JKG History Page


John Kilby Green & the History of the Toy Theatre


Chapter 2 – John Kilby Green – The Early Years


Ayott St Peter (cut-LR)

(Ayot St Peter, as engraved by JK Green)




John Kilby Green was born on 15th April 1790, the son of James & Sarah Green of Ayot St Peter in rural Hertfordshire. He was christened on 2nd May 1790 at the church of St Peter, Ayot St Peter. Nothing more is known of his parents or whether he had any siblings. There were other Green’s living in the area, but as yet no definite link has been made to them. The picture above appears several times throughout JK Green’s works, so much so that it is believed that it depicts the family home in Ayot St Peter. The church seen in the background was the church of St Peter probably located near Ayot Place (the local manor) and was rebuilt in the mid 18th century with the church as an octagonal brick building and separate bell tower. The earlier church having been made of wood and fallen into decay. In 1862 the church was demolished and re-built again, but in the more traditional style, with aisles and a joined bell tower. On 10 July 1874 this church was struck by lightening and burnt to the ground. The current church was erected nearer the centre of the village and was designed by JP Seddon. This was a red brick affair with Bath stone dressings and a tiled roof, and consists of an apsidal chancel with organ chamber on the south side, nave, north porch and tower. There are six bells by Warner of London, 1875, the gift of Dr. Jephson of Leamington. The plate includes a silver chalice and paten of the time of Charles I. This latest church in a long line of St Peter’s is still in common use, despite the dwindling congregation. I have visited the village only once and then by car, but no sign of the small cottage could be found. Perhaps a more detailed walk around the village may yield more information.


(Click here to see the original entry in the parish register.)


Around 1804 from these rural beginnings, a 14-year-old JK Green came to London, in search of his fortune. He became apprenticed to Mr Simkins of Denmark Court, near the Strand and entered into the printing business. It seems a young age by today’s standards, to be setting out on his own, but in 1804 he would have been considerably older than street urchins of London, who begged and stole for a meagre existence. For the next five years or so Green learnt the trade of printing, from engraving to making quality prints from the engravings he had made. Unfortunately there are no known examples of his apprenticeship work.



The earliest know piece of Green’s work, comes in the form of Punch’s Show (seen below). There is no date, but it is believed to be around 1810. The piece of paper on which it appears was scissor cut on the left hand side, indicating a larger piece of paper. Perhaps there may have been instructions on how to build a model Punch & Judy Booth incorporating the disc. Taking the picture of the booth and the relative size of the disc I have made a replica of what it may have looked like. The disc rotates freely, but the disc must protrude outside the booth to achieve the proportions shown in the picture. Using the original print, the disc measures 9cm across and the finished booth is less than 15cm high.



I Green’s “Punch’s Show”


JKG Punch & Judy Booth Model1


A model of what the original piece may have looked like.

Perhaps the first toy theatre?



The British Museum holds a small collection of IK Green’s early works, most of which state that they were sold at “Wests Circulating Library, No13 Exeter Street, Strand”. William West was a haberdasher from Exeter Street, who was already a well-established producer of theatrical prints.



Drawn & Etched by I.K. Green

Sold at West Circulating Library, No 13 Exeter St, Strand


BM: Thomas Collection 168 (plain)






THIGH PROTECT                 CUT ONE



Published as the Act directs Nov 1st 1811 by I. K. GREEN

at WEST’S Circulating Library, 13 Exeter Street Strand

BM: Thomas Collection 168 (plain)




Sometime between 1810 and 1811 Green was commissioned to produce a few theatrical prints by William West. At first these prints would have been on a large scale, with a single image on a single sheet of paper, but JK Green had the idea to produce several small theatrical portraits on the same sheet, especially aimed at children. These were very similar to the “lottery prints” of the time. “Lottery prints” were crude attempts at comic book humour, but it appears that Green had the idea to create these with a theatrical content. He later claimed to be the “Original Inventor of Juvenile Theatrical Prints”, a claim that no one disputed.



