could get hold of a wide range of merchandise. They were obviously important to towns, many of which date their true importance to the time when they were awarded a royal charter to hold regular markets and fairs. Places that did not get a royal charter presumably stayed as villages. Around 2,000 new markets were established between 1200 and 1349. Tudor and Stuart England was served by 760 markets.

Market halls continue to exist in some quaint old towns like Thaxted, Ledbury, and Chipping Campden. In the 18th and 19th centuries, many cities and towns spent considerable sums on purpose-built market halls, partly for improve health and hygiene and partly to use retail to make the area more prosperous (sounds familiar?). One of the main streets in most ancient towns and cities is Market Street or Market Place where trading took place. Places called Butter Cross or Horse Fair provided specialist markets but may also have been locations for general purpose retail markets.

Static Shops
There is evidence of shops from the twelfth century, although only a few survive because they were probably constructed using timber. The most important locations would have been surrounding the marketplace, many of these being converted to shops. It is argued that what is known as the Jew's House, Steep Hill, Lincoln, was originally a set of shops dating from 1160. From the thirteenth century, towns were thronged with shops. Cheapside in London had around 400 shops in 1300, Canterbury had 200 in 1234 and Chester had 270 by 1300. Specialist areas for the sale of meat (Butcher's Row or in Nottingham, Fletchergate) may have had a combination of sales from barrows and stalls and from shops.

In 1209, King John licensed the building of houses and shops on London Bridge, which became regarded as a safe place to shop, although hopeless as a thoroughfare.

A fairly narrow range of items would normally be sold by the retailer, some of which might be made in the store or a nearby workshop, and others processed by the retailer. A jeweller, baker or glove maker would be of the first kind; a grocer, butcher or dairyman would buy goods in bulk, preserve them, divide the wholesale bulk into small proportions for the final consumer. They were not simply reselling items bought elsewhere.

Selds were stores, rooms or workshops used by several different retailers in the same line of business. St Martin's Seld in Soper (Shopkeeper) Lane, Cheapside, housed 21 small plots and 30 chests in 1250, specialising in gloves and leather goods.

Rows of shops and lanes of shops erected speculatively by third-parties date from the 13th century. These shops were mainly lock-ups, although 22 shops built in Church Street Tewkesbury in 1450 had accommodation and storage.

London Livery Guilds

At present there are 108 guilds covering most crafts and professions. The oldest guild is the *Bakers Company Guild which started in 1155 AD. 'Guild' derives from the Saxon word for payment, since membership of these fraternities was, and still is, paid for. The word 'livery' refers to uniform clothing as means of identification, hence the term of freemen being "clothed in livery" when they become liverymen of their Company.

Actuaries 1979

Air Pilots & Air Navigators 1929

Apothecaries 1617

Arbitrators 1981

Armourers & Brasiers 1453

Bakers* 1155 ( The Oldest Livery Company - See Link Above )

