P & G Wells Ltd is situated at 11 College Street, Winchester in close proximity to Winchester Cathedral and Winchester College, and next door but one from the house where Jane Austen spent the last days of her life. It is a general bookshop with a bindery attached, running as a separate business. It is thought to be the oldest bookshop and bindery still in existence in the country.
The first proprietor of a bookshop on the premises that are now occupied by P & G Wells was John Burden in 1790, although John Burden and his brother, Thomas, had been suppliers of stationery, books and bindings to Winchester College for at least twenty years previously.
|This photograph was taken around 1900. In the foreground on the left is a board cutter piled up with some of the work in progress. On the right hand side can be seen a gas stove for heating tools. The boxes of handle letters are on shelves above the fireplace.||On the left of this photograph can be seen part of a hand-wound guillotine (still in use today) and in the middle of the picture is an early English standing press with the day's work piled up between boards and under pressure. On the top of the press are pinned leather sample books.|
In 1806 James Robbins, a Winchester printer, bought the business from Burden. Robbins moved to live in College Street and for the next six years published the county newspaper, the Hampshire Chronicle, from there. In 1813 he sold the Chronicle to William Jacob and William Johnson, but continued to print and publish books from the College Street premises. In 1824 he went into partnership with Charles Henry Wheeler. Following Robbins death in 1844 the bookshop was taken over by David Nutt, a London bookseller, and the day to day running of the bookshop was put into the hands of Joseph Wells. In 1862 the two went into partnership until the death of David Nutt in 1865 when Joseph Wells became the sole proprietor. The business remained in the hands of the Wells family as a bookshop, stationers and fine bindery until 1979 when Tim Wiltshire took over the bindery as an independent business. Monique Fuchs, herself a member of the Wells family, continued to run the bookshop until 1982 when the buildings were sold to Winchester College and the business to a new partnership, two of whom are still in charge of it today.
Early binders from P & G Wells Bindery
In its heyday the bindery employed five forwarders, a finisher and two apprentices and produced a wide range of binding work, from cheap stationery bindings to elaborate "extra" fine leather bindings for private commissions. Some of the tools and equipment in use today date from the end of the 18th century through to the middle of the 19th century.
Then and Now
P & G Wells as it was in Victorian times.
P & G Wells as it stands today.
(For more information see "A Winchester Bookshop Bindery 1729-1991" by Claire Bolton)