William Milner

William Milner was born in Halifax [October 1803], (possibly) the illegitimate son of Priscilla Milner.

He had little formal education.

He was apprenticed to Mr Taylor of Hebden Bridge.

He was a Halifax grocer and merchant and became a bookseller and publisher.

On 17th October 1814, he was attacked at Ainley Top as he returned from Huddersfield. Two men knocked him down and robbed him of 1/6d in silver and 1d in copper.

He published his first book in 1834 – the 1,128 page English bards & Scotch reviewers by Lord Byron. The early books were printed by Hartley & Walker and by Whitley & Booth.

In August 1836, he founded his publishing business and set up his own press at 40 Swine Market, publishing John Fielden's The Curse of the Factory System. His first manager was Joseph Vickerman. He moved to premises in Cheapside around 1844, and then to Upper George Yard and Commercial Street.

In 1858, he moved to new premises at Raglan Street, Halifax designed by Richard Horsfall.

He went on to publish his popular Cottage Library series of books which claimed to be the cheapest books in England, at one time printing 15,000 copies per day for sale at 6d or 1/- per copy.

In 1845, he published an edition of Burns poems with a small gilt bust of Burns on the spine. This was the first publisher to print a portrait of the author on the spine of a book.

He was a Radical and sympathised with the Chartists and aimed to provide working men with cheap editions of good books. In 18??, he sent a hearse from London to Halifax. The coffin was filled with copies of Feargus O'Connor's proscribed newspaper, the Northern Star. The hearse returned with copies of Milner's cheap reprints.

He travelled the country selling his books from a horse-drawn van.

His firm was in competition with the Nicholson family.

He married a widow – Mrs Mary Sowerby [1806-1???] from Bristol. She had 2 sons: Francis Robert and John Edwin.

William died at Francis Robert's home at Rhodes Street, Halifax. [29th November 1850].

He left the business to his stepsons. After his death, the firm continued as Milner & Sowerby.

In 1883, Milner & Company Limited was formed.

In 1950, on the centenary of his death, Penguin Books presented an exhibition of his work

See John Drake, Tommy Ramsden and Thomas Tiffany

© Malcolm Bull 2021
Revised 10:45 / 22nd December 2021 / 5516

Page Ref: X310

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