Plotting Hidden Homeless Victorian-Age Labor

The words “transience” and “homelessness” reflect some of my emotions regarding an ongoing research and digital project I’ve been working on for about a year and a half. The digital map project, which I’ve tentatively titled “Hidden Labor: Illuminating Networks of Craftspeople in the Victorian Publishing Industry,” aims to locate laborers like printers, inkers and paper makers and plot them on a digital map platform.

In the course of reading several books about the evolution of British publishing, I became intrigued to learn more about how and where the materials needed to produce books and periodicals were sourced. While reading Lee Erickson’s The Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing, 1800-1850, I came across a passage that would set me on course to develop my digital map project:

Later, during the American civil war, when the Northern blockade of Southern ports effectively halted the export of cotton to textile mills in England, the price of paper rose, thus encouraging the development of new processes for making paper first from esparto grass and then from wood pulp, which effectively separated publishing from its link to the cotton and textile industries. (171)

As I kept reading, I waited for Erikson to delve deeper into my new pressing questions: which ports, what plantations producing what cotton, picked by which enslaved people, meant to supply which mill? And what of esparto grass – where was that from? Who discovered this technique, which made paper cheaper, disrupted entire industries, and impacted British literacy?

As a Victorian literature scholar, I’ve spent much time pouring over reproductions of fiction originally printed in the periodicals created by these craftspeople, using the raw materials about which I was reading, yet I’ve never stopped to consider what transnational, ecological, and marginalized labor issues may have factored into the production of the works I appreciated. Erikson’s words revealed to me how unmoored I was as a scholar, and how untethered these works were, in my mind, to the labor and environment that produced them. Surely, I had encountered the names of publishing houses, stationers, and typesetters, but obviously those detailed had flitted right out of my mind in favor of other literary details.

Consumed with a desire to see these people visualized, I set out to find answers to my questions. The answers proved surprisingly elusive. Specifics are scant and often unconfirmed. Addresses for printers in London operating at least until 1860 or at most 1880 are often imprecise.

In order to create a map for proof-of-concept purposes, I sourced data primarily from the British Book Trade Index and The Mills Archive. Though these databases are the best available for free online, many entries are missing complete data, and I excluded entries that were incomplete. Occasionally, I could verify the information from another source; for example, I was able to confirm the dates active for the Barford Mill courtesy of a website the reproduces Alan Crocker’s “Paper Mills in Headley & Bramshott” that was published in April 2001 in The Quarterly 38, Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians.

I am grateful for the details included in Alexis Weedon’s Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market 1836-1916, where I found my one customer/producer relationship. Finally, I was able to graphically represent one customer (George Bell, who took over Henry Bohn’s shop) and his relationship with stationer/papermaker with whom he worked, Spalding & Hodge, and the printers he used, William Clowes & Sons (the yellow triangle in the middle of London) (Wheedon 69). This golden triangle is exactly what I had hoped to find and create, to demonstrate the physical proximity between tradespeople who are engaged in commerce with each other: 

My current flawed map-in-progress is too homeless – I intend for a profoundly revised version of it (perhaps using a different mapping platform as well as better data) to be part of my dissertation. Now, an accessible version is parked on ESRI maps, because my professors without ArcGIS Pro couldn’t access the original map I created. My concerns regarding a home for my future map includes how to make this map available, accessible, easy-to-use, and clearly relevant to interested readers. Perhaps as I locate more of these hidden people, critical to the creation of the fiction I love, I will be able to situate my own work with a clearer purpose.


British Book Trade Index. University of Oxford, 2015,

Crocker, Alan. “Paper Mills in Headley & Bramshott.” The Quarterly 38, Journal of the British Association of Paper Historians, April 2001. Accessed 31 July 2018.

Erickson, Lee.  The Economy of Literary Form: English Literature and the Industrialization of Publishing, 1800-1850. Baltimore, 1996.

The Mills Archive. The Mills Archive Trust, 2018,

Weedon, Alexis. Victorian Publishing: The Economics of Book Production for a Mass Market 1836-1916. Routledge, 2003. ProQuest Ebook Central,


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