Victorian Opulence

Segg's London & Fashionable Resorts 1888I acquired a nineteenth-century London guide-book a few weeks ago – nothing much unusual in that.  Something I have been doing routinely, almost reflexively, for more years than any of us care to remember.  What was unusual was that it was not one I had ever come across before, at least to the best of my recollection (although these days my recollection is becoming as frayed at the edges as most of my shirts).  Unusual too, in that I had never come across the publisher before – and, to pass on a tip given to me by an old-time bookseller many years ago – while it’s by no means unusual to come across a previously unknown author or title, if you come across a previously unencountered London publisher (at least in your regular field), then the book is very likely a rare one.

The guide-book is called “London and Fashionable Resorts, (Illustrated): A Complete Guide to the Places of Amusement, Objects of Interest, Parks, Clubs, Markets, Docks, Leading Hotels, and also a Directory, in Concise Form, of First Class Reliable Houses in the Various Branches of Trade” – published by J. P. Segg & Co. of Regent Street in 1888, and claiming to be in its seventeenth year of publication.  What is even more unusual about it is its size – it’s usually a prerequisite of a guidebook that even if not fully pocketable it should at least be readily portable – but this is large (elephant octavo) – and it is heavy – elaborate cloth gilt over thick bevelled boards, all edges gilt, and 240 pages of creamy paper.

The text printed throughout in purple and gold, as if designed for visiting emperors, this is clearly a guide-book for those for whom travelling light would have been unthinkable.  We are in a world of indulgence, a world of footmen and flunkies.  Priced at a guinea – that’s over £100 in today’s terms, nearer £500 relative to average earnings – this is a guide-book for the rich and privileged.

Remington Standard Type-Writer 1888Beyond the polychromatic title-page, there are indices to the “business announcements” – advertisements for the exclusive from silk to champagne – Madame Clarisse of Park Lane for the “prettiest children’s dresses in London” and afternoon tea; Madame Kerswell of Grosvenor Street, court dressmaker; Litsica, Marx & Co. of the Strand for your cigarettes; E. M. Reilly & Co. of London and Paris for your guns and ammunition – and even that ultimate status symbol in 1888 –  an imported Remington type-writer – “No more writer’s cramp! No more round shoulders! No more late hours! No more delayed correspondence! No more illegible letters!” – sole London office, Wyckoff, Seamans & Benedict of Gracechurch Street (you would, of course, I imagine, have had a personal assistant to work it for you).

Madame LeckyThere follows a more or less standard piece on London and its principal thoroughfares and buildings, illustrated with purple wood-engravings – all routine enough, although the wildly idiosyncratic (and not wholly accurate) six-page timeline of London history had me smiling.  Then the commercial business of the guide really begins – editorial write-ups in glowing terms of the of the dozen or so “leading houses” (principally, but not exclusively, those who had paid out for a full-page advertisement) – Piesse & Lubin of New Bond Street for their exquisite perfumes; Mrs E. Billinghay Hart of Belgravia for her corsets; Messrs Barkentin & Krall of Regent Street (coincidentally occupying the ground floor of the publisher’s office) for gold and jewels; Arthur Tooth & Sons of the Haymarket for works of art; J. H. Dallmayer of Bloomsbury for telescopes, etc.

Ellen TerryNext comes a splendid “Album of Operatic, Dramatic, and Musical Celebrities” – fifteen portraits – Ellen Terry, Adelina Patti, Madame Albani, Lily Langtry, all the big stars of the day – backed up by pages of advertisements for the theatres. The railways feature next, but we are not talking here about day-trips to the seaside – the advertisements are for glamorous international travel – to Paris and beyond, via Dover and Calais; or by “the most picturesque route” via Newhaven, Dieppe or Rouen; or from Liverpool Street with the Great Eastern via Harwich and Antwerp or Rotterdam.  And not just by train, there are luxury steamships sailing to every port in the world. But we are still in London for the moment – and here are the best hotels: a double-page spread for the Langham; single pages for the Charing Cross Hotel (under entirely new management); the Westminster Palace; the South Kensington; Rawlings’s of Jermyn Street; Brown’s of Dover Street, and half a dozen more.

Advertisement for J. P. Segg & Co. 1888The final third of the book is a separate section on the “fashionable resorts” outside London – Brighton, Bournemouth, Eastbourne, Hastings and dozens more, interspersed with advertisements for palatial hotels across the country, but it is in the publisher’s own advertisements that we can see the reality of the publication: J. P. Segg & Co. ran a free postal advice service, perhaps something like a Victorian Trivago or TripAdvisor, but were also advertising contractors for the hotel trade – offering to undertake “the whole of their advertising – in journals, hotels, railway stations, etc., etc. Particulars on application”.