Barbers 1308

Basketmakers 1569

Blacksmiths 1325

Bowyers 1371

Brewers 1437

Broderers 1561

Builders Merchants 1961

Butchers 1605

Carmen 1517

Carpenters 1333

Chartered Accountants 1977

Chartered Architects 1985

Chartered Secretaries & Administrators 1977

Chartered Surveyors 1976

Clockmakers 1631

Clothworkers 1528

Coachmakers & Coach-Harness Makers 1677

Constructors 1976

Cooks 1482

Coopers 1501

Cordwainers 1272

Curriers 1415

Cutlers 1344

Distillers 1638

Drapers 1364

Dyers 1471

Engineers 1983

Environmental Cleaners 1972

Fan Makers 1709

Farmers 1952

Farriers 1674

Feltmakers 1604

Firefighters 2001

Fishmongers 1272

Fletchers 1371

Founders 1614

Framework Knitters 1657

Fruiterers 1605

Fuellers 1984

Furniture Makers 1963

Gardeners 1605

Girdlers 1327

Glass Sellers 1664

Glaziers & Painters of Glass 1637

Glovers 1349

Gold & Silver Wyre Drawers 1693

Goldsmiths 1327

Grocers 1428

Gunmakers 1637

Haberdashers 1371

Hackney Carriage Drivers 2004

Horners 1638

Information Technologists 1992

Innholders 1515

Insurers 1979

International Bankers 2001

Ironmongers 1463

Joiners & Ceilers 1571

Launderers 1960

Leathersellers 1444

Lightmongers 1979

Loriners 1261

Makers of Playing Cards 1628

Management Consultants 2004

Marketors 1977

Masons 1677

Master Mariners 1926

Mercers 1394

Merchant Taylors 1327

Musicians 1350

Needlemakers 1656

Painter-Stainers 1283

Pattenmakers 1670

Paviors 1479

Pewterers 1384

Plaisterers 1501

Plumbers 1365

Poulters 1368

Saddlers 1362

Salters 1394

Scientific Instrument Makers 1955

Scriveners 1373

Security Professionals 2000

Shipwrights 1387

Skinners 1327

Solicitors 1944

Spectacle Makers 1629

Stationers & Newspaper Makers 1403

Tallow Chandlers 1462

Tax Advisors 2005

Tin Plate Workers alias Wire Workers 1670

Tobacco Pipe-Makers & Tobacco Blenders 1960

Turners 1604

Tylers & Bricklayers 1416

Upholders 1626

Vintners 1364

Water Conservators 2000

Wax Chandlers 1484

Weavers 1155

Wheelwrights 1670

Woolmen 1522

World Traders 2000

Companies without Livery

Parish Clerks

British Cheques – History

In everyday life here in England in 2010  we use cheques to pay all our bills. I thought it would be interesting to write the History of British Cheques. I remember in the early 1980's having cheques that had pictures – called Pictorial Cheques. I hope one day british banks or building socities will re-introduce Pictorial cheques.

By the 17th century, bills of exchange were being used for domestic payments in England. Cheques, a type of bill of exchange, then began to evolve. They were initially known as ‘drawn notes’ as they enabled a customer to draw on the funds they held on account with their banker and required immediate payment. These were hand written and one of the earliest known still to be in existence was drawn on Messrs Morris and Clayton, scriveners and bankers based in the City of London and dated 16 February 1659.

In 1717 the Bank of England pioneered the first use of a pre-printed form. These forms were printed on ‘cheque’ paper to prevent fraud and customers had to attend in person and obtain a numbered form from the cashier. Once written the cheque would have to be brought back to the bank for settlement.

Up until around 1770 an informal exchange of cheques took place between London Banks. Clerks of each bank visited all of the other banks to exchange cheques, whilst keeping a tally of balances between them until they settled with each other. Daily cheque clearings began around 1770 when the bank clerks met at the Five Bells, a tavern in Lombard Street in the City of London, to exchange all their cheques in one place and settle the balances in cash.

In 1811 the Commercial Bank of Scotland is thought to have been the first bank to personalise its customers cheques, by printing the name of the account holder vertically along the left-hand edge. In 1830 the Bank of England introduced books of 50, 100 or 200 forms and counterparts, bound or stitched. These cheque books became a common format for the distribution of cheques to bank customers.

In the late 1800s a number of countries formalised laws around cheques. The UK passing the Bills of Exchange act in 1882 which covered cheques. In 1931 an attempt was made to simplify the international use of cheques with the Geneva Convention on the unification of the law relating to cheques. Many European and South American states as well as Japan joined the convention. However all the members of the Common Law including the United States and the members of The Commonwealth did not participate.

In 1959 a standard for machine readable characters (MRC) was agreed and patented in the United States for use with cheques. This opened the way for the first automated reader/sorting machines for clearing cheques. The following years saw a dramatic change in the way that cheques were handled and processed as automation increased. Cheque volumes continued to grow, and in the late 20th century cheques became the most popular non cash method for making payments, with billions of them processed each year. Most countries saw cheque volumes peak in the late 1980s or early 1990s. At that time electronic payment methods started to become popular and as a result cheque usage started to decline.

In 1969 cheque guarantee cards were introduced in some countries, this allowed a retailer to confirm that a cheque would be honoured when they were used to pay at point of sale. This was done by having the drawer sign the cheque in front of the retailer so it could be compared to the signature on the card and them writing the cheque guarantee card number of the back of the cheque. These were generally phased out and replaced by debit cards starting in the mid 1990s.

List of Early English Shopping Mall - 1568
New Exchange or Burs ewas a wondrous enclosed shopping mall of 30 stores aimed at the rich that opened in 1609. Exotic luxury items were imported from all over the world, noise was kept to a minimum and beggars and vagrants were excluded. The King of England was present at its formal opening, where an entertainment by the dramatist Ben Johnson was put on that emphasised the high-quality and authenticity of its merchandise compared to the trash and counterfeits sold by its competitors (Merritt, 2002). This was not the first shopping mall, but was certainly the most extravagant. The Royal Exchange shopping gallery had been built in 1568 and reopened after the fire of London in 1671. Other significant shopping galleries included Westminster Hall, the New Exchange, and the Exeter Exchange.

