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About John Crockford
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John Crockford, publisher (?1823-1865) is best remembered for his association with the clerical directory that bears his name. He was the eldest child of a Somerset schoolmaster and his wife, John and Hannah Crockford; and by 1841 he was working as an attorney's clerk in Taunton, Somerset. By his early twenties he was in business as a printer and publisher at 29 Essex Street, Strand; and it was from that address that Crockford was first published in 1858. On 6 December of the same year, John Crockford moved to new business premises at 346 Strand and 19 Wellington Street North.

His private address at that time was 16 Oakley Square, Hampstead Road; though by 1865 he had moved to 10 Park Road, Haverstock Hill.

Business partnership of John Crockford & Edward William Cox

Crockford’s business association of more than two decades with Edward William Cox (1809-1879) had begun in 1843, when the Law Times first appeared. Both men are claimed as publisher – Crockford by Boase in Modern English Biography; Cox by the Athenaeum and by Notes and Queries. There is similar lack of agreement over other publications, such as the ill-fated Critic. “[Crockford] tried to establish a literary paper, the Critic. To this he brought all his great ability, but after fifteen years he gave it up in despair” (Notes and Queries): whereas the Dictionary of National Biography has it that Cox became “proprietor of ... two other papers called respectively The Critic and The Royal Exchange.”

The truth appears to be that the two men, who shared the same business address in Essex Street, were joint founders of a number of projects. Cox – the elder, more established and richer man – was often the financier and named publisher, with Crockford as the manager of the undertaking. Each had his own specialities: Cox, called to the bar in 1843, and successively Recorder of Helston & Falmouth (1857-1868) and of Portsmouth (1868-1879) was no doubt the leader in the establishment of the Law Times, to which, in the Dictionary of National Biography’s words, he “thenceforth devoted ... the larger portion of his time and attention.” But the legend which has arisen that Cox, restrained by professional ethics from using his own name, chose, almost at random, the name of one of his clerks to bear the title of his new clerical directory in 1858 – thus, in the words of the first postwar editor (probably Newman) bestowing “a more than tomb-stone meed of remembrance” – cannot be substantiated. As the jubilee account of the Field notes, Crockford was an equal partner in the success of the joint enterprises: “It was John Crockford who purchased the paper for Mr Cox. He obtained it from Mr Benjamin Webster for a trifling sum ... In a short time the net profits amounted to £20,000. a year. The management was placed under Crockford’s control. He was a splendid man of business” (Notes and Queries).

The Clerical Directory

The first Clerical Directory (1858), “A Biographical and Statistical Book of Reference for facts relating to the clergy and the Church”, seems to have been assembled in a very haphazard fashion, with names added “as fast as they could be obtained”, out of alphabetical order and with an unreliable index. By 1860 the Directory had become a very much more useful work of reference; and by 1917, with the absorption of its only serious rival, the Clergy List, reigned supreme.

Personal history of John Crockford

No more than glimpses survive of Crockford’s personality, and those mostly from the account of him given by John C. Francis, in the Field jubilee article already referred to. “I had occasion to call upon him a short time before his death, when we joined in a hearty laugh over his former furious attacks upon the Athenaeum. ‘Dilke’s Drag’ he used to call it, and would accuse it of ‘vulgar insolence and coxcombry’ and ‘the coarsest vulgarity’. As we parted he said, ‘You have the Athenaeum to be proud of, and we have the Field.’ ”

John Crockford died suddenly at his home on 13 January 1865, at the age of 41. He left a widow, Annie (née Ellam) whom he married on 24 December 1847 at St Pancras Old Church. A daughter, Florence Annie, was born in St Pancras in 1852.  (Florence married Arthur Brownlow in 1875 and had a son called Frederick). His very brief will, proved 6 February 1865 at the Principal Probate Registry, left everything to his widow. His personal effects were valued at less than £1,000, but the family must have lived in some style, since one of the witnesses to the will was the resident coachman. Crockford's widow moved to 4 Upper Eton Place, Tavistock Hill, and died there on 26 July 1868.

By Brenda Hough


(Source: A request from the Dictionary of National Biography for a notice of the life of John Crockford led to the preparation of this article, a shorter version of which appeared in The Dictionary of National Biography: Missing Persons, 1993.) For the information from the 1841 Census, and the record of Crockford's daughter Florence, we are indebted to Mr Ken Rhoades, of Kent.

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