The first known “Juvenile Theatrical Print”


If we look closer at the character in the top right hand corner of the print above (called Zany) and compare it with the same character that appears in the Punch & Judy disc, we can large similarities. The detail of the West print is a little more crude, with no shading, but the pose, positioning of the bells and the open box, if nothing else, lead us to conclude that they came from the same original.


Zany Comparison2-LR

Comparison between 1810 Punch & Judy Disc & 1811 W West first “Juvenile Theatrical Print”


William West, who was often thought of as the founder of the Juvenile Drama, admitted in an interview in 1850 to Henry Mayhew (a journalist of the time), that he felt considerable guilt in taking the idea from Green, but at the same time stated that Green’s speciality was copying and engraving rather than creating the artwork by himself.


(Click here to see a transcript of the original article).


JK Green had the idea, but he had no money or premises with which to fulfil his potential. William West in the meantime expanded on the idea of Green’s Juvenile Theatrical Prints and took them to the next logical level, that of the Juvenile Drama or Toy Theatre as it became commonly known. Subsequently Green found himself as a back street hack, etching out a living as best he could. Perhaps it grated with Green that West had stolen his idea and was making a handsome profit from his invention. Maybe he decided to use those copying skills, which West alluded to in his interview with Mayhew, to progress his career. As we will see Green acquired the reputation of being somewhat of a rogue when it came to copying his fellow publishers works.



The oldest known proscenium in existence was printed by IK Green, with an imprint date of 1st January 1812. The full imprint reads “Published as the Act directs, Jan 1st, 1812 by I. K. Green and sold by Burtenshaw at his Theatrical Military Historical and Comic Print Shop, No.130 St Martins Lane, London”.



(IK Green’s Original Proscenium from 1812)


Peter Baldwin, in his book “Toy Theatres of the World” suggests that a William West proscenium was created at roughly the same time. Until recently no known copy of West’s version was thought to exist in any museum or collection. However, West stated in his interview with Mayhew that “I turned out the first toy theayter for children as ever was got up for sale, and that was in the year 1813”. He claimed to be the first, but was a year later than Green, however the interview did take place some 37 years later, so his memory may not have been as accurate as it once was. It was highly likely that Green’s proscenium was a copy of West’s stage front. A recent visit to the British Museum and the “Ralph Thomas Collection” uncovered what appears to be the top section of the above proscenium. However, I believe this is not the same as the one pictured above. The detail is finer and leads me to consider that this cut section actually belonged to W West’s version of the same print. Leading me to conclude that Green’s version above was a copy of W West’s work. All prints I have seen before this date created by Green had W West’s Circulating Library as the publishing address. Can I conclude that this proscenium was the catalyst for the split between West & Green and the first known example of Green’s entry into plagiarism? I think so, moreover as we will see, virtually all of Green’s work after this work and before 1815 were mostly copies of West’s works. Some of which appear to have been taken from the original printing plates, with only the imprint changed, especially in the case of the two prints of Mr Kirby mentioned later.


Click here to see William West’s Proscenium Arch (British Museum Web-site)


H. Burtenshaw worked as IK Green’s agent on his first three plays as well, from his shop premises at No.130 St Martins Lane. In between time he created four plays of his own, “Voorn the Tiger (1812)”, “The Virgin of the Sun (1812)”, “Baghvan Ho (1812)” and an undated play, “The Golden Fish”, all of which were published around the same time by William West, so perhaps Burtenshaw’s productions were also copies. Plagiarism appears to have been rife in the production of the Juvenile Drama.


It was with the invention of the model proscenium that the toy theatre truly came of age. The first known play to have scenes was West’s “Timour the Tartar” with an imprint date of April 1812, but it is conceivable that plays with scenes were sold slightly earlier to accompany the first stage fronts.