The Royal Exchange shopping gallery was opened. 

The New Exchange opened, funded by the powerful Cecil family. It justified itself by being as much an art gallery as retail provision.

1707 Mason and William Fortnum started 
Fortnum and Masons grocery store in Piccadilly.

The Fenwick Weavers Society, a professional association aimed at improving weaving standards amongst villagers, buys a sack of oatmeal and sells the contents to its members at low cost, starting the very earliest known consumers' co-operative.   

Nottingham Cheese Riot as women customers take over the cheese market forcing traders to sell at lower prices, rolling cheeses  of those who would not down the hill.

Josiah Wedgwood's London retail operations are moved to Portland House, Soho, to provide extensive well-lit showrooms full of his pottery and one of the earliest documented galleries in a retail store. It included a self-selection department of Manufacturer's Seconds. Wedgwood was a major innovator in pottery manufacturing and logistics, but also in retail. But there were probably several other stores at the time that were of equal quality.

1789/91 John Lackington opens his Temple of the Muses, massive retail premises  that were the centre of Lackington's low-cost bookselling and reprinting operation, an 'experience' store where people could peruse the stock. There were also two rooms to be used for relaxation. Like several other traders at the time, this marketing genius also printed his own currency to cope with the national shortage of small change. 

Birmingham Flour and Bread Company set up as a consumer Co-op on a large scale and using the best technology supported by the wealthy (such as Matthew Boulton, steam engine and 'novelty' manufacturer) and the lower classes to provide honest bread at a low price in a time of dearth. There were other bread companies set up in elsewhere in England.

Swan & Edgar, originally market traders, open their first store at 10 Piccadilly that becomes one of the earliest department stores.

Soho Bazaar, the first true bazaar, is opened by John Trotter. Counters topped with mahogany were laid throughout the store and rented on a daily basis to 200 female traders. Because of salacious rumours that retail merchandise was not the only product for sale, rules were made that dress must be severe and absolutely no feathers can be worn in the hair.

Sheerness Economical Co-operative Society founded by dockers as an early consumer Co-op, providing wheaten bread and flour and butcher's meat. It continued till 1970, when it joined Royal Arsenal Co-op.

1817 The first English glass-roofed arcade, the
Royal Opera Arcade based on the French model, was opened.Burlington Arcade was opened in 1818.

Kendall Milne department store or Bazaar opened in Manchester, with free entry, price-marked goods, and fixed prices - ideas supposedly invented by Aristide Boucicaut's Bon Marche in 1852.

Bainbridge's of Newcastle, then trading as Albert House, had become a department store with 26 different categories after trading for ten years. In 1841 the store was run on a system of low profit margins, the abolition of price bargaining and encouraging free entry.

1844    A group of artisans establish a small profit-sharing Co-operative store in Rochdale, The Rochdale Pioneers SocietyThis was not, it should be noted, the first Co-op, but became the template for future Co-operative retail stores: open membership, member control, political and religious neutrality, limitation on the rewards for capital, profit sharing in relation to trade done with the society, cash payments only and the promotion of education.

W H Smith, already a wholesale newsagent and stationers, and retail newsagent and booksellers, won the contract to run bookstalls at LNWR railway stations. They were distributing newspapers by rail and soon had bookshops at most railway stations. 

1849    Charles Henry Harrod started his tea merchant shop in Knightsbridge, later becoming the 
Harrodsdepartment store.

1849    John Boot started selling herbal remedies in a store in Goose Gate, Nottingham. Under his son, Jesse, this developed from 1870 into Boots Cash Chemists a multiple chain with extensive manufacturing facilities. 

London Crystal Palace Bazaar, opened in Oxford Street, lit by natural light by day and gas by night, was one of the first stores to have ladies' lavatories and a separate refreshment room for ladies.Ladies' lavatories? That's not really a noteworthy innovation, you may say, and it's a bit vulgar to mention. But when you think that one-half of the population when going out shopping could normally not go to the lavatory before their return home, imagine the effect of this on how long you go shopping and how far you shop. Consider the effect on consumer footfall of knowing that needy customers would always have the London Crystal Palace Bazaar at the half-way point in every shopping expedition. Simply magic! 

North of England Co-operative Agency and Depot Society founded by 300 Co-operative societies to act as a buyer and wholesaler, soon changing its name to the Co-operative Wholesale Society.

John Hepworth & Son's was started in Leeds as a tailor selling gents suiting and had 107 shops by 1890. 

