|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
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
Henry Wills also undertook the contract
to print the Loughborough Echo newspaper for it’s owner,
Mr. Joseph Deakin.
|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.
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
The very first Ladybird book, Bunnikin's Picnic party,
was produced by a jobbing printer called Wills & Hepworth
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
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.
| 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
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 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
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!
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,
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
| 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
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.
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
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.
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.
|The Princess of Wales with some
of the Ladybird staff during her visit in 1990
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.
Ladybird Books official website
| 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
In 1878 Henry Wills started to print and sell his 'Wills' Loughborough Almanac, Trade Guide and Street Directory' - these would be printed up to 1941.