IK Greens Clowns Positions PP-PB-LR

IK Green’s “Clown Positions”

(Courtesy of Peter Baldwin)


IK Greens Columbine Positions PP-PB-LR

IK Green’s “Columbine Positions”

(Courtesy of Peter Baldwin)



These predate any characters Green dedicated to a single play. Perhaps they were test pieces created for William West, although they clearly state at the bottom that they were for sale through H Burtenshaw. Below we see West’s 4th plate in “The White Cat”, dated here as 1st February 1825. It is strongly believed that this is a reprint of the 1811 version that West produced, so it would be a slightly earlier piece than Green’s “positions” pieces. So when we see two characters from Green’s “positions” pieces appearing on West’s “The White Cat” in opposite, we must assume that Green copied West.


The White Cat C04-PP-BP-LR

William West’s “The White Cat” 4th Plate

(Courtesy of Peter Baldwin)



I have taken the character on the bottom left “The Clown as Hazzar Officer” flipped it and super-imposed it over Green’s version, no re-scaling was required. The result is quite conclusive.


WWest vs IKGreen Clown as Huzzar Officer LR

“THE CLOWN as Huzzar Officer” William West’s version reversed & super-imposed over Green’s version.


As Green’s pieces were produced after West’s first print run of “The White Cat”, it would seem highly likely that Green copied West. This process of copying seems continue throughout the rest of IK Green early career as we will see from the plays Green produced.


Three more known works were published by IK Green around this time (BM: Thomas Collection 168).



Plate 2nd

Published as the Act Directs April 17th 1812 by I. K. GREEN

And sold by H. Burtneshaw 130 St Martins Lane and B. Perkins 40 Marshall Street Carnaby Market London



Plate 4

Published as the Act directs April 17th 1812 by I. K. GREEN

& Sold by B. Perkins 40 Marshall St Carnaby Mt.


Green’s New Theatrical Horses in Twelve Plates

Plate 1st


Published as the Act Directs April 18th 1812

By I.K. Green and Sold by H. Burtenshaw No 130 St Martins Lane




William West had already produced some 25 sets of characters before IK Green produced his first known publication. This was the “Secret Mine”. Both George Speaight and AE Wilson wrote that this was a copy of West’s work. I will explain their thinking thus:-



It would appear from the dates that IK Green was first to publish his rendition. AE Wilson argued that West probably released a second print run and this was the one seen in the British Museum. This is highly unlikely given the timings above. Did William West sell a complete print run, change the date on the plate and issue a second print run within a maximum of 13 days. I don’t think so.  The arguments from both Speaight & Wilson showed clearly that Green copied West’s rendition of the play, although he did so in such a manner through omission to show that it was not a direct copy but an interpretation of West’s plate. However there is one interesting point to observe in the example used by Wilson. He used the frontispiece for the play as a comparison. There is one major difference between Green’s and West’s examples that doesn’t appear to have been noticed before. The top left figure on both the original drawing and West’s finished article has the name of “Assab”, whereas Green has called him “Abbas”. I have tried in vain to establish which is the correct name, but I will keep searching. If it is “Abbas” then it would give Green some credit for doing his homework rather than just copying West, if however it a simple mistake, then it paints Green in a poorer light, in that it would mean that he didn’t check his work very thoroughly. The mistake by Green, if it was one, was a consistent one, because the same spelling is used on Plate 1 & Plate 2. Hodgson’s playbook for The Secret Mine has both, an Abbas and an Assab, so that doesn’t help.


Although the title plate indicate that three plates were used in IK Green’s “The Secret Mine”, only two are known to have survived (BM: Thomas Collection). As with his proscenium IK Green used H Burtenshaw of No.130 St Martins Lane to act as his selling agent.


PRINCIPAL CHARACTERS in the Grand spectacle called THE SECRET MINE

As performed at the Theatre Royal Covent Garden

In 3 Plates

Pl 1

ABBAS                      The Bridge                  ZOBEIDE

DIMDIM        Prison in the Rock       OFFICER of the Governors

LONDON. Published as the Act Directs May 1st 1812 by

IK. GREEN and sold by H. Burtenshaw No 130 St Martins Lane

(See AE Wilson’s book “A Penny Plain & Twopence Coloured” plate following Page 36)




Plate 2nd

HYDER                      The Mine                                             ABBAS

ARAXA                     Apartment in the Governor’s Palace               ZAPHYR

LONDON. Published as the Act Directs May 1st 1812

By I. K. GREEN and sold by H. Burtenshaw, No 130 St Martins Lane

(See G Speaight’s book “The English Toy Theatre” 1969 Page 36)

(Referenced as Plate 1 but is actually Plate 2)




William West published his version on 10th May 1812. I expect Green’s version was published a few days earlier. Again distributed through H Burtenshaw.