1864    The first 
ABC Tea Shop opened by the Aerated Bread Company, a pioneer of good wholesome bread based on a patented dough-making process. The ABC tea shops were much loved by George Bernard Shaw though hated by Orwell as representing industrialised catering. The ABC tea shops and ABC branches grew to a maximum of 250 in 1923.

1869    John James Sainsbury, dairyman, founded what would become the 
J. Sainsbury grocery and dairy chain with his first shop at 173 Drury Lane Holborn, London.

1870   Kendall's started as an umbrella shop, later moving into rainwear and clothing.

1877   Lewis's, the Liverpool retailer that used marked fixed prices and welcomed customers to walk around, starts what is to become the first English chain of department stores by opening its first store outside Liverpool in Manchester. 

1878   Hudson Kearly (later Viscount Devonport) and G A Tonge started theInternational Tea Stores to sell quality tea direct to the public. It became one of the largest general grocery chains, later a supermarket group (as International Stores), and was bought by BATs in 1972, ending up in the Dee Corporation. 

1882   Glasgow's Colliseum department store is one of the first to install electric lighting. 

1884    A Polish refugee, Michael Marks, starts trading in Leeds Market. His English is poor so 'Don't ask the price, it's a penny' makes for a lean operation and he soon takes sites in many markets in the North, trading as Marks Penny Bazaar. His first shop, opened in 1894 with help from Thos Spencer, became the Marks & Spencer chain

1884     Lewis Tomalin opens the first Jaeger store, based on the principles of Prof Gustav, who advocated wearing natural clothing made from animal hair. 

1888      Bon Marche in Brixton installs first overhead cash railway as being more secure than cash registers.

1886     First NCR Cash Registers installed in the UK to meet the vagaries of the currency system involving pounds, shillings and pence. 

1898      Harrods installs first escalator in the UK (in this case, a moving belt). Staff  were on hand with smelling salts in case escalator travellers became anxious when they arrived at the top.  

1903     Montague Burton, a Lithuanian refugee who had once spent a happy day in Burton-on-Trent, opens his first tailoring store in Chesterfield, which later becomes the largest men's clothing retailer in the world.    
1909    F W Woolworth opens his first UK Woolworth's store in Liverpool, with the slogan 'Nothing over 6d'.
1909     E Gordon Selfridge opens Selfridge's department store on American lines. He claimed to have introduced individual pricing on goods, open access (you didn't need to buy something), lavatories, and relaxation areas, but most were not novel. The way he put it together was novel. 

1919    Jack Cohen started selling surplus groceries at markets in the East End. In 1924 the company gets its name Tesco, as a own-brand tea, and the first shop is opened in 1929 in Edgeware. 'Tesco' is 'T E Stephenson and Cohen'. Stephenson was the tea buyer.

1929    Lipton Tea Company (retail) merges with Home and Colonial, the child of the margarine trust wars,  to form a multiple grocery group with more than 3,000 stores. It traded as Home & Colonial till 1961, when it became Allied Stores, owned by  Unilever. 

1942    London Co-operative Society (LCS), because of war-time staff shortages, sets up the first UK self-service store in Romford (176 sq feet) using reused cannibalised shop equipment. In 1948 LCS opened the first full self-service store in Upton Park, properly equipped and all merchandise sold by self service.

1950     Gateway Stores formed as the renamed J H Mills group of 12 family grocers. 

1951    First UK supermarket (2,250 sq feet) with three checkout lanes opened by Express Dairies in Streatham Hill. Note that several London Coop self-service food stores were just as large but were not run on true supermarket lines. 

1958      Green Shield Stamps launched by Richard Tompkins on American lines. In 1963 they was taken up by Tesco, for whom it was a major traffic builder. Green Shield suspended operations in 1983 and finally discontinued stamps in 1991.

Morrisons which had started in 1899 as an egg and butter merchant in Bradford market, opened its first supermarket in Bradford in a 5,000 sq ft converted cinema with free parking. 

1963      Richard Block and David Quayle set up their first 
B&Q hardware store in a disused cinema in Portsmouth. B&Q Stores was acquired by Woolworths in 1982 as the best of the up-and-coming chains. 

GEM opens the first UK superstore in Nottingham's sleepy suburb of West Bridgford. It was bought by a group of farmers trading as Associated Dairies in 1966, which, as ASDA, rolled out the concept more successfully than GEM had been able to.  

