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A Ladybird history
In 1867 Henry Wills, a local businessman opened a bookshop in Loughborough Market Place, Leicester, England.

As well as selling books Henry managed a lending library in the local area, supplied office accessories, sold newspapers and magazines and for some time even acted as a travel agent.

By 1870 Loughborough was undergoing a transformation thanks to the inauguration of an adequate water supply.
The Angel Press was Wills & Hepworth's first commercial property
 
The Angel Press Print Room - 1890s
The Angel Press print room where Wills' Loughborough Almanac was printed
At this time Henry Wills was making a decent living, so much so that in 1873 he decided to expand his business into printing, first producing the Wills’ Loughborough Almanac, Trade Guide and Street Directory, at his newly bought premises, The Angel Press in Loughborough

These almanacs were printed from 1878 to 1941.
Henry Wills also undertook the contract to print the Loughborough Echo newspaper for it’s owner, Mr. Joseph Deakin.

The Wills’ Almanac contained a calendar, street directory, services information for the town and surrounding district, such as post office hours, collection times for mail, names and addresses of principal government and public service organizations, and advertisements from both national and local companies. In addition, these annual directories contained bought-in sections that contained short stories and jokes, together with a pot pourri of somewhat eclectic information.

In 1906 William Hepworth became a partner in the business and the new parnership was called Wills & Hepworth.

Hepworth was a local businessman with printing experience, as well as a long-time friend of Henry Wills.

Henry Wills died prior to the Great War and Hepworth decided to establish the company's own imprint for book publication purposes.

The very first Ladybird book, Bunnikin's Picnic party, was produced by a jobbing printer called Wills & Hepworth in 1940.

The company, based in Loughborough, Leicestershire, began to publish 'pure and healthy literature' for children, registering the Ladybird trademark in 1915.

These pre-1940s books would no longer be politically correct. In the ABC Picture Book, for example, 'A' stood for armoured train! See more on pre-1940 wills and Hepworth books

It is more than sixty years since the first familiar pocket-sized Ladybird saw it's birth. in 1940 Ladybird produced their first series which included such titles as Bunnikins Picnic Party, Smoke and Fluff, Piggly Palys Truant, Downy Duckling and several others. These were an instant hit with children, who enjoyed both the full colour illustrations and the stories about animals written in verse.

To find out about the different titles that Ladybird published, please have a look at our series page.

Money Matters!
For parents, the price was the thing that mattered - half a crown or 2'6 Net - Real value for money! A principle that Ladybird maintained throughout the years. The books stayed at this price for twenty-nine years.

Ladybird could sell each book at 2'6 Net because their 56 page standardised format, which was made from just one sheet size 40 inches by 30 inches, meant that quality books could be produced at a low cost. Up to 1965, the books also had dust-wrappers, but these were done away with to save further on production costs.

Growing Bigger
After World War II, Ladybird started to widen the subject matter of their books. They knew that school books, though often dull, always sold well, and so they decided to expand into educational non fiction.

Well known authors and artists were commissioned to write and illustrate books on nature, science, geography, history and religion. Presenter of radio's Children's Hour, Derek McCulloch, otherwise known as Uncle Mac, wrote the first of the factual books for Ladybird, beginning with In the Train with Uncle Mac and In the Country with Uncle Mac.

The first inkling of a possible global market came in the fifties, with the translation (into Swedish) of Child of the Temple. Ladybird books have now been translated into over sixty languages with Arabic sales accounting for a high proportion of sales.

Key Words Reading Scheme
Unprecedented success came in the 1960s. In the course of his research with a colleague, J McNally, William Murray had found that just 12 words make up 25% of all the words we speak.

This led to the launch of the world renowned Key Words Reading Scheme series by Ladybird in 1964. Nearly 40 years on, the scheme is still in print. The teaching method of these books seems to work, with children learning to read quickly and easily. Over 100 million copies have been sold round the world.

The Swinging Sixties
The Learnabout books of the 1960s helped children to develop new interests, but these books were not strictly read by children.