Although the title plate indicate that three plates were used in IK Green’s “Valentine & Orson”, only one is known to have survived (BM: Thomas Collection) thus:-


Principal Characters in VALENTINE and ORSON as Performed at the SURRY THEATRE

In 3 Plates

Plate 1st

HAUFRAY                EMPRESS BELISANTA                  BLANDIMAN

VALENTINE             ORSON                                              HENRY

Published as the Act Directs May [?] 1812 by I. K. Green and sold by

H. Burtenshaw No 130 St Martins Lane



“Harlequin Colossus” was another play taken from Covent Garden to the toy theatre. Again we see the same dating of imprints between West & Green as we saw with “The Secret Mine”:-



It is my belief that IK Green somehow saw the plates before publication and quickly made copies. This may account for the omissions, or the omissions may have been deliberate to show they were not direct copies. It is not known whether West’s or Green’s versions of the plays went on sale on the date shown on the imprint. If not then it would be easy for Green to put an earlier imprint date, even if they went on sale at a later date. If Green had some view of West’s plates before publication, this would make it all the easier for Green to put on the earlier date and publish as soon as he could and possibly even before West’s version was released, thereby adding credence to Green’s origination if any dispute occurred. “Harlequin Colossus” was distributed through agents Perkins & Burtenshaw.


Principal Characters in the SEVEN WONDERS of the World or Harlequin Colossus

In three Plates

Plate 1st

APOLLO                    HARLEQUIN                        CLOWN

RHODIAN PIRATE            SERVANT                   SCARAMOUCH

Published as the Act Directs July 2nd 1812 by I. K. GREEN

And sold by H. Burtenshaw 130 St Martins Lane

and B. Perkins 40 Marshall Street Carnaby Market London

(See AE Wilson’s book “A Penny Plain & Twopence Coloured” 2nd plate following Page 30)




The above three plays were followed by two Theatrical Portraits of Mr Kirby. Both were published on the 31st July 1812, the day before West published his own versions.


Mr KIRBY as CLOWN in the New Comic Pantomime of JACK & JILL or the Clowns Disasters as Performed at the


Published as the Act Directs by I. K. GREEN and sold by B. Perkins 40 Marshall St Carnaby Markett

July 31st 1812


Mr KIRBY as Lacquey in the New Comic Pantomime of JACK & JILL, or the Clowns Disasters


Published as the Act directs July 31st 1812 by I. K. GREEN

And Sold by H. Burtenshaw 130 St Martins Lane &

B. Perkins 40 Marshall St Carnaby Markett


Mr Kirby as Lacquey - C-NYPL

William West’s “Mr Kirby as Lacquey”, published one day after IK Green’s version.



“The Tiger Horde” was a joint effort between Green & G Slee of 5 Artillery Lane, Bishopsgate, perhaps this time no copying was required. Slee went on to form a partnership with Anderson between 1815 and 1825, after which time he set out on his own publishing halfpenny plays. In 1835 he packed up and sold his plates to Skelt, but none are known to exist with an imprint by Slee.



Shortly after the release of “Tiger Horde” Green disappeared. The reason for his disappearance is not yet known. Perhaps he was caught copying and was “persuaded” to leave the juvenile drama publishing business. Perhaps he went back to Ayot St Peter to run the family business. Perhaps to get away from any potential pursuers or the thought of going back to the family business he may have joined the army.


Something happened in 1814 to make JK Green “disappear”. There were no more plays by Green, either printed in London or anywhere else for that matter for many years to come.