1964    The first purpose-built indoor city shopping centre, 
The Bullring Centre, was opened in Birmingham costing £8 million. In 1964 it is a mix of outdoor market, indoor market (1250 stalls), an indoor centre with 140 stores (350,000 sq feet) and covered 23 acres.  

1964     Designer 
Terence Conran opens his first Habitat store in Chelsea offering colourful well-designed products that encapsulated the potential of an exciting new non-dreary lifestyle.

1964    Barbara Hulaniski starts Biba as a mail order company. It opens its own store (and later she creates Bibaas London's first new department store since the war) mixing an extravagant combination of art nouveau and art deco styles with a rich colour palette. Couture for the masses, much loved by celebrities and evocative of that period.

1966     Barclaycard, the first UK credit card, introduced by Barclays Bank, but it takes time before it is accepted by most retailers.

1971    Bretton Centre, the first out of town shopping complex with sales area of 54,000 sq feet, was opened near Peterborough. 
1973    Richard Tompkins changes Green Shield Stamps catalogue stores (where you redeem your stamps for products) to Argos, the catalogue retailer.  
1976    First IBM 3653 computerised cash registers introduced with machine reading via a hand-held device at House of Fraser.

1979    Burton's, owner of Peter Robinson, Topshop, and Evans, buys Dorothy Perkins. It later sets up Principles,but spins off some parts of the company, becomes Arcadia and in 2002 is bought by Phillip Green. 

1980     Five independent chemists and six small newsagents start using PCs (then called Micro-Computers or [wrongly] Microprocessors) to link their tills and run back office systems for inventory, customers, accounts and label printing. 

1980      Credit cards accepted by most supermarket operators without a commission fee being payable by the customers. 

1981     Key Markets unveils first UK flatbed laser-scanning grocery store.

1981     Hepworths buys Kendalls, opens the first Next store in 1982 and renames the company NEXT (in 1986).

1981     Tie Rack was opened by Roy Bishko on Oxford Street. It was one of several 'edited retailing' formats developed in that period.

1982      First planned retail park built in Aylesbury .

1983       The Dee Corporation  brings together 70 Frank Dee stores, 100 Gateway Stores and goes on to buy Key Markets, International Stores, Lennons, Fine Fare, and Carrefour Hypermarkets (UK). It changed its name back to Gateway in 1988 and opened the first Somerfield in 1990. It was mad enough to buy Kwik-Save in 1998 and was taken over by The Co-operative  in 2009.   

1986      The Metro Centre, Europe's largest shopping centre, opened in Gateshead. It now has 342 shops and covers 1.8 million sq feet.

1989     The first Aldi  hard-discount store opens in the UK. At the time this was seen as the company that would kill off British grocery retailers and their inefficient ways. 

1990      Dave Dodd and Stephen Smith open the first Poundland  store in Burton-on-Trent, the first one selling everything for £1 or less, becoming a £510 mn company after 20 years with 300+ stores. Other fixed-price stores have set up subsequently.

1993     Membership discount operator Costco opens in the UK, taking advantage of legislation that allows it to be controlled as a wholesaler rather than a retailer. This was another import that was going to smash UK retailing. I bought shares in Tesco.

1997      Amazon buys, an online bookseller and launches Amazon UK in 1998. It soon became the largest UK bookseller.

1998 is set up as one of the most technically advanced retailers, selling fashion. It managed to spend £125 mn ($188 mn) in a few months. The technology never worked properly and was too slow (in the pre-broadband era), administration was weak, there was a high rate of returns. It soon went famously bust.

1999      eBay  launches in the UK, four years after it was started in the US. has 14 million users with more than 10 million items for sale at any one time. 

2000     The collapse, the unwinding of heavy investment by institutions in a range of geeky companies big on promises and small on performance, happened quickly in January as investors realised that the valuations of retailers were excessive and spending on IT would fall once the millennium IT problems were over. 
2005      Online retailing or ecommerce takes off in the UK as businesses and consumers get broadband, online market share in 2005 rises to 4% and yearly online growth is 25%+, specialist online retailers develop and classic retailers vamp up their websites to become multichannel.

Brief History of UK Hallmarks
Hallmarking is the world's first known instance of consumer protection law, in the UK it dates back to about 1300 AD.

