Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bedford, Francis

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

BEDFORD, FRANCIS (1799–1883), bookbinder, was born at Paddington, London, on 18 June 1799. His father is believed to have been a courier attached to the establishment of George III. At an early age he was sent to a school in Yorkshire, and on his return to London his guardian, Henry Bower, of 38 Great Marlborough Street, apprenticed him in 1817 to a bookbinder named Haigh, in Poland Street, Oxford Street. Only a part of his time was served with Haigh, and in 1822 he was transferred to a binder named Finlay, also of Poland Street, with whom his indentures were completed. At the end of his apprenticeship he entered the workshop of one of the best bookbinders of the day, Charles Lewis [q. v.], of 35 Duke Street, St. James's, with whom he worked until the death of his employer, and subsequently managed thebusiness for Lewis's widow. It was during this period that Bedford's talent and industry attracted the notice of the Duke of Portland, who became not only one of his most liberal patrons, but also one of his staunchest and kindest friends. In 1841 Bedford, who had left Mrs. Lewis's establishment, entered into partnership with John Clarke of 61 Frith Street, Soho, who had a special reputation for binding books in tree-marbled calf. Clarke and Bedford carried on their business in Frith Street until 1850, when the partnership was dissolved. In 1851 Bedford went to the Cape of Good Hope for the benefit of his health, where he remained a considerable time, the expenses of his journey being defrayed by the Duke of Portland, and on his return to England he established himself in Blue Anchor Yard, York Street, Westminster. He afterwards added 91 York Street to his premises, and remained there until his death, which took place at his residence at Shepherd's Bush, Hammersmith, on 8 June 1883. Bedford was twice married, but had no children by either of his wives.

The work of Bedford is not excelled by that of any English bookbinder of his time. If not distinguished by much originality, it is always in good taste, and although it may not be quite equal in finish to that of the best of the contemporary French binders, for soundness and thoroughness it could not be surpassed. Bedford appreciated tall copies, and a book never came from his hands shorn of its margins. He was also a very skilful mender of damaged leaves. The number of volumes bound by him is very large, and for many years a continuous stream of beautiful bindings issued from his workshops, the great majority of which are now to be found on the shelves of the finest libraries of England and America. Many of his choicest productions are imitations of the work of the great French bookbinders of the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, and the bindings of Rogers's 'Poems' and 'Italy,' of which he bound several copies in morocco inlaid with coloured leathers and covered with delicate gold tooling in the style of Padeloup, are exquisite specimens of his skill. These two volumes have repeatedly realised upwards of one hundred guineas. Bedford himself considered that an edition of Dante, which he bound in brown morocco and tooled with a Grolier pattern, was his chef d'oeuvre, and wished it placed in his coffin ; but his request was not complied with, and it was sold at the sale of his books for 49l. He obtained prize medals at several of the great English and French exhibitions. His books were disposed of by Sotheby, Wilkinson, & Hodge, in March 1884, and realised 4,876l. 16s. 6d. Many of the best examples of his work were among them. In addition to his skill as a bookbinder, Bedford possessed much literary and bibliographical knowledge.

[Athenæum, 16 June 1883; The Bookbinder, i. 65; private information.]

W. Y. F.