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Thurnams - A 192 Year History
Thurnams - A 192 Year History
John Barrie and Peter Leslie
A history of Charles Thurnam who founded a "recirculating" library many years before the establishment of public libraries in the UK.
His company went on to become letterpress printers and newspaper publishers in the 1800s. Lasting until 2008 "Thurnams" were encompassing stationery, educational supplies, litho printing and even patent medicines.
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Paperback; 151 x 229mm
Some black and white photographs
Book review by Steve Matthews of Bookends.
Thurnams: 192 Year History by John Barrie and Peter Leslie. £9.00.
"On May 28th, 2008, the Directors called in Begbies Traynor of Leeds and placed the company into administration."
The Directors were the directors of Charles Thurnam and Son. After 192 years as a bookseller and printer to the city of Carlisle, Thurnams was forced to go into liquidation. It had been an honourable history, but the last years had been hard.
The shop in Lonsdale Street had been closed and the printing department had moved to Site 78 Kingstown.
There were unforeseen difficulties. The printing presses required three phase electricity, the mezzanine floor had to be removed and another floor reinforced, new computer equipment was needed and there was a huge bill of £30,000 for moving the equipment from Lonsdale Street to Kingstown.
"The move from Lonsdale Street to Kingstown wiped out all the money from the sale of the copier department. The cash flow which had been poor before the move, became perilous shortly after."
The business had been failing since the start of the millennium. The large retail shop in Lonsdale Street, poorly positioned and lacking investment in staff and training, had been showing serious losses. There had been heavy investment in the printing department, but it had failed to make money, and the copier department, after the loss of senior staff, had been limping along and losing customers in a highly competitive business.
It was all so very different from the early days two centuries ago when the young Charles Thurnam opened his bookshop and 'circulating' library at 5 English Street.
Charles Hutchinson Thurnam had been born in Edinburgh in 1796, the third son of an Edinburgh doctor, Timothy Thurnam, and his Carlisle-born wife, Dorathea Graham, herself the daughter of the eminent Carlisle surgeon, William Graham. The family came to live in Dalston, but shortly after Timothy Thurnam, who was serving as a army surgeon, was drowned when the ship carrying him to India sank. He was only twenty-eight.
Charles formed a partnership with a Mr Loder and on the 5th April, 1817, they were able to announce to the Carlisle public that "T & L beg to inform the ladies in particular that they have a library consisting of 1500 volumes among which are many new and popular novels hitherto unknown in this part."
Within two years, the young Charles was married. That marriage to Ann Graham solemnised at St Cuthbert's Church on 11th January, 1819, was to result in a dozen children, six boys and six girls.
The family business prospered. They came to advertise themselves as "Printers, Booksellers, Stationers, Carvers and Gilders" and they were also selling insurance and had a growing reputation for patent medicines.
They took on apprentices. One was William J Blacklock, one of Cumberland's finest ever artists, and another was George Routledge who went on to found one of Britain's leading publishing houses.
In 1835, they began publishing The Carlisle Patriot from offices at 8 Wilson's Court. Ten years later, the circulating library had increased to 15,000 volumes, ten times its original size.
In 1852, Charles Thurnam was dead at the age of 56. His wife Ann, with the aid of her two eldest sons, continued to run the business until her own death five years later. The two sons placed a notice in The Carlisle Patriot: "W.G. and J.G. Thurnam will in future conduct the business of their late mother under the firm of Charles Thurnam and Sons."
The business went from strength to strength. In 1858, they were selling pianofortes. William died suddenly at the age of 23 and James some years after when he was only 34. Other brothers took up the reins, but eventually, the firm passed into the sole control of Thomas Stordy.
Thurnam's history has been closely tied to the rising fortunes of Carlisle. The remarkable longevity of the business is a story in itself.
John Barrie and Peter Leslie worked for Thurnams for many years. No one is better placed to tell the story of this important Carlisle business.
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