Arise Sir Duckworth
7-year-old Virginia Woolf, Gerald Duckworth’s half-sister, composes an account of the Duckworth name – One day when William Rufus was hunting in the New Forest he shot a duck. It fell into the middle of a pond and could not be recovered; but an active little page boy waded out into the water and recovered the bird. The King drew his sword and dubbed the lad, saying ‘Arise, Sir Duckworth! For surely thou art worth many ducks.’
Duckworth is founded
27-year-old Gerald Duckworth founds his publishing imprint, acquiring 3 Henrietta Street, Covent Garden as the office. He is joined shortly after by literary advisor Edward Garnett and sales manager Jonathan Cape, among others.
Early authors include Hilaire Belloc, Virginia Woolf, W.H. Hudson, Elinor Glyn, Anton Chekhov, D.H. Lawrence, Henry James, W. Heath Robinson.
D.H. Lawrence writes of his royalties: ‘this morning Duckworth sent me £50 in notes – the angel! We are both bursting with joy’. The following year Duckworth publishes his Sons and Lovers.
Authors published include John Galsworthy, Anthony Powell, Edith Sitwell. The 1,158-page The Plays of John Galsworthy sells over 100,000 copies. Anthony Powell works at Duckworth during 1926-36, alluding to life at Henrietta Street in his novel What’s Become of Waring.
The firm passes on
Gerald Duckworth dies while on holiday in Milan. The next year Mervyn Horder and Patrick Crichton-Smith take over Duckworth, now heavily indebted following a 1930s slump.
A wartime bomb destroys Duckworth’s entire stock of unbound sheets, 400,000 copies in total.
Published authors include Evelyn Waugh, Charlotte Mew, Simone de Beauvoir.
Enter Colin Haycraft
Colin Haycraft (with Tim Simon, who died two years later) acquires control of Duckworth. Haycraft takes to communicating with authors on a postcard featuring a duck upside down in a pond. Oliver Sacks later wrote of Haycraft’s editing: ‘I never felt [Colin] as intrusive; I felt rather, that I had been guided to myself, to defining more exactly, what I needed and wanted to say.'
Alfred Hitchock films Frenzy in Duckworth’s office at 3 Henrietta Street. Hitchcock installs himself in an open white Rolls-Royce in the street below to direct scenes.
The Old Piano Factory
Duckworth sells 3 Henrietta Street to move to the Old Piano Factory in Camden. A Hampstead bookseller recalled life in the new office: ‘Beryl Bainbridge was sitting scribbling away, Mervyn was reading, close to a piano. A packer was packing. Colin was looking learned as always… I said, ‘Give us a tune, Mervyn.’ Mervyn leaped to the piano, Beryl joined him and they played and sang a Victorian ballad’
Authors published include Oliver Sacks, Beryl Bainbridge, Ogden Nash, Penelope Fitzgerald, Dorothy Parker, Alice Thomas Ellis, Jeffrey Bernard. Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat is reviewed as ‘enthralling: no higher praise is possible’.
Anna Haycraft joins the board, and builds a fiction list of female writers, publishing the work of Beryl Bainbridge, as well as her own novels as Alice Thomas Ellis.
Neglected finances lead Duckworth to seek new investment from a series of private backers. One significant investment is made by the Joseph Rowntree Trust, only for much of it to be used by Colin Haycraft shortly after for the purchase of a new office in Hoxton Square. Investor relations deteriorate, to the point of Haycraft briefly being sacked the following year; before regaining control.
The academic division
Duckworth acquires the academic Bristol Classical Press, though only after Duckworth’s offer is found to have been languishing in Haycraft’s out-tray for a week.
Colin Haycraft dies, and Stephen Hill arranges another re-financing of the company, with Deborah Blake and Robin Baird-Smith as publishing directors.
Authors published include John Bayley, writing of his wife Iris Murdoch, and Beryl Bainbridge. Bainbridge is shortlisted for the Booker Prize for a record fourth time, with her historical fiction novel Every Man for Himself which sells 120,000 copies.
On its 100th anniversary, the firm moves to new offices at Frith Street, Soho.
The Night of the Duck
Duckworth launches a venture of book-to-film projects, named Duckworth Literary Editions. To mark the new venture and anniversary, a launch party, ‘The Night of the Duck’, is held at a cost of £100,000.
Peter Mayer steps in
After Duckworth Literary Editions fails to take off, former Penguin CEO Peter Mayer buys Duckworth out of the brink of collapse, and moves operations first to Cowcross Street, Farringdon, then to Calvin Street, Shoreditch. The annual Duckworth party becomes a fixture again on the publishing scene.
Authors published include Ray Kurzweil, Julia Child, Suzanne Fagence Cooper, James Macmanus, J.J. Connolly, Max Brooks.
Divestment of the academic side
The firm sells its academic division, including Bristol Classical Press, to Bloomsbury Publishing.
Move to Richmond
Peter Mayer dies, and Duckworth joins Prelude Books, led by Pete Duncan and Matt Casbourne. The firm moves to new offices in Richmond-upon-Thames; close to Hogarth House where Virginia Woolf had once set up her own publishing imprint, having had her earliest books published by Gerald Duckworth.