Bowes & Bowes – Archive and Library

Reference: BAB / WHS BOWES & BOWES COLLECTIONDate: 1843-1972Extent: 235 items

Bowes & Bowes was a publisher and bookseller that operated at 1 Trinity Street, Cambridge. The location is one of the oldest continually inhabited bookshops in Britain, and the tradition of bookselling at this address dates back to at least 1581, if not earlier.

The history of Bowes & Bowes is intertwined with that of Macmillan & Co. In 1846, Robert Bowes was sent from Scotland to apprentice under his uncles, Daniel and Alexander Macmillan, at their business in Cambridge. Their company, Macmillan & Co, a publishing and bookselling firm, outgrew its Cambridge location, and Alexander Macmillan opened up a branch in London in 1858. The Cambridge shop remained the firm’s headquarters until 1863, when Alexander officially moved the publishing business to London. Robert was left to manage the bookshop in Cambridge, which became known as Macmillan & Bowes in 1882.

Though the main business at the Cambridge shop was selling books and stationery, Robert continued to publish and print books after Macmillan & Co moved to London, though not many. In 1899, Robert made his son, George Brimley Bowes, a partner at the shop, and the business officially became known as Bowes & Bowes in 1907. The firm remained a family business until 1953, when W.H. Smith bought it. W.H. Smith continued to operate the shop under the name Bowes & Bowes until 1986 when it changed to Sherratt & Hughes, another subsidiary of W.H. Smith. In 1992, Cambridge University Press bought the premise and turned it into their primary bookstore, continuing the tradition of selling books at 1 Trinity Street.

Archive Collection

The Bowes & Bowes Archive consists of 235 volumes, including cashbooks, journals and magazines. There is a run of printed subject catalogues, which give a fairly good picture of the business, its diversity and growth. A significant portion of the collection contains letter books, account ledgers and catalogues from the Macmillan firm, dating from 1844 to 1911. There are several catalogues from Thomas Stevenson, the bookseller who occupied 1 Trinity Street prior to the Macmillan brothers.

The records of Bowes & Bowes after the takeover by W.H. Smith in 1953 can be found in the W.H. Smith Business Archive.

Library Collection

The library collection consists of about 210 volumes including serial publications such as magazines and publisher’s cataloguessome rare books that may have belonged to the private library of Robert or George Bowes, and a few 20th century publications about printing and publishing. 

As well as the catalogues of Macmillan, Macmillan & Bowes and Bowes & Bowes (in their official capacity as booksellers to the University of Cambridge) the collection of published items includes examples of early typography, such a 16th century leaf printed in Northern Italy, and some 17th and 18th century books printed in England, particularly in Cambridge, which utilize a variety of fonts and even Greek and Arabic type. 

Several volumes bear the bookplate of the Nicholson’s circulating library and inscriptions by its founder, John Nicholson (1730-1796), who was known in Cambridge as ‘Maps’. 

Among the periodicals there are issues of rare student magazines from the 19th and 20th century, some Bowes & Bowes book bulletins and subject specific book lists. 


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