Longman and Macmillan: hidden gems from the archives

Longman publishers device

This exhibition is part of the Longman and Macmillan project, a two year project, generously funded with a contribution from the Wolfson Foundation as part of the National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives. The project will catalogue and make available the archives of Macmillan and Co. Ltd and the Longman Group held at the University of Reading Special Collections Service. The records of Macmillan and Co. Ltd were acquired by the University in 1964 and the records of the Longman Group in 1975.

The exhibition showcases a selection of interesting and important letters, documents and other items from the Longman and Macmillan collections.

The House of Longman

In 1724, aged twenty-four, Thomas Longman bought, for £2,282 9s 6d, the bookselling and publishing business at the signs of the Ship and the Black Swan in Paternoster Row, which had been built up by William Taylor. In doing so he founded one of the great family publishing houses, which his descendants would continue to manage for the next two and a half centuries.

One of Thomas Longman’s earliest achievements was to participate in the original publication of Dr Johnson’s ‘Dictionary’. In partnership with Owen Rees the third Thomas Longman continued the successful rise of the firm by beginning the nineteenth century with the publication of the work of Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott, followed by the publication of Lord Macaulay’s extremely successful ‘History of England’. Members of the Longman family continued to run the company successfully by publishing a diverse range of authors including Richard Burton, Benjamin Disraeli, Christina Rossetti and Florence Nightingale.

The sixth generation of Longmans, Robert Guy and William L., became partners in 1909. They took a keen interest in expanding the overseas branches. Educational publishing continued to be the mainstay of the firm during the twentieth century, but their literary reputation was maintained, with authors such as Stella Gibbons, Mary Renault and Thornton Wilder, and later Stevie Smith and the children's writer Leon Garfield. Other bestsellers were Roget's Thesaurus and Gray's Anatomy.

The firm survived the destruction of the Paternoster Row offices and most of their stock in the Blitz and in 1948 became a public company. The independence of the firm came to end in 1968, when they became chief publishers in a group which also included the medical publishers J. & A. Churchill and E. & S. Livingstone, and the lists of Oliver & Boyd. The chairman of the group was Mark Longman, last of the family to manage the business, who in 1970 negotiated a merger with Penguin Books. By his death in 1972 the group was known as the Pearson Longman Group.

Macmillan & Co Ltd.

The brothers Daniel and Alexander Macmillan founded the publishing house in 1843 in Aldersgate Street, London, but in 1845 they moved to Cambridge. They were both devout believers in God and were also deeply interested in education, and both interests became major influences on the material they published. Their list grew as a result of the publishing of many Cambridge scholars’ work, the most notable being the Reverend Charles Kingsley whose Westward Ho!, published in 1855, was their first venture into fiction. It proved extremely popular as did Kingsley’s The Water Babies in 1863.

In 1857 Macmillan published Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays which sold eleven thousand copies in the first year alone, making both the author and the publisher a substantial amount of money. The company moved to London the following year and subsequently produced the first issue of Macmillan’s Magazine which included many serials over its long life including Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady and Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders.

Macmillan’s list gradually diversified and one of its great accomplishments was Palgrave’s Golden Treasury which was an enormously successful anthology of verse. The firm went on to publish works for children, for example, Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti and works by members of the women’s movement as well as books of science and discovery. 

Continuing to be run by members of the family Macmillan extended their boundaries to America, to the colonies and to the Far East. At the end of the nineteenth century Frederick Macmillan was a driving force in setting up the Net Book Agreement which came into force in 1908.

The twentieth century saw continuing success including poetry by Thomas Hardy and W.B. Yeats, novels by Hugh Walpole and Margaret Mitchell and educational series such as the Macmillan casebook series for undergraduates of literature. In 1990 the company was restructured with a chairman from outside the family but, like Longman, the firm is still very much part of the current publishing world.

The exhibition is on display until 28 February 2011. 

List of exhibits

The House of Longman

1. Catalogue J. Osborne and T. Longman 1725. The earliest known list of books issued by the two partners containing over 500 titles. Longman II 60/47

2. Advertisement leaflet for Longman publications, 1808. Longman II 60/2

3. Signed letter from Samuel Taylor Coleridge to Messrs Longman & Rees 1808. Longman II 67/4

4. Signed letter from Dorothy Wordsworth to Messrs Longman & Rees July 28th 1814, referring to the proof sheets of The Excursion. Longman II 67/1

5, 6, 7. Collection of Longman colophons and devices. William Taylor, from whom Thomas Longman bought the business in 1724, traded under the sign of the Ship and the Black Swan in Paternoster Row. Longman II 44/1

8. Original cheque for £20,000 dated March 13, 1856, paid to Macaulay by Longman on account of the profits of Vols III and IV of his History of England. The first two volumes were published in 1848 and were very well received but the success of the next two volumes was phenomenal. Colour photocopy as original is pasted in to book. Longman II 67/7

9. Signed letter from Florence Nightingale to Longmans 16 November 1863. Longman II 62/80

10. Signed letter from Benjamin Disraeli to Longmans 20 February 1870. Longman II 64/3

11. Collection of photographs of the interior of Longmans’ premises in Paternoster Row, c.1900. Longman II 55/12

Macmillan & Co Ltd.

1. Signed card from Lucien Pissarro, 12 October 1906, with prospectus from the Eragny Press for an edition of verses by Christina Rossetti, decorated by Lucien Pissarro.

2. Signed letter from Thomas Hardy, 8 December 1909, relating to the publishing of The Dynasts.

3. Signed letter from Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, 24 September 1916, First World War poet, relating to his book of poems Livelihood.

4. The pamphlet Battle published previously by Elkin Mathews in 1915, as mentioned in the above letter from Wilfrid Wilson Gibson. Elkin Mathews Collection.

5. Signed letter by Enid Blyton, July 13 1959, mentioning how well the Adventure books are selling and how many letters from fans relating to the books the author has received.

6. Signed letter from Robert Gibbings, 31 December 1930, owner of the Golden Cockerel Press of Waltham St Lawrence near Reading.

7. Signed letter from the artist Michael Ayrton to the publisher, February 12th 1942, regarding the artwork for the cover he has prepared for the book Killer and the slain by his friend Hugh Walpole.

8. Signed letter from the artist John Piper, 20 September 1940, discussing the illustrations for Osbert Sitwell’s book Two Generations. John Piper lived for many years at Fawley Bottom near Henley.

Back to Exhibitions

Page navigation


Search Form

A-Z lists