personne

William West

Country

United Kingdom

First Name

William

Surname

West

Birth

1783

Death

London, England (1854)

British pioneer of toy theatre (also known as paper theatre). At first a haberdasher, William West published in 1811 a souvenir sheet of Mother Goose, the pantomime which established Joe Grimaldi as the greatest of all clowns. West’s young customers encouraged him to advance from this modest publication to something that would enable them to recreate the latest successes of the London stage in their own homes. By the middle of 1812, West and other rival publishers were issuing sheets of characters, scenery and wings, cardboard prosceniums and wooden stages. The English Toy Theatre was born and West’s name became synonymous with the trade. Within a decade or so his plates or sheets of characters showed not only every change of costume, but also every change of attitude which a cardboard actor needed to embody, while specially abridged books of the scripts added the finishing touch.

William West’s sheets were sold for the now proverbial sum of penny plain, tuppence coloured: one penny for the black and white sheets, two pennies for the coloured ones. After 1832, however, when Skelt and other publishers began to issue the prints at half-price, West lost the urge to compete. He fell into a melancholy decline only interrupted by a long interview he gave to the journalist Henry Mayhew (1812-1887) as part of the latter’s enquiries which were published as London Labour and the London Poor (1861).

(See Great Britain.)