Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,098 pages of information and 233,633 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Beilby and Co

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Ralph Beilby (1743-1817), son of William and Mary Beilby, a silversmith, started by engraving in silver.

On the return of his brother, Richard, from Birmingham, he moved on to copper-engraving and seal-cutting.

After his father's business failed, Ralph moved to Gateshead and set up Beilby and Co.

Then a vacancy occurred in Newcastle for an engraving business and Ralph moved his business to Amen Corner.

1767 Thomas Bewick joined the Beilby workshop as an apprentice.

1768 the mathematician Charles Hutton commissioned Beilby to cut the geometrical figures on wood for his "Treatise on Mensuration". Apparently Beilby had little liking for the medium of wood and Hutton's commission was left to Bewick. Further commissions for engraving on wood then began to come in from north-country printers and tradesmen, giving scope to Bewick's skill in drawing animals.

At the end of his apprenticeship, Bewick left Beilby's. He travelled but, on his return, mutual friends persuaded them to form a partnership, which lasted for 20 years. While the general trade of the workshop continued to be in metal engraving and printing, the amount of wood-engraving increased, though it seldom amounted to more than 10 percent of any week's activity.

Ralph's own artistic work flourished through his collaboration with the historian John Brand.

1790 One of the most notable outputs of the collaboration of Beilby and Bewick was "A General History of Quadrupeds" on which work had started in 1781.

1798 Disagreement between Beilby and Bewick over the fourth edition of "A General History of Quadrupeds" led to the dissolution of the enterprise in January 1798.

Ralph set up a new business with his brother-in-law, James Hawthorne, which dealt in the production of watch-glasses and clockwork. Their premises were destroyed by fire in 1806 and subsequently rebuilt but shortly afterwards he took early retirement.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of the Beilby family, ODNB
  • Biography of Thomas Bewick, ODNB