In Conversation with Wayne C. Ripley – Recording

Wayne C. Ripley discusses the importance of Blake's 'neighbour', stationer Stephen Horncastle, examining their overlapping networks.

Global Blake: In Conversation with Wayne C. Ripley - '"how dye do Neighbour": Stephen Horncastle in Relationship to Blake's Family, Neighbors, and Circle.

Despite living across the street from the Blake family for thirty years,[1] the stationer Stephen Horncastle has only been recognized as existing by Blake criticism since 2005.[2] This presentation will highlight key elements of Horncastle’s biography, his professional life, and his place in Blake’s social and commercial networks.

Horncastle and both of his wives originated in the roughly thirty-five-mile area between Walkeringham, Nottingham, where Blake’s mother Catherine was born, and Cudworth, Yorkshire, where her first husband Thomas Armitage was from. Significantly, Horncastle maintained a freehold estate in Campsall, Yorkshire, which he and his family visited often. This would suggest that the land of Catherine Blake’s birth was not as far from her in Soho as has been presumed.

Professionally, Horncastle was both a documented rag merchant for the papermaker James Watman Jr., and, as suspected by Mark Yates,[3] was a retailer and wholesaler of J. Whatman paper, which is substantiated by an advertisement I have found. Before and during his time on Broad Street, Horncastle also sold a few books, including Thomas Gurney’s shorthand manual, Brachygraphy (1750), which, coincidentally, was printed as engraved writing, with examples of the shorthand by Erasmus Darwin. Horncastle moved his stationary shop from 29 Broad Street to 85 New Bond Street around 1788, and after Horncastle’s death, the shop was inherited by his son William who maintained the shop until 1799.

Horncastle was a substantial leaseholder, and many of his tenants overlap with Blake’s own networks. Most significantly, these included William Fordyce (the brother of James Fordyce); the music publisher Robert Birchall (who employed James Parker); and the publisher William Clarke (who sold subscriptions to the unpublished second volume of Blake’s Night Thoughts project). As these figures, like Horncastle himself and members of his family, resided on or near New Bond Street, Horncastle reveals new dimensions of Blake’s relationship to the “bookscape”[4] of New Bond Street in the 1790s and perhaps offers a rationale as to why Blake would move to 17 South Molton Street shortly after his return from Felpham. 


[1] William Blake, eds. Martin Myrone and Amy Concannon (London: Tate, 2019), 204.

[2] Angus Whitehead, “A Reference to William Blake and James Parker, Printsellers, in Bailey’s British Directory (1785).” Notes and Queries 52.1 (2005): 32-35. G.E. Bentley, Jr., “William Blake and His Circle: A Checklist of Publications and Discoveries in 2005.” Blake / An Illustrated Quarterly 40.1 (summer 2006): 38.

[3] Mark Yates. “Illuminated Instruction: A Paratextual, Intertextual, and Iconotextual Study of William Blake.” Diss. Univ. Gent and Univ. Salford, Manchester, 2014, 27.

[4] Coined by James Raven, Bookscape: Geographies of Printing and Publishing in London before 1800 (London: British Library, 2014).


Wayne C. Ripley

Wayne C. Ripley currently serves as the bibliographer for Blake: An Illustrated Quarterly and The William Blake Archive. His current projects include a selected annotated bibliography, which will replace “Resources for Further Research,” currently available at the Blake Archive, and his book manuscript, “Where Spectres of the Dead Wander”: New Archival Findings on Blake, His Family, Neighbors, and Circle.