No surprise to find that Segg also published a parallel guide, virtually identical in format, called “The Hotels of Europe, America, Asia, Australasia & Africa : With Maps and Railway and Steamship Routes” – “a marvel of publishing skill and artistic beauty—nothing more can be said of it save that it stands unique” (Scots Magazine, 1st October 1894).  I shall return to the mysterious John Philip Segg in a moment, but a number of the wood-engraved illustrations are signed in the block as having been engraved by Henry Herbert, which takes us back to the earliest editions of both these guides, published back in the 1870s by that same Henry Herbert – Segg had only taken them over in the mid-1880s.

Lyceum TheatreThe earliest edition of the London guide was published by Herbert in 1872 under a slightly different title (“London. A Complete Guide to the Leading Hotels, Places of Amusement …”).  The dark green binding is less elaborate, but still richly gilt, the text slimmer at 180 pages, but the price and format are the same – each page with a charming chromolithographic border in gold and colours, the emphasis already on luxury and conspicuous consumption.  Despite the greater prominence given to hotels in the title, only seven are actually featured (with only the Langham appearing in both editions – fashions change fast in this world).  Herbert’s emphasis was rather more on the retail shops, with advertisements for silk, chandeliers, chronometers, damask table linen, portmanteaus, hats, jewellery, kid gloves, perfumes, cut-glass, ivory-backed brushes, merino socks, whips, cigars, carriages, oriental carpets, Elliott & Fry’s Talbotype Gallery for photography (with a specimen photograph of a simpering blonde), and boots and shoes “as worn by the Princess of Wales” from Gundry & Sons of Soho Square.

Anchor LineA number of the advertisements, including that placed by “The Graphic” magazine, address themselves particularly to American visitors – and Henry Herbert was himself running an “American Agency” – free advice on all matters from his office in Charterhouse Buildings and “goods of all descriptions purchased and shipped on moderate commission”.  The map of London was supplied by Edward Stanford and most of the illustrations of London buildings in the guide section are two-to-a-page steel engravings by J. T. Wood of the Strand (for whom see this earlier post).  They look a little untidy, out of place, and definitely outmoded in an otherwise slickly produced exercise in chromolithography and were soon abandoned in subsequent editions.

Henry HerbertWhether Henry Jacob Herbert (1838-1884) genuinely engraved his own replacement engravings I somehow doubt, although the signatures in the blocks are clear enough.  He had no background in engraving, or even in publishing.  He was the son of a comfortably-off Nottingham lace manufacturer and that was originally his own occupation until he left the family business at the age of twenty-five.  Now living in London, he was described somewhat nebulously as a manufacturer and foreign merchant in 1871, before he began his foray into top-end publishing the following year.  The London guide-book was followed by the international hotel guide in 1874, originally confined to the hotels of Europe.

Hoses of Parliament, engraved by Henry HerbertHerbert’s only other publication, as far as I can make out, was “Herbert’s Metropolitan Hand-Book for Railways, Tramways, Omnibuses, River Steamboats, and Cab Fares”, published from 1875 onwards, illustrated with maps from Bradshaw and Bartholomew, later becoming “Sights of London Illustrated: and Metropolitan Handbook for Railways”.  This was pitched at completely the opposite end of the market – a cheap and entirely pocketable guide to public transport – “This handbook will be of the greatest service … correct in detail, well arranged, and of a very handy size, whilst its moderate price brings it within the reach of nearly everyone, being as cheap an eighteenpennyworth of the kind as has ever been offered to the public” (Hampshire Advertiser, 20th February 1875).

Whether Herbert had judged the market correctly at either end of the spectrum, I rather doubt. All three of his publications seem to be inordinately scarce.  I imagine it was all financed on inherited money, but however that may be, time for Herbert was running out.  After several years of ill-health, medical complications, and radical surgery – by now also troubled with mounting business and financial worries – Herbert committed a painful and long-drawn-out suicide at his home in Sheen Park, Richmond, by drinking the best part a bottle of carbolic acid. A harrowing account of the inquest was published in the “Surrey Comet”, Saturday 12th January 1884.

Edwards' Royal Cambridge HotelPublication of the two large guides was then taken over by J. P. Segg & Co., which brought a puzzle, because I could find no trace of any real person of the name of John Philip Segg.  As it turned out, revealed in reports of a bankruptcy hearing in 1886, this was the trading name of one George Eustace Skliros, a Greek dentist who had been practicing in London since at least 1878.  Skliros had presumably overstretched himself in taking on and financing the guides, with premises in both Bouverie Street for the printing and Regent Street for the administration.  He had also just started a new publication called “Future Careers for our Sons and Daughters at Home and Abroad”.  The first part of that had appeared in late 1885, was very well received by the press, and had some distinguished writers, including the printer and journalist Emily Faithfull on “Employment for Women”. This appears not to have survived his bankruptcy, but the guides did and Skliros was soon released from his obligations and resumed their publication.