Date and Event


Hallmarking introduced in UK


Town Marks Introduced


18 Carat Replaces 191/5 Carat as Standard Gold


Date Letters Introduced


London Assay Office Opened


Lion Mark Introduced for Sterling Silver


22 Carat Replaces 18 Carat as Standard Gold


First Edinburgh Date Letters


Britannia Mark Introduced for Silver


Castle Mark Introduced for Exeter


Sterling Silver Standard Re-admitted


Hibernia Mark Introduced for Dublin


Thistle Mark Introduced for Edinburgh


Birmingham Assay Office Opened


Sheffield Assay Office Opened


Duty Mark Imposed


18 Carat Reintroduced in Addition to 22 Carat


Lion Rampant Mark Introduced for Glasgow


Customs Act Requiring Foreign Goods to Have British Hallmark


9 Carat Introduced


12 Carat Introduced


15 Carat Introduced


York Assay Office Closed


Foreign Mark Introduced


Exeter Assay Office Closed


Duty Mark Dropped


Carat Marks Compulsory on Gold


12 Carat Mark Discontinued


15 Carat Mark Discontinued


14 Carat Introduced

1934 - 1935

Silver Jubilee Mark Used

1952 - 1953

Silver Jubilee Mark Used

1953 - 1954

Coronation Mark Used


Chester Assay Office Closed


Glasgow Assay Office Closed


Hallmarking Act


British Hallmarking Council Formed


Platinum Mark Introduced


UK Ratifies Convention Mark


Silver Jubilee Mark Used


Revised Hallmarking Acts


New Acts Become Effective

1999 - 2000

Millennium Mark Used

A typical set of antique British silver hallmarks showing; Standard Mark, City Mark, Date Letter, Duty Mark and Maker's Mark.

The Standard mark indicates the purity of the silver.
A - Sterling .925
B - Britannia .958, used exclusively 1697 - 1720, optional afterwards.
C - Sterling .925 for Glasgow
D - Sterling .925 for Edinburgh
E - Sterling .925 for Dublin

The date letter system was introduced in London in 1478 (elsewhere as the hallmarking system evolved). Its purpose was to establish when a piece was presented for assay or testing of the silver content. The mark letter changed annually in May, the cycles of date letters were usually in strings of 20 and each cycle was differentiated by a changing of the font, letter case and shield shape.

In 1784 the duty mark was created to show that a tax on the item had been paid to the crown. The mark used was a profile portrait of the current reigning monarch's head. The use of this mark was abolished in 1890.

The enforced use of the maker's mark was instituted in London in 1363. Its purpose was to prevent the forgery of leopard's head marks upon silver of debased content. Originally, makers' marks were pictograms, but by the beginning of the 17th Century it had become common practice to use the maker's initials.

 Life Story of Louis Wain 1860-1939 and his Funny Cats and Dogs on art

Louis William Wain was born in the London district of Clerkenwell in London on 5th. August 1860. In the period from 1880's up to the start of the First World War he ruled supreme in cat and animal humour especially the 'Louis Wain Cat' which was recognised worldwide.

One of his quirks was to draw cats in their more interesting moods, Mr. Wain sketched with his left hand a pretty feline head, and then signed it with his right hand.

The Louis Wain cats appeared in Art Prints, Comics, Newspapers, Books, Magazines, Post Cards and Annuals. The Wain cats are to be found in every human activity - from playing golf and other sports, digging up roads, playing music.

In his early years he was a sickly child and often skipped school. He attended his early schooling at The Orchard Street Foundation School in Hackney at The Saint Joseph's Academy, Kennington.

Wain was born with a Cleft Lip and the doctor gave his parents the orders that he should not be sent to school or taught until he was ten years old. As a teenage youth, he was often truant from school, and spent much of his childhood wandering around London. Following this period, Louis studied at the West London School of Art and eventually became a teacher for a short period. At the age of 20, Wain was left to support his mother and sisters after his father's death.

With reference to his family, Louis Wain's father had moved to London from Leek in Staffordshire where he met Julie Felice Boiteux (Anglo-French) who attended the same Roman Catholic Church. They married in 1859. He had 5 younger sisters (two of whom became competent artists) and his father worked as a textile salesman and his mother designed Church fabrics and carpets.

At the age of 17 he attempted to become a musician though no evidence of any success exists today. Louis Wain then decided to study and trained at The West London School of Art ( 1877- 1882 ) and remained as an assistant teacher until he left in 1882.

After his Father - William Wain's death in 1880 he had to support his mother - Julie Wain and five younger sisters.

To help to support his family he became a freelance illustrator ( initially influenced by Caldecott and May ).

He began to make his name with Dog and Animal drawings at various Dog and Country Shows including the early British National Dog show at Crystal palace in 1882 ( which later became known as Crufts ).

In 1884 Louis Wain married Emily Richardson ( His youngest sister's governess ). Shortly after he married her she contracted Breast cancer. He brought Emily a Kitten which they called Peter and to entertain her he started drawing Peter in humorous situations and poses.

