SMITHIES, Thomas Bywater (Editor, “British Workman”)

Thomas Bywater Smithies (1817-1883) embarked on a career in periodical publishing in his spare time. By day he worked as the manager of the Gutta Percha Company in London.1Gutta percha is a natural, latex-like material that comes from the sap of the gutta percha tree. It the nineteenth-century it was used in a variety of applications where plastic would be used today. One of its most important applications was as insulation for undersea telegraph cables. Outside of business hours, he edited on the British Workman (1855-1921), the Band of Hope Review (1851-1937), and several other Temperance publications. Correspondence columns in early issues of the British Workman regularly said that the editor was too busy with other business responsibilities to respond to reader letters. It was not until the British Workman became self-supporting that he left his “day job.” At that point he devoted himself entirely to editing periodicals and promoting various social and religious causes out of an office shared with his publishers, S.W. Partridge and Co.

Periodicals edited by Smithies are visually compelling because he believed that “the people must have pictures, and the pictures must be good.”2G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. 49.Internet Archive. 

Photograph of T.B. Smithies from B. Stringer Rowe. "T.B. Smithies (Editor of 'The British Workman')." London: T. Woolmer, 1884. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/stream/tbsmithieseditor00rowe.
Photograph of T.B. Smithies from B. Stringer Rowe. “T.B. Smithies (Editor of ‘The British Workman’).” London: T. Woolmer, 1884. Internet Archive.

Born in York, Smithies started work at the age of sixteen in the offices of the Yorkshire Fire and Life Insurance Company. In his spare time he taught Sunday school and became active in the Temperance movement. He became teetotal at the age of twenty. Smithies moved to London in 1849 to take a job as the manager of the Gutta Percha Company. That same year, after his father’s death, his mother and five sisters joined him in London. Smithies’ mother, Catherine, was also active in a variety of social, Temperance, and religious causes. She founded the Band of Mercy, a children’s organisation devoted to animal welfare, as an analogue to the Temperance movement’s Bands of Hope. Catherine’s interest in animals and her influence on her son’s work is evident in the number of animals found in the pages of the British Workman.

Thomas Smithies wrote his first publication, a Temperance pamphlet, in 1850. In January 1851 he started his first periodical, a Temperance monthly for children called the Band of Hope Review (1851-1937). The British Workman followed in 1855. The rich visual style of both publications were inspired by Smithies’ experience as a Sunday school teacher.

Smithies had “great faith in pictures for popular teaching, and was always on the look-out for rare specimens as were then issued from the press at a cheap rate, but still never satisfied; ever longing for something better, and wondering much how it might be secured.”3G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. Internet Archive.  16.

In the early years of Smithies’ editorial career, compelling images were used alongside “scissors and paste” content selected and reproduced from other publications.

According to Peter Mounty, the British Workman was where “the ‘scissors and paste’ editorial method learned on the Band of Hope Review developed into a fine art. Religious Tract Society material and Cash’s handbills were heavily used, as was Scripture for collections of texts with a theme, and decorated full-page texts ‘for cottage walls.’ … Each issue is a complete entity, a carefully-dressed shop window of Smithies’ values.”4Peter Roger Mountjoy. “Thomas Bywater Smithies, Editor of the British Workman.” Victorian Periodicals Review 18.2 (Summer 1985): 46-56, at 47-48. JSTOR. 19 July 2016.

The reliance on “scissors and paste” content decreased somewhat over time, although it never completely disappeared. During his editorial career, Smithies worked on a wide range of periodicals in addition to the British Workman and the Band of Hope Review, including: Band of Mercy Advocate (1879-1934), and Weekly Welcome (1875-1879). He also took over and restructured several publications acquired from other publishers, such Friendly Visirtor (1819-1912), Children’s Friend (1824-1930) and Servant’s Magazine (1819-1912).

In his biography of Smithies Rowe writes, “the large whole-page pictures upon the front of both periodicals [Band of Hope Review and British Workman] not only carried delight and knowledge into many humble homes, but excited the admiration of critics who had but little sympathy with the objects for which they were set forth. These papers were circulated all over the world; and, as time went on, the editor’s heart was made glad by thankful testimonies to their usefulness reaching him, again and again, from far-off lands.”5G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. 52-53. Internet Archive. 

Smithies’ efforts to promote Temperance and the periodicals that he edited brought him into contact with a number of nineteenth-century artists, writers, and social reformers, including Charles Dickens, George Cruikshank, Angela Burdett-Coutts, and Lord Shaftesbury. Clearly, Smithies understood the importance of associating his causes and publications with celebrity. In 1856 he sent free copies of the British Workman to Florence Nightingale. This marketing effort is highlighted both in an illustration in issue number 15 and a thank-you letter from Nightingale in issue number 18. At the same time, he called on friends and Temperance associates like George Cruikshank, Harrison Weir, and Henry Anelay to contribute images, which gave him access to the high-quality images that he always desired and which may have not been attainable without his social connections. As Simon Cooke notes, “Though there is no surviving documentation in the form of letters or business records, it is rumoured that [Smithies] was personally acquainted with ‘his’  artists and engravers, persuading them to do the bold and imposing work that contributed to the magazine’s success….”6Simon Cooke, “The British Workman‘s Illustrations.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/bw/cooke2.html. Cooke goes on to say that Smithies was a very hands-on editor, inspecting all illustration blocks and signing them once he approved them for print.

British Workman 1.15 (1856): 60.

 

Thomas Smithies died of heart disease at the age of sixty-seven on 20 July 1883. He is buried at Abney Park cemetery.

 

Additional Reading

Simon Cooke, “The Band of Hope Review.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/bandofhope.html.

Simon Cooke, “The British Workman‘s Illustrations.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/bw/cooke2.html.

Peter Roger Mountjoy. “Thomas Bywater Smithies, Editor of the British Workman.” Victorian Periodicals Review 18.2 (Summer 1985): 46-56. JSTOR. 19 July 2016.

Frank Murray. “Thomas Bywater Smithies (1817-1883),” In Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Online ed. Ed. H.C.G. Matthew and Brian Harrison. Oxford: OUP, 2004. Online ed. edited by David Cannadine. May 2014. http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/74113 (accessed July 19, 2016).

G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. Internet Archive. https://archive.org/stream/tbsmithieseditor00rowe.

G. Stringer Rowe. “Thomas Bywater Smithies.” Wesleyan-Methodist Magazine (March 1884): 161-70. ProQuest British Periodicals.


BLT19: AMH

Works Cited   [ + ]

1. Gutta percha is a natural, latex-like material that comes from the sap of the gutta percha tree. It the nineteenth-century it was used in a variety of applications where plastic would be used today. One of its most important applications was as insulation for undersea telegraph cables.
2. G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. 49.Internet Archive. 
3. G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. Internet Archive.  16.
4. Peter Roger Mountjoy. “Thomas Bywater Smithies, Editor of the British Workman.” Victorian Periodicals Review 18.2 (Summer 1985): 46-56, at 47-48. JSTOR. 19 July 2016.
5. G. Stringer Rowe. T.B. Smithies: A Memoir (Editor of The British Workman‘). London: T. Woolmer, 1884. 52-53. Internet Archive. 
6. Simon Cooke, “The British Workman‘s Illustrations.” The Victorian Web. http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/bw/cooke2.html.