Merry of Bedford
A recent enquiry from a scholar of ballad makers and sellers led me to explore the work of a family of printers, whose leaflets and posters can be found throughout the Bedford Borough and other collections.
Without the media of radio and television to disseminate information and influence public opinion, and in addition to newspapers, events during the 19th Century were chronicled, broadcast and commented upon in many leaflets and flyers, highlighting major events in local life from elections to executions.
Clarke Barber Merry was born in Northamptonshire but moved to Bedford in 1818, setting up in business as a printer and stationer. He married Sarah Jones in 1819 and they had 7 children, three of whom died in childhood. From 1818 onward he was involved in the printing of election leaflets. As well as reports on the 'state of the poll' (the number of votes received so far by each candidate) and formal election addresses from candidates such as Francis Pym, songs were printed poking fun at the candidates and their policies. 'A New Brush for an Old Whig' was one of many songs printed in 1820 [Ref.Bor.BG10/2/30]. 'Absurdity and Malignity' was published in July 1837 [Ref.Bor.BG10/1/132]. As late as 1868, the year of his death, Merry was printing songs such as 'The Agent's Lament' supposedly penned by the strangely named 'Drolt Allien' [Ref. Bor.BG10/1/227].
In 1835 Merry moved to premises in the High Street. It seems he was in some financial trouble at this point, as his stock was advertised for sale in the Northampton Mercury, and the business seems temporarily to have been taken over by his son John Swepson Merry, aged 16 at the time. The election material for 1835 was printed under the name J S Merry, although by 1837 CB Merry was back in business. John and his younger brother William set up in business together and were supplying books and other goods to the Bedfordshire General Library, amongst others, by 1842 Clarke's daughter Mary Anna Merry seems also to have been heavily involved in the family business, and was perhaps the poet behind the laments appearing on the special souvenir posters to commemorate the execution of Sarah Dazeley in 1843 and Joseph Castle in1860 [Ref.AD3806]. The Bodleian Library Catalogue of Broadside Ballads includes a long list of songs printed by M A Merry of Castle Lane, Bedford, covering subjects from marriage, the tax on gin, and fashions such as the crinoline, to more serious subjects such as the economy and education. Most of these are undated but are likely to be from the 1840s – 1860s.