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Witherby's advertising material being boxed

​Witherbys Advertising material

Putting Pen to Paper - a City of London stationer's legacy: archives of Witherbys, stationers and printers

London Metropolitan Archives has a renowned collection of business archives dating back to the late fifteenth century. One recently catalogued addition is the archives of Witherbys Limited, a firm of stationers and printers which can trace its establishment back to 1740 in the City of London. The collection makes a significant addition to LMA's City of London-based business holdings and growing number of collections relating to stationers, printers and publishing. Richard Wiltshire and Sally Bevan explore further. 


Witherbys was founded in 1740 by Thomas Witherby (1719-1797), stationer. He began by manuscript copying documents brought to him by solicitors relating to property leases, wills and marriage settlements, and also producing pro forma articles of agreement, bonds and other documents relating to insurance and shipping required by merchants, ship owners and their captains. Many of these latter transactions were carried out in coffee houses including the Sword Blade coffee house in Exchange Alley which was burnt to the ground in 1748 together with Thomas Witherby's premises next door. Witherby signed a new lease for a 'new built brick messuage' at 9 Birchin Lane in 1749 where the business remained until 1873.

In 1767 Thomas was elected to the Common Council of the City of London Corporation representing Langbourn Ward. In 1779 the firm became Witherby and Son, and later Witherby and Company becoming a registered limited company as Witherby and Company Limited 1935 which acted as parent for subsidiary companies. These subsidiaries included H G and G Witherby Limited, publishers specialising in books on British birds reflecting Harry Forbes Witherby's interest in ornithology. Publications included the monthly magazine 'British Birds' launched in 1907 and printed at Witherbys Holborn works. The firm also diversified its product range from account books and envelopes to 'Witherbys Magnetic Pen' patented in 1898 and 'Witherbys Universal Automatic Gum Bottle'.

Successive acquisitions (including Bean, Weobley and Company in 1925, and Drake, Driver and Leaver Limited in 1954), and the expansion of the printing business, led the firm to settle at specially built premises for modernised printing production techniques at 32-36 Aylesbury Street, Islington in 1965. It was only in 2009, after its publishing arm merged in 2008 with Scottish-based Seamanship International Limited, that Witherbys moved to Tottenham Hale. The Witherby family continued their involvement in the company until David Witherby resigned as director of Witherbys Limited in 2012. The company specialises in Witherbys Lithoflow printing including brochures for LMA, and for museums and galleries.


The records (catalogue reference LMA/4682) include partnership deeds, minutes, liquidation papers concerning acquisitions; and balance sheets, journals, ledgers and account books (the earliest being a customer journal from 1757). A highlight is Thomas Witherby's Precedent Book containing pro forma specimen court documents and forms written in his hand intended for the guidance of his staff of law writers. Staff records include lists of named employees, salaries books, a First World War memorial list 1914-1918, advisory and welfare committee minutes (1948-1951), and annual outings booklets and photographs. There are also premises deeds, inventories and other papers, advertising leaflets, and Anthony Witherby's extensive family and business history research with family trees and contemporary note books and memoirs by family members. 'Witherby & Co. A brief history of a family company 1740-1990' was written by Anthony Witherby and published by the firm in 1990.

Witherbys was featured in the television series Who Do You Think You Are? (series 10, episode 5) when Gary Lineker, footballer and sports commentator, was filmed at Witherbys viewing a document signed by his ancestor Thomas Billingham, one of the firm's clerks; the item is now held at LMA.

The archive is available to consult at LMA. Further details can be found via on LMA's online catalogue using the reference LMA/4682.

14 January 2015
Last Modified:
27 September 2018