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John Kilby Green & the History of the Toy Theatre


Chapter 3 – JK Green & the Halfpenny Period



From 1814 until 1832 no more records of JK Green have been found. In 1832 he turned up in Walworth, south of the Thames and engraving theatrical prints again. The reason why he came back is unknown, perhaps because his first wife had died, perhaps his military career had ended, if he had one, or perhaps the person who had “encouraged” JK Green to leave the printing world had ceased to be a threat. If he was in the army, his army pension may have given him the opportunity to set up in business again.



Whatever the cause for his return, he started to produce prints again. It must have annoyed JK Green, to think that others had taken his idea, but he wasted no time in claiming his rights. Clearly written on each for his first four plays was the claim: “(The Original Inventor)” This can be seen below, following the date on the imprint at the bottom of the sheet.



Green’s 1st Scene in Douglas – clearly showing (The Original Inventor) statement at the bottom of the sheet.


By 1836 he had dropped this claim, maybe he had thought he had got his point across or perhaps someone had objected, but nothing is known of any dispute. If there was a dispute then William West is the most likely person to have done so, but he made no mention of it in his interview with Henry Mayhew in 1850, quite the contrary, as West admitted, in his interview with Mayhew, that Green had created the first Juvenile Theatrical Prints for him.


 There were no more assertions to his claim, until he starting issuing his second type of playbook in the latter part of the 1850’s, coinciding with the death or William West in 1854. He wasn’t claiming to be the inventor of the Juvenile Theatre, just Juvenile Theatrical Prints.



Between his reappearance in 1832 and his death in 1860, JK Green became prolific in the production of the Juvenile Drama, with many different proscenium to make and over 50 different plays complete with characters and scenes. The first two plays he produced after his return “Jonathan Bradford” and “The Miller and His Men” were of the penny plain scale, but from 1834 onwards all his productions were of the half-penny scale. Including an 1835 re-run of “The Miller and His Men”.



JK Green was not a rich man and appears to have been particularly careful when it came to money matters. Unlike most of his fellow publishers who resided and sold their wares north of the Thames, JK Green set up in business south of the Thames in Walworth. Living in Walworth, Green was unlikely to make much profit from passing trade, so he sold virtually all his productions through agents. They would have taken a significant cut, but at least Green would have had a steady income. His overheads would have been lower by comparison to those north of the Thames, so it must have proved successful to a degree, as Green carried on his career in this fashion for the best part of 30 years. Green always dated his productions and put his address on every character and scene sheet. In 1834 he gave his address as 3 George Street, Walworth New Town. For the rest of his life he lived in the same area of London, but at another 5 locations.


28th July 1834

19th September 1836

3 George Street, Walworth New Town

26th December 1836

1st February 1838

33 Salisbury Place, Walworth New Town

1st April 1839

25th December 1842

34 Lambeth Square, New Cut, Lambeth

26th December 1843

26th December 1845

16 Park Place, Walworth

26th December 1846

5th April 1847

9 Therlow Place, East Street, Walworth (Note the spelling)

18th November 1851

29th February 1860

9 Thurlow Place, East Street, Walworth



In this second career most of Green’s productions were of the half-penny scale. Character sheets were engraved a fresh for each play, but a few scenes were re-used from earlier plays and the side wings were often re-used for many plays. We are fortunate that Green always labelled his sheets is such away that we can tell which sheet was used for which play.  We can also see which agents he used to sell his productions. John Redington of 208 Hoxton Old Town appears on virtually all sheets from the earliest, right up to Green’s penultimate play. From the play books we can determine that Redington became Green’s principal agent in 1851. Plates published before 1851 that have Redington’s name thereon, must have been amended after 1851 for a re-print.Redington’s name disappears from “Goody Goose”, Green’s last production and is replaced by G Harriss of 60 Bell Street, Edgeware Road, Marylebone. Although Redington’s name remains on some of the side wings used for “Goody Goose”, I suspect that Green was quite happy to add G Harriss’ name to the plates, but removing J Redington’s was a much larger exercise, so it was only new plates that didn’t have Redington’s name thereon. Harriss’ name appears on a great deal of the Side Wings, and some of the later plays. These details were obviously added to the sheets as the plays were reprinted.

(Here is the list of all “Half Penny” Plays sorted by publication day)


(Here is a list of all Green’s agents)


JK Green was one of the most prolific producers of the Juvenile Drama. Probably only William West, the Webbs & the Skelts produced more. From his re-appearance in 1832 he crafted 53 different plays. But, like his fellow Juvenile Drama publishers, JK Green was not a rich man. The use of second-hand plates and the re-use of his own plates give a good indication as to the wealth of JK Green as an engraver.


David Powell who has created an extensive catalogue of JK Green’s existing plates, writes:-

During the earliest part of his second career (1832-34), most of JK Green's surviving plates show signs of having been bought by him second hand and then re-used. The few surviving penny plates are engraved on the back of illustrations from encyclopaedias, fashion plates, and a Rowlandson comic sketch. The halfpenny plates (including many of the plates for Douglas) are on the back of the title page of sheet music (cut down, so the composer's name is missing) and some were large plates of Dutch landscapes divided up to make smaller plates. Some of them can be joined up to make a complete view (or at any rate a large view with bits missing here and there).