She wanted him to show his cat drawings to some editors to which some comments were - ‘whoever would want to see a picture of a cat.'

The break he had been waiting for came in 1886 when he drew several kitten illustrations for a children's book. After this, Sir William Ingram, Proprietor of the Illustrated London News, commissioned a narrative drawing of a ‘Kitten's Christmas Party'. It contained 200 cats, took 11 days to complete and according to Wain brought him ‘overnight fame.' With the success of his funny cat pictures they started to make his reputation here in Britain and in America where his humorous cat pictures were seen in Comics, newspapers and magazines. These pictures were so successful that his life would never be the same again. Alas, this was tinged with sadness as his wife died shortly afterwards, but knowing that Louis Wain had become a great success.

In the period from 1880's up to the start of the First World War he ruled supreme in cat and animal humour especially the 'Louis Wain Cat' which was recognised worldwide. The Louis Wain cats appeared in Art Prints, Comics, Newspapers, Books, Magazines, Post Cards and Annuals. The Wain cats are to be found in every human activity - from playing golf and other sports, digging up roads, Playing music, Ascot fashions, Driving cats plus lots more.

In 1886 he joined the staff of The Illustrated London News. He was the first illustrator to work consistently within the convention of depicting clothed and standing animals.

He contributed to "Comical Customers at our Fine New Store of Comical Rhymes and Pictures" in 1896 and to "Jingles. Jokes and Funny Folks" in 1898. 1902 saw the word "Catland" commonly associated with Wain's illustrations, and the publication of "Pa Cats, Ma Cats and their Kittens." His anthropomorphic vision of the world soon brought him fame and as a result he was elected President of the British National Cat Club in 1898 and 1911.

In 1904 Louis Wain wrote a book entitled 'In Animal land with Louis Wain' which was a great success. During 1907 he invested all his savings into various Ceramic's with pictures based on his funny cats and sent most of them to America. Alas, while crossing the Atlantic, the ship capsized and all Louis Wain ceramics went to the bottom of the sea. Due to this misfortune Louis Wain went bankrupt and decided on a temporary move to the United States. He produced strip cartoons for the New York American ( 1907-1910 ) and many other American comics, newspapers and magazines.

After the death of his mother, In 1910, he returned to England and over the next few years he continued to produce books and supply pictures to various comics, newspapers and magazines.

He continued drawing fanciful cats for various newspapers and comics near the end of the first world war. During this time in 1917 he was thinking of experimenting in animation and the film was to be called 'Pussyfoot'. Alas, he decided not to persue this project and so the world lost the chance of a genius of comic cat art moving into animation. This year was a turning point in the history of Louis Wain's cats. His sister Caroline died and he fell off an Omnibus and hit his head.

After he recovered from the death of his sister Caroline in 1917 with Spanish flu and his concussion from falling of an Omnibus his cats became more frenzied, surreal, jagged and pointy. During 1917 he was also diagnosed as a schizophrenic which alas, stayed with him for the rest of his life. During the onset of his disease at 57, Wain continued to Paint, Draw and Sketch cats.

In 1924 due to the economic climate and the slow recovery of GB after WW1 Louis Wain Art became less popular and he fell into poverty when his mental health deteriorated and finally his family had him certified Insane and he was committed to a pauper ward at Springfield Hospital ( Previously Surrey County Asylum ) at Tooting, London on June 16th 1924. During 1925 he was discovered by a visitor to the hospital painting his funny cat pictures. The visitor exclaimed that the artist pictures reminded him of Louis Wain's famous cats. Imagine his surprise when the Artist turned to the visitor and exclaimed he was indeed Louis Wain. After the visitor told the world of Louis Wain's hospitalization, his admirers started a campaign which included prime minister Ramsey Macdonald, HG Wells and King George who helped set up a foundation which was set up to enable Wain to spend the last few years of his life in comfort in private asylums including Bethlehem Hospital in a private room where his treatment continued. H. G. Wells best portrays Louis Wain when he said in a 1925 broadcast, in an attempt to raise money for the impoverished artist, that three generations had been brought up on Louis Wain's cats and few nurseries were without his pictures. He made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves.

Sometime in the late 1920's he was sent to Saint James Fields, Southwark where he continued to paint and draw his cats.

