One of the subjects of my dissertation is Henry Walker – an ironmonger turned preacher and pamphleteer who achieved a certain level of notoriety during the 1640s. If historians notice him today, it is mostly for his pamphlet war with the water-poet John Taylor, or for his move into newsbook editing during the late 1640s and 1650s.
Something he is less well-known for is the fact that he was an early pioneer of advertising. His newsbook Perfect Occurrences was one of the earliest newspapers in England to run adverts. In August 1649, Walker branched out with another entrepreneurial venture: an ‘Office of Entries’, which seems to have functioned as a mixture of financial agent, employment agency, and bulletin board.
Walker wasn’t the first to come up with the idea. In 1647, Samuel Hartlib presented to Parliament a tract setting out Considerations tending to the happy accomplishment of Englands reformation in church and state [EEBO]. Hartlib was an early proponent of open-access for information: he proposed a state-authorised place ‘whereunto all Men might freely come to give Information of the Commodities which they have to be imparted unto others’. The purpose was to be both commercial and educational – to allow trade in physical commodities but also information. It was to be split into two parts, an Office for Bodily Addresses and an Office for Spiritual Addresses. Hartlib and his circle pushed the idea further in 1648 in A further discoverie of the office of publick addresse for accommodations [EEBO].
Hartlib drew theoretical inspiration from the fictional Salomon’s House in Bacon’s New Atlantis of 1623, but they were also probably inspired by the Bureau d’Adresse established by Théophraste Renaudot in Paris in 1630. However, while Hartlib lobbied hard for his Office for several years, Walker seems to have been the first person in England to actually implement such a scheme. It is possible Walker was inspired directly by Hartlib or by his associates. For example, he seems to have had close links to Balthazar Gerbier, lecturing in Hebrew at Gerbier’s academy in Bethnal Green.
Walker’s Office charged a flat fee of 4d. to allow anyone to record their entry for the following purposes:
1. Whether he be to sell, let, mortgage. Lands, houses, leases, plate, jewels, chattells, goods, printed tickets
for public debts, and merchandise of all sorts whatsoever, or such as will disburse money upon such securities.
2. To be entertained as Gentlemen’s Chaplaines, Secretaries, Stuards etc. and also Gentlewomen nurses, servants etc.
3. To make known the time of their setting forth of any ships for what part they are bound and where passengers etc. may
repaire to the merchants or owners for commerce and contract. And so coaches etc.
4. In sum, whatsoever is made known to the publique by expensive way of Bills posted or otherwise may be speedily known for the said 4d. onely and no more charges.
The office was based at Fountain Court in King Street. This was a prime location just north of New Palace Yard outside the Houses of Parliament, at around the place where the HM Treasury buildings are located today at the south end of Whitehall. Below is a map from John Strype’s survey of London of 1720 with the location circled:
Here is a slightly more three-dimensional view from a 1658 map by Richard Newcourt:
This location would have put Walker in an excellent position to make the Office a hub for political and commercial information as grandees, MPs, merchants and petitioners passed to and from the City to Westminster.
A few weeks after the launch, Walker – ever the salesman – claimed all was going swimmingly:
There are many things now daily brought to the Enterance at the Fountain in Kings Street. All those who have tickets for publique faith monies or printed tickets for soldiers may be directed there where to have present monies for them. Divers that have lands or houses to sell or mortgage and others that buy come to the Enterance daily. And divers that have household stuffe to sell, also others that would lay jewels to pawn, gentlemen that want servants and servants that want places for any business it is but 4 pence the Enterance and doth much good in bringing the buyer and seller speedily together though with that small sum of 4 pence onely.
Walker’s journalistic rivals inevitably had fun with his idea. Here is a critique from the royalist newsbook The Man in the Moon:
Bee it known onto all men by these present. That a house of Entries is now- erected at Westminster where if any man want a Theefe to serve him, hee may there find their names and lodgings recorded and this for ease and benefit of the State. … Be it known also, that at Bednal Green Sir Balthazar Gerbier, a man that pretends to all arts and Sciences yet no more master of any than Henry Walker his great companion is of Hebrew opens the Academy (that is his store house of impertinences and nonsence) on Wed. the 29th inst. where all may be welcome (for their moneys) except only a friend of Sir John Danyers whom he suspects for stealing his jewels. I am loath to name the partie because of the neare relation that is betwixt them, but Henry Walker will tell you where some of the rings were sold in Foster Lane, and for how much if he bee not fee’d to hold his peace.
Quite what happened to Walker’s Office, I’m not sure. Walker seems to have had his finger in lots of pies during the 1650s: he was minister to at least one parish, carried on editing a number of newsbooks, and may have ended up as one of Cromwell’s gentlemen of the bedchamber. But the idea of an office caught on: in 1657 an Office of Public Advice was established with eight branches, with two journals also fulfilling similar functions. Later, institutions such as the Royal Society and the Royal Exchange would draw on similar themes about the sharing of information.