This is one of the magazine covers I’ve used in my History of British Magazine Design. It’s an engraving from a Kate Greenaway painting called ‘Darby and Joan’ on Illustrated London News in 1878. ‘Darby and Joan’ is generally taken to refer to an established elderly couple, and that’s the sense seemingly portrayed here in an ironic way. So it’s a surprise to find that the first Darby and Joan were husband-and-wife radical printers in the mid-1600s!
It appears Mr and Mrs Darby were in and out of prison for printing anti-government propaganda and protesting against the return of the monarchy. According to Prof Ted Vallance of Roehampton university, their pamphlets were like a ‘greatest hits’ of radical martyrs in the late 17the century.
There were several husband-and-wife teams of printers and the wife could carry on the work while the husband was imprisoned. So the Darbys were a ‘celebrated power couple’ whose names became a common phrase that was later separated from their activities.
Anyone printing such material risked imprisonment until 1695. A lot of radical material was printed in Holland and imported as a way of avoiding censorship.
The Darby & Joan item is part of a Making History episode on BBC Radio 4 and is available online.
In the programme, Tom Charlton presents the evidence on the radical pamphleteers and visits the first Darby and Joan club, which was opened in 1942 in South London.
> WATCH OUT for my V&A book on British Magazine Design (Waterstones UK)
> WATCH OUT for my book on British Magazine Design (V&A shop)
> WATCH OUT for my V&A book on British Magazine Design (Amazon US)
> WATCH OUT for my V&A book on British Magazine Design (Angus & Robertson, Australia)