How it Works: The Motor Car
(1965) was used by Thames Valley police driving school as a general guide. Although out of print for some years, it is still asked for by some driving schools.

How it Works: The Computer
was used by university lecturers to make sure that students started at the same level. Two hundred copies of this same book were ordered by the Ministry of Defence. The MOD wanted the books to be bound in plain brown covers and without any copyright information, to save embarrassing their trainees!

Understanding Maps (1967) was eventually to be used to quickly train young army recruits before going into battle in the Falklands War, so you could say that Ladybird helped to win the war!

The Ladybird books from the 1960s were so popular they were even affectionately made fun off. Michael Crawford in 'Some Mothers Do Have 'Em' had a book called 'Learn to Fly with Ladybird'. And one noted politician asked in Parliament, 'Has the Right Honourable Member read the Ladybird Book on Politics?

Well Loved Tales

The 1960's saw the birth of one of Ladybird's most popular series - the Well Loved Tales, These were fairy tales such as Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Rapunzel, Princess and the Pea and Beauty and the Beast, to name but a few. Cinderella (1964), the first book of series 606d, was the only one to be issued with a dust wrapper as 1965 saw Ladybird doing away with dust wrapper, but producing matt pictorial boards instead.

Changes to Ladybird
In 1971 Wills & Hepworth became Ladybird Books. Just one year later, the company was taken over by the Pearson Group, who at that time also owned Longmans, the Financial Times and the Westminster Press.

Over the 1970s, Ladybird Books list grew to include both popular classics and the Read It Yourself series. Prince William apparently learned to read using these books.

1980s

With the 1980s, Ladybird broke away from now established tradition to produce many different formats. In the standard size, however, the Puddle Lane reading scheme for 3-6 year olds proved very popular. And the Charles and Diana wedding book in 1981- produced in five days and first on the streets - sold one and a half million copies.

Also in the 80's Ladybird starting using photography instead of illustrations in some of their books - for some reason these were not as popular as the more beautifully illustrated earlier books.

Collaboration with film studios and toymakers such as Lego also produced runaway bestsellers - Thomas the Tank Engine, Transformers and Masters of the Universe were among these too.

1990s

A very special occasion for Ladybird in 1990 was a visit by Diana, the Princess of Wales.

On her visit she started the run of a comemorative book for the Queen Mother on a new state-of-the-art printing machine recently acquired by Ladybird Books.

Lady Diana - The Princess of Wales visits Ladybird books - image copyrigh: John Muschialli
The Princess of Wales with some of the Ladybird staff during her visit in 1990
When Lady Diana died suddenly in 1997, Ladybird published a book in tribute which raised £64,000 for the Princess of Wales Memorial Fund.

Three methods of teaching reading are recognised by the National Curriculum: look and say, phonics and storytext.

In 1993 came an innovative baby range First Focus, which won a Gold Award for Under-2s. A later cloth book, Bouncy Lamb, won the Best Soft Toy Award. In 1996, Ladybird won prestigious awards in two very different areas - The Times Educational Supplement Schoolbook Award for Discovery, and the Best Pre-school Storybook Award from Parents Magazine.

Film and television companies now collaborate with Ladybird on high profile characters. The publishing partnership between Ladybird and Disney established in 1991 has proved a continuing success, with triumphs such as Tarzan, The Lion King, Toy Story and Winnie the Pooh.

In 1999, Ladybird became integrated into the Penguin Group and the printing site in Loughborough was closed down - read an article about this.

Now based in London with a small team in Nottingham, Ladybird continues to publish a wide variety of titles; from books for babies and toddlers, to reading schemes, home learning and National Curriculum titles, activity books, film tie-ins as well as classic and modern stories.

Visit Ladybird Books official website

Ladybird today
Today Ladybird are based in London with a small team in Nottingham. They continue to publish a wide variety of titles; from books for babies and toddlers, to reading schemes, home learning and National Curriculum titles, activity books, film tie-ins as well as classic and modern stories.

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Random fact

Presenter of radio's Children's Hour, Derek McCulloch, otherwise known as Uncle Mac, 'lent' his name to the first factual series of books - series 455.


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