In 1930 he was transferred to Napsbury Hospital near Saint Albans where he continued to paint and sketch until the end of his days. Exhibitions of his work were held in London in 1931 and 1937. On 4th. July Louis Wain died at Napsbury hospital. He is buried at Saint Mary's Catholic Cemetery, Harrow Road, London NW10 ( next to Kensal Green Cemetery, London ) next to the same burial plots as his 5 sisters and parents.

He is probably best remembered through a quote from H.G. Wells "He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."

Louis often gave lectures on the welfare of cats and encouraged people to take in stray cats, not just purebred cats. He was elected as President and Chairman of the National Cat Club, which he served for many years, and the logo he designed for the National Cat Club is still used to this very day. He was also involved in many other animal (mainly cat) charities and groups.

Below are just some of the newspaper articles concerning Louis Wain.

Coventry Evening Telegraph Wed 13 Sep 1899 “Louis Wain's Original Cat. — In this week's M. A. P. Mr. Louis Wain, the famous painter of Cats tells of the origin of his especial form of art. My first published drawing of bullfinches (he says) had been taken by the editor of the Illust .LN..”.

Blackburn Standard Sat 16 Jun 1900: “TWO OF LOUIS WAIN'S CATS. Pussy's  Eccentric       Motion. An amusing paragraph has been going the rounds this week (says M.A.P.) concerning a cat in tbe possession of Mr. Louis Wain. I dare say you have seen it—the substance of it being that the Duchess ...“

London Daily News Sat 30 Jun 1900:  Mr. Louis Wain's Exhibition of Dog and Cat Pictures with his presence and visit to the Ladies' Kennel Association Show at the Botanic Gardens yesterday, and the artist were favoured with an introduction to her Highness the Princess Royal…”

London Standard Wed 24 Oct 1900:  CAT SHOW AT THE CRYSTAL PALACE. Sir. Louis Wain,  Mr. Enoch  Welbum, and Mr. S. Woodiwist  and, with few exceptions,  all their classes were heavy ones. In the section for the long-haired species, Mrs. Pettit's Prince of Pearls and Mr. Jasper. Pettit’s Beautiful Pearl cat was the leading..”

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser  Wed 15 Nov 1905: “LOUIS WAIN'S ANNUAL Xmas annual is more welcome in that, which depicts Mr. Louis Wain dogs their humorous yet collection of sketches constituting the present year shows feline That have character into art.”

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Tue 15 May 1906 “I f Mr. Louis Wain will be glad to hear that his Summer Book. Will published shortly by Messrs. P. S. King and Son. Mr. Wain is great favourite with all children, his bonk, which will be printed three colours, will be heartily welcomed them. His Majesty ...”

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser  Sat 02 Jun 1906: “ LOUIS WAIN'S SUMMER BOOK. Mr. Louis Wain's hand has lost none of its cunning, and the comic cats, dogs, giraffes, hippopotami, and monkeys included in his summer annual for the present year possess all the characteristics that have endeared their pre ... “

Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Tue 22 Jan 1907:  Queen Mary has been graciously pleased to accept a copy of Louis Wain's Annual. A letter, posted posted in Buima, has been safely delivered in Peterborough, though it bore only the address, Dack, P'boro'. At Crediton, Devon, primroses and stocks are to be 6een growing the churchyard, while blue violets and ...”

Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser Wed 06 Nov 1907: “LOUIS WAIN'S ANNUAL. Louis Wain's Annual, 1907 (London: Bt m rose and Sons Limited, Is.), published to-day, is as usual a delightful compilation. If pride place will give to the illustrations, which are as droll as ever, the literary section excel ...”

North Devon Journal Thu 19 Aug 1920: “LOUIS WAIN, Famous For his Drawings of Cat Life, writes: have tried your Phosferine Tablets with exceptional beneficial results. After a tiring day I  take a dose of Phosferine, and must own that it is a very good pick-me-up, improves one's appetite..”

From the Hull Daily Mail Wed. 23rd Dec. 1925:  “MR LOUIS WAIN. Thanks to generous public support of the appeal to secure the comfort of Mr. Louis Wain, the celebrated cat artist, who for a time was» in a Poor Lew asylum, it has now been possible to remove him to Bethlehem Royal Hospital as a paying….”

Please visit my Louis Wain 1860-1939 funny dogs, cats, birds on fine art prints:

Please visit my Funny Animal Art Prints Collection @

My other website is called Directory of British Icons:

The Chinese call Britain 'The Island of Hero's' which I think sums up what we British are all about. We British are inquisitive and competitive and are always looking over the horizon to the next adventure and discovery.

Copyright © 2011 - 2012 Paul Hussey. All Rights Reserved.

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