(Green’s “Douglas” Scene Plate No.3 clearly showing a previous use of the plate, with the Giant in the background)

During the major part of his career (1835-57), Green only occasionally re-used old plates. Some, and perhaps all, are his own discarded plates. There is no evidence that he resorted to buying second-hand plates after the very early years. The abortive version of plate 2 of characters in The Battle of Waterloo, as produced by the "E" engraver, had the replacement version etched on the back of it by the "N" engraver. A plate of four labels for Green's Conversation Cards is the only other thing that can definitely be associated with the publisher himself, but a similar plate of four labels for different types of pickles probably represents printing work undertaken by JK Green for outsiders, as do two plates of one label each for potted bloaters.

At the very end of his career (1857-60), Green's two last plays are mainly engraved on the back of what are taken to be some of his own publications (this on stylistic grounds, since there are no imprints): The Daughter of the Regiment appears on the back of all four suits of a pack of playing cards, and Goody Goose on the back of a series of valentines. In Marguerite Fawdry's time (late 1950’s and early 1960’s), impressions were taken from the four card-plates, though not very expertly, but I am not sure whether any of the valentines were ever done. Of the two categories of valentine recognised at this period, these are not "sentimental", but "comic" (in other words insulting and unpleasant). But that's the nineteenth century for you.

Green's practice seems to show him as strapped for cash at the beginning of his career, and thrifty but not desperate during the rest of it. How does it compare with that of other publishers? Park seems always to have used brand-new plates, and Redington nearly always so (but he did re-use a few of his Green plates, usually ones that could have been regarded as obsolete). I have not seen enough Skelt plates to be able to generalise, but those I have seen or read about show a surprisingly high proportion of second-hand items. (Either the Skelts were less prosperous than they appeared to be, or else they were unusually mean.)

All this could be worse. In the late mediaeval/Renaissance period, they used to engrave on both sides of a plate, and then scrape the first side smooth and use it a third time.

We know from his early years that he was a bit of rogue, in the copying the works of others, but this is a practice he continued to employ throughout the rest of his career. This is supported by his use of “stock scenes”.

David Powell, continues:-

Green's use of stock scenes is interesting. He employs them more enthusiastically than any other publisher, and, although he didn't invent the "bracket" system, he was the only publisher who used it consistently on all his plates. At the same time, his approach to stock scenes can be rather puzzling. Some plays are full of them, while at other times he takes the trouble to do a new cottage interior (for instance) when one could easily be supplied from stock. So one can't simply accuse him of meanness. I think the answer is partly to do with his copying from other publishers' work. His pirated plays tend to use lots of stock scenery, thus confining the piratical element to the characters as far as possible, while those of his plays which are his own original work tend to have plenty of new scenery. The absolute prize for the use of stock scenery goes to Tom Thumb, which does not have a single new plate of scenery or wings.

In order to make a living JK Green used his family as a “free” work force. Imagine the scene with the Green family sitting around the table everyday, each with a paintbrush and a pot of paint in front of them. The sheets would be handed out and the “tuppence colouring” would begin. The younger children would do the simple colouring, whereas the older children did the more intricate items. JK Green’s “free” work force, however were constantly aging. JK Green’s answer to this problem was to change their ages. On the 1851 Census, all the children lost a few years. Sarah was 12 when she should have been 17, John Kilby (junior) was 10, but he was born in 1836 and should have been 14. George was only 8, which meant he should not have been born at the time of the previous census, but on the 1841 Census he appeared as a 2 year old. We know from the addresses that both the 1841 & 1851 census returns are genuine and are definitely JK Green and his family. So why were the ages so different? It was common practice in the early 1800’s to name a newborn child after a deceased sibling and in fact this happened with John Kilby Green junior. As the one mentioned on the 1841 was definitely the second John Kilby Green born to JK Green and his wife Susannah (nee Dimmock), the first having died at the age of 4 months 11 days in 1835. But I do not believe this happened again, especially as both John Kilby (junior) and his sister Sarah were of an age on the 1851 census, that any possible newborn child so named, would have appeared on the 1841 census. So why did JK Green give false information to the Census Enumerator? It could have been a genuine mistake, but consider that John Kilby Green junior married in 1871 at the age of 29. This would put him as being born in 1842, some six years after his actual birth. He should have been 35. Either the forgetfulness about age was contagious in the Green family or John Kilby junior actually believed he was 29. With the absence of the birth record for another son called John Kilby Green around 1841 to 1843, the only explanation I can give for the latter is that JK Green actually deceived his own children as to their true age. Did he do this just so that he could keep his “free” work force producing “tuppence” coloured sheets? It was one thing to copy another person’s work or to deceive the Census Enumerator, but did he really go as far as to deceive his own children? If so then the occasional use of the term “rogue” which I used to describe some of JK Green’s antics may not be strong enough. Further researches at the London Records Offices may produce the answers, but in the meantime I am left thinking that producing a viable living from the “Juvenile Drama” was much harder than I first imagined.


Chapter 4 - Green's Artists & Engravers


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