Literary history was made in London 80 years ago this month – on 21st September, 1937 – when George Allen & Unwin Ltd published JRR Tolkien’s book, The Hobbit.
The initial print run of 1,500, which featured black and white illustrations and a dust jacket designed by Tolkien himself, had sold out by December. It was released in the US the following year and was subsequently republished in the UK was published in numerous new editions.
George Allen & Unwin, which was founded by George Allen in 1871 and became George Allen & Unwin when Stanley Unwin purchased a controlling interest in 1914, went on to publish Tolkien’s follow-up epic, The Lord of the Rings, in the 1950s after Unwin suggested a sequel based on the popularity of the first.
The publishing company, which also published the likes of everyone from Bertrand Russell to Roald Dahl, was based at Ruskin House in Museum Street in Bloomsbury at the time of the publication.
The company now lives on as an Australian company, Allen & Unwin Australia Pty Ltd.
• A new permanent gallery looking at how the Royal Navy shaped individual lives and the course of British history over the 18th century opens at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich on Monday 21st October, Trafalgar Day. Nelson, Navy, Nation charts a course from the Glorious Revolution of 1688 through to the defeat of Napoleon in 1815 and provides a setting for the museum’s many artefacts related to Vice-Admiral Lord Nelson. Among the 250 objects on display in the gallery are the uniform (with bullet hole) Nelson wore at the Battle of Trafalgar, artworks likes William Hogarth’s Captain Lord George Graham in his Cabin, a seven barreled volley gun and grim items like a surgeon’s tools including an amputation knife, bone saw and bullet forceps. There is also the last letter Nelson wrote to his daughter Horatia and mourning rings worn by close friends and family at his funeral. Entry to the new gallery is free. For more, see www.rmg.co.uk.
• The first major exhibition dedicated to the American-born artist James Abbott McNeill Whistler’s time in London between 1859 and his death in 1903 opened at the Dulwich Picture Gallery this week. An American in London: Whistler and the Thames features paintings, etchings and drawings produced by the artist and more than 70 objects related to Whistler’s depiction of the Thames and Victorian London. Highlights include Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge (1872/1873) and Brown and Silver: Old Battersea Bridge (1859-1863), the oil painting Wapping (1860-64) and the etching Rotherhithe (1860). There are also a series of portraits of Whistler and his patrons. Runs until 12th January. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.dulwichpicturegallery.org.uk.
• Composer Eric Coates has been honoured with the unveiling of an English Heritage blue plaque outside his former home at Chiltern Court in Baker Street. Coates, who created “some of the best known and loved pieces of English light orchestral music”, lived in a flat at the property between 1930-39. For more, see www.english-heritage.org.uk/discover/blue-plaques/.
• On Now: Picture This: Children’s Illustrated Classics. This exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library takes a look at 10 of the most iconic children’s books of the 20th century – from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory to The Wind in the Willows, Paddington Bear, Peter Pan and Wendy, and The Iron Man as well as Just So Stories, The Hobbit, The Borrowers, The Secret Garden and The Railway Children. On display is at least four illustrated editions or artworks of each title with Quentin Blake, Michael Foreman, Peggy Fortnum and Lauren Child among the artists whose works are being shown. The exhibition also features five specially filmed interviews with four illustrators and Paddington Bear author Michael Bond. Runs until 26th January. Entry is free. For more, see www.bl.uk.