The question of why he disappeared has vexed many toy theatre historians and enthusiasts alike. Perhaps he didn’t have the funds to establish himself, or perhaps he had to leave as I suggested earlier because he may have been caught copying and was threatened with exposure. This latter theory is taken further by AE Wilson in his book “A Penny Plain and Twopence Coloured” as he suggested that perhaps Green was transported for breach of copyright. Most others believed he joined the army.


The theory that he was transported for breach of copyright is possible, as we have already seen that copying the works of others was Green’s speciality. However, if this did happen, he must have worked his passage back from exile as he reappeared again in 1832. What is more his first few productions were copies including  “Douglas” from Dyer and “The Miller and His Men” from Lloyd. Having just got back from penal servitude, would he really start up by breaching his fellow publishers’ copyright and risk transportation again? It could be that it was Green’s only chance to get back into the juvenile drama industry. It may have been a risk he felt worth the taking. However I think this is unlikely for the fact that West makes no mention of Green’s transportation or even a trial in his interview with Mayhew. He mentions Green on many occasions but if Green had been prosecuted let alone transported for breach of copyright, it would most probably have been William West who pressed the charges against him. I think he would have made a point of mentioning that to Mayhew.


So, if transportation wasn’t the reason he disappeared, what other theories have been propounded. He may have returned to the family home in Ayot St Peter, in what at the time would have been rural Hertfordshire. It has always puzzled me why Green had gone to London and became a printers’ apprentice. Perhaps this was a family tradition or perhaps printing was the family trade. As yet nothing has been found to establish what JK Green’s fathers occupation was. Until this is resolved then returning to Ayot St Peter has always got to be a possible reason to explain Green’s disappearance years.


If the two previous reasons are doubtful then that leaves the most often conjectured reason for Green’s disappearance, that of his joining the army. To me this has to be the most likely reason. Firstly, in his second career from 1832 Green produced some of the best “military” plays. “The Battle of Waterloo”, “The Battle of Alma” and “The Battle of Balaclava and Inkerman”. If he served abroad, which is highly likely given Britain’s colonisation policy of the time, then he would have travelled by ship and this again might account for his fondness for sea faring melodramas with the likes of “ The Red Rover”, “Blackbeard the Pirate”, “The Flying Dutchman” and “Wapping Old Stairs”. The second reason why a military career was most likely was the appearance of a John Kilby Green in Oakham, Rutland in 1815. It has yet to be proved that this is the same John Kilby Green, but there are four reasons to believe it is.


  1. The timing fits, as the record I have found is of a marriage between a John Kilby Green to Sarah Halliday in Oakham, Rutland on 25th August 1815.


  1. The marriage entry was signed by John Kilby Green. A copy of the marriage entry can be seen HERE.




The flamboyant “K” in “Kilby” is quite distinctive, so this John Kilby Green could write and had a certain flare about him. Just the sort of person who could be an engraver, but we need to be sure this is our John Kilby Green. I am currently searching the original marriage records in south London (at the London Metropolitan Archives), in the hope that I may find one of JK Greens’ daughter’s marriages. Sarah was born in 1833, so would have been of marrying age by 1851, although, she appears to be only 14 at the time of the 1851 Census. So a marriage anywhere between 1851 and 1860 may give us JK Green’s signature as a witness. There was another female in the Green household in 1841. Susannah Green (Aged 11 and born outside Surrey). This may have been JK & Susannah’s (nee Dimmock) first child together, although Susannah (nee Dimmock) would have been very young at the time if so. On the 1841 Census Susannah (nee Dimmock) was only 25, allowing that the enumerator may have rounded down her age to the nearest multiple of 5 years, whereas he should have been rounding up. It could be possible that Susannah (nee Dimmock) was actually 29 at the time of the 1841 Census. This would make her just 18 around the time that Susannah (junior) would have been born. Unfortunately the 1841 Census doesn’t give the relationship of the individuals to the head of the household. It is quite possible that Susannah Green (junior) was not JK Green’s daughter at all, but maybe a niece or some other relation. It is conceivably possible that Susannah (junior) was daughter to JK Green and Sarah Halliday and that Sarah died shortly afterwards or possibly in childbirth. I find it strange that JK Green created over 1,000 printing plates, most of which still survive to this day and the many thousands of paper copies printed from the plates, but there is not one single example of JK Green’s own handwriting. There is of course, one other place where JK Green’s signature should appear and that is in the parish record for his own marriage to Susannah Dimmock. Unfortunately the marriage doesn’t appear to have taken place in Walworth, as searches in that area have so far produced no results. The marriage doesn’t appear on any currently available index to my knowledge, so the search for this marriage (if indeed a marriage did in fact take place) will be extremely difficult. I do know that JK Green was the informant to the birth registration of his daughter Clara in 1845. I am trying to find out if the original register that entry was made in still survives. If it does, then maybe his signature will be present there.