Queens Hotel, EastbourneQuite why a Greek dentist moved sideways into the field of luxury guide-books, I have no idea, because George Eustace Skliros took his dentistry very seriously.  He continued to practice in the Segg offices in Regent Street and as late as 1915 was sharing those offices with two other dentists.  He became the publisher of the “British Journal of Dental Science” for a number of years, and if we look at the other publications of J. P. Segg & Co. – this is what the imprint is best known for – they are all books on dentistry: Richard Denison Pedley’s “The Teeth of Pauper Children”, “The Diseases of Children’s Teeth”, and “The Hygiene of the Mouth”; Edmund Roughton’s “Oral Surgery” and “General Surgery and Pathology for Dentists”; Thomas Edward Constant’s “How to Give Gas. With a Detailed Description of the Apparatus Employed”; a translation of Nathaniel Feuer’s “The Relation between Affections of the Teeth and of the Eyes”; George Cunningham’s “Defective Personal Hygiene as it Affects the Teeth”; Harry Rose’s “Dental Mechanics” and “Vulcanite Work”; Sidney Spokes’ “The Care of the Teeth during School Life”, etc.

Skliros discontinued publishing the guide-books after 1903 – the final edition of the London guide in that year retains most of the earlier features, but the London section has contracted in favour of the other fashionable resorts, the crisp wood-engraved portraits of the celebrities have largely been replaced by not wholly satisfactory blurry photographs, and beyond the theatre and hotel advertising there is very little else. It was an era which had probably come to an end.

Skliros himself continued his agency work, becoming also a shipping agent and import-export wholesaler. In 1905 J. P. Segg & Co. won the contract to print the elaborate commemorative stamps for the following year’s Olympic Games in Athens – highly prized by philatelists, I believe.  Always in the vanguard of technology – Skliros had been one of the first men in London to own a telephone back in the 1880s – and in yet another inexplicable departure from dentistry, Skliros opened a “cinematograph theatre” in Rotherhithe – he got into trouble with the authorities in 1911 for showing films on a Sunday.

In 1916, he patented a device for alleviating back-pain – some kind of hot-water bottle strapped to the lower back – and there was also the curious case of the extortion trial at Marlborough Street in 1910, where Skliros stood accused of having tried to blackmail the former Greek Minister in London, Demetrius Metaxas, over some money alleged to be owing.  A trial perhaps most notable for the fact that Metaxas was represented by the brilliant and mercurial F. E. Smith – although even this greatest of barristers couldn’t get the charge to stick – but that is perhaps a story for another day.

Skliros remained registered as a dentist until 1920 and continued to be listed in London telephone directories until 1924, but then apparently returned to Greece, where he is reported to have died at Lefkas in or about 1932.  He had given his age as forty on the 1891 Census, but the same undocumented source for his death suggests that he may have been some ten years older. In either event, it was a life fully lived and we can be grateful to both him and his unfortunate predecessor, Henry Herbert – two unconventional outsiders – for preserving these glimpses into a forgotten world of Victorian opulence.

About Laurence Worms - Ash Rare Books

Laurence Worms has owned and run Ash Rare Books since 1971. He represented the antiquarian book trade on the (British) National Book Committee from 1993 to 2002 and has been six times an elected member of the Council of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association. He was largely responsible for drafting the Association’s Code of Good Practice first introduced in 1997 (and its recent update), served as Honorary Secretary of the Association from 1998 to 2001 and as President from 2011 to 2013. He is a former member of the Council of the Bibliographical Society and continues to serve on the Council of the London Topographical Society. He writes and lectures on various aspects of the history of the book and map trades, and has lectured at the universities of Cambridge, London, Reading and Sheffield, as well as at the Bibliographical Society, the Royal Geographical Society, the Warburg Institute, the National Library of Scotland and at Gresham College and Stationers' Hall. Published work includes the compilation of fourteen ‘lives’ for the “Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”, a number of articles for “The Oxford Companion to the Book” and the chapter on early English maps and atlases for the fourth volume of “The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain”. Essays on the British map trade are also appearing in “The History of Cartography” published by the University of Chicago Press. His long-awaited “British Map Engravers”, co-written with Ashley Baynton-Williams, was published to critical acclaim in 2011. He also contributed the numerous biographical notes to Peter Barber’s hugely successful “London : A History in Maps”, co-published by the British Library and the London Topographical Society in 2012.
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3 Responses to Victorian Opulence

  1. sharon gordon says:

    i have a similar book, in many ways, yet mine has the words RED STAR LINE on the front at the top. could this be the same book? printed at different times?


  2. sharon gordon says:

    my family would like to sell the book, can you suggest the best place to start?


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