Archive of George Bell & Sons

Scope and Content

The initial deposit covers the period 1813-1976, though the records for the nineteenth century are fragmentary. It has been summarised as follows:

  • 1-70: Miscellaneous papers including legal and financial records and letters from authors 1813-1955
  • 71-102: Directors'correspondence with authors 1925-1957
  • 103-131: Miscellaneous correspondence arranged alphabetically 1928-1968
  • 132-361: Miscellaneous papers including correspondence relating to particular books, out-letter books, letters from authors, accounts of Chiswick Press, balance sheets, stock lists 1838-1972
  • 362-536: Richard Bell's correspondence 1946-1953
  • 537-2062: S.L. Dennis's correspondence 1939-1973
  • 2063-2075: Miscellaneous correspondence 1964-1973
  • 2076-3154: A.W. Ready's correspondence 1941-1965
  • 3155-3467: A.W. Ready's and R.J.B. Glanville's correspondence 1936-1940
  • 3468-4119: R.J.B. Glanville's correspondence 1946-1966
  • 4120-4567: Central files, mainly correspondence of R.J.B. Glanville and W.H. Mills 1965-1973
  • 4568-4694: Miscellaneous book files, mainly correspondence of M.H. Varvill 1958-1973
  • 4695-5400: Division files 1926-1929
  • 5401-6231: Division files 1930-1932
  • 6232-6695: Division files 1933-1935
  • 6696-7078: Division files 1936-1938
  • 7079-7221: Directors' correspondence with authors 1938-1968
  • 7222-7295: Editorial Department correspondence 1927-1934
  • 7296-7397: R.J.B. Glanville's foreign rights correspondence 1937-1974
  • 7398-7473: Richard Bell's and R.J.B. Glanville's correspondence about American rights, other subsidiary rights, review copies of books and related matters 1953-1955
  • 7474-7528: R.J.B. Glanville's American rights correspondence 1956-1964
  • 7529-7689: Production Department correspondence 1955-1970
  • 7690-7787: Reviews 1957-1966
  • 7788-7796: General correspondence about copyright 1938-1946
  • 7797-7814: Correspondence about paperback and other subsidiary rights 1963-1976
  • 7815-7822: Miscellaneous papers

MS 3741 consists of a further five boxes of correspondence, financial documents, photographic material and other papers. This part of the collection has yet to be catalogued, but there is an index to the autograph letters, which cover the period c. 1840-1920. In addition to the authors listed in this index, there are a number of letters from the children's author Margaret Gatty.

Administrative / Biographical History

In 1839 George Bell set up shop at 1 Bouverie Street, London as an educational book supplier, announcing himself as the London outlet for university publishers. Having established a secure income from retail, he began in 1840 to bring out his own publications, specialising in classical texts and practical handbooks such as his Railway Companions. He outgrew his Bouverie Street premises within a year, and moved to 186 Fleet Street. During the next decades he continued to expand the publishing arm of his business, while remaining in business as a bookseller. He gained a reputation for books on art, architecture and archaeology, largely through his friendship with Henry Cole and his associates, but continued to be known chiefly for his educational output, benefiting from good connections with many noted headmasters. During the 1850s he also ventured into children's literature, publishing the work of Margaret Gatty, and later that of her daughter, Juliana Horatia Ewing.

In 1854 Bell acquired the Cambridge firm of J. & J.J. Deighton, which was renamed Deighton, Bell and Company. Despite installing W. Wright Smith as resident partner in Cambridge, Bell was acquiring too many personal responsibilities. In 1856 he therefore entered into partnership with Frederick R. Daldy. The firm continued with educational publishing but also expanded its interests. Bell & Daldy published the Aldine Edition of British Poets, acquired by Bell in 1854, and began to bring out other volumes of verse, including some of the work of Andrew Lang and Robert Bridges. English and foreign-language dictionaries were another addition to the list, after Bell acquired the British rights to Webster's Dictionary.

In 1864 Bell and Daldy acquired the Bohn Libraries, which at that time consisted of over six hundred works, with copyrights, plates and stock. As a result, the retail side of the business was no longer necessary, and the partnership took over the Bohn houses in York Street, Covent Garden. In 1867 they gave up the Fleet Street address. Also at this time George Bell's son Edward graduated from Cambridge and began to work for the family firm

The partnership between Bell and Daldy came to an end in 1873. It had been strained when Daldy committed the firm to a large financial interest in the debts of the publisher Alexander Strahan. In the end, Daldy joined the new firm of Virtue, Spalding and Daldy, and Bell's firm was renamed George Bell & Sons. The business continued to thrive throughout the late nineteenth century. Bell acquired the Chiswick Press in 1880 and it was managed by his brother John until the latter's death in 1885. The Press continued to be associated with the Bell firm until 1919.

George Bell settled the firm on his sons Edward and Ernest in 1888 but continued to come into the office until his death in 1890. The firm under Edward Bell continued to publish scholarly and educational works but also expanded its overseas connections. In 1910 the firm became a limited liability company and erected its own building, York House, in Portugal Street.

Edward Bell died in 1926 and was succeeded on the board by his son Arthur, the last Bell to serve in the firm, who was chairman from 1936 until his death in 1968. By this time the active management had been taken over by others, including Guy Bickers, managing director for many years. After the war George Bell & Sons specialised almost wholly in educational books, under the leadership of A.W. Ready, a leading figure in the field, who died in office as managing director in 1967. A small general list was still maintained, under S.L. Dennis. When R.P. Hyman became chairman and managing director in 1977 the firm became Bell & Hyman Ltd and moved to Denmark House, Queen Elizabeth Street, where it remained until going out of business in 1989.

Access Information

Open to all researchers. No reader's ticket is required but an appointment is necessary. Check for contact details and opening hours.

Acquisition Information

MS 1640 was received on deposit from Bell&Hyman Ltd on 25 November 1977. MS 3741 was purchased from Harper Collins at Sotheby's, September 1991.


Description prepared by Bridget Andrews, with reference to British Literary Publishing Houses, 1820-1880 (Dictionary of Literary Biography, v.106), ed. Patricia J. Anderson and Jonathan Rose (Detroit & London: Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1991) and to Frank Arthur Mumby, Publishing and Bookselling, 5th ed. rev. Ian Norrie (London: Jonathan Cape, 1974).

Other Finding Aids

MS 1640 has been listed at file level and has a detailed index. Both are available in the reading room. MS 3741 is as yet uncatalogued but there is a list of the some of the authors of the correspondence.