  1. Back in Rutland I have found a record of a son, John, baptised in Oakham in 1818. The father was listed as John Green, a soldier. This adds credence to the belief that this JK Green joined the army.


  1. Whilst scanning some of Redington’s Scraps, I came across the following sheet. It was almost certainly created by JK Green and the copy I have seen was a lithograph copy created by Redington. There are two pictures. One labelled Rutlandshire and one Hertfordshire. The Rutlandshire scene appears to be the same scene as Ayot St Peter shown at the beginning of this chapter. The Hertfordshire scene has a large hill in the background. I believe Redington labelled the scenes incorrectly. If I find a Green original, that will hopefully confirm my theory. So Green created a pair of scraps with a scene from Hertfordshire, his birth county and a scene from Rutlandshire. The only connection with Rutlandshire, must be that he visited that county. It is not conclusive proof, but it certainly adds to the increasing weight of evidence in support of the belief that the missing years were spent in Rutland and probably with the army.





The first incarnation of John Kilby Green appears in the form of IK Green in the period 1808 to 1814. In this time he supposedly produced the first “Juvenile Theatrical Print” and was one of the first to produce a proscenium and plays for the toy theatre.


The evidence strongly suggests that this IK Green and the later JK Green were one and the same person. There are six very good reasons that support this claim:-


  1. In the late 1700's and early 1800's the capital “J” was often written as “I” especially in Latin text, a text, which was a favourite of printers of the day.


  1. JK Green announces on his re-appearance in 1832 to be the "Original Inventor of Juvenile Theatrical Prints - established in 1808". It was printed on every sheet of his first two plays, Jonathan Bradford and Miller and his Men (both of one penny size) and subsequently on the frontispiece of the playbooks. No one disputed this claim. There was no other Green of prominence around 1808 to 1814, other than IK Green.


  1. The was no published account of IK Green’s work for William West, and up until the pronouncement made by JK Green in 1832, there was a strong belief that William West had invented all aspects of the toy theatre. So how did JK Green know that IK Green had any involvement in the earliest developments of the toy theatre? He must have known because he was IK Green.


  1. There are a great deal of similarities between the works of IK Green and early JK Green. Notably the fingers of the characters. IK Green characters mostly had pointed fingers and so did early JK Green characters. This is a similarity that doesn't appear commonly elsewhere.


  1. Both IK and JK Green were notorious plagiarists. It is my belief that IK Green disappeared for this very reason, to avoid exposure for breach of copyright.


  1. Both IK Green and JK Green always dated their works in full with their own address and/or names of agents and their addresses. Few other publishers did as much and even amongst those that did, there were many inconsistencies.


Any one of these reasons could be enough to convince, that IK Green was JK Green, but when all six reasons are put together, the evidence is conclusive. The only argument I can see for them being different persons would be if JK Green deliberately claimed to be the IK Green from 18 years earlier, when the former appeared on the scene in 1832 and saw an opportunity to use his surname to suggest he was the original inventor thus making it easier to establish himself. However I think point 3 above dispels this idea and I am convinced that IK Green and JK Green are one and the same person.



The search continues………….


Chapter 3 - Green & the Halfpenny Period


Return to JKG History Page