A hundred years of Ladybird Books

22 October 2015

The year 2015 sees the centenary of the birth of the Ladybird Book imprint in Loughborough, with many organisations across the town and beyond marking the occasion with talks, exhibitions and special events.  The most recent celebration is the Loogabarooga Festival, a five day festival of children’s illustrated literature believed to be the first of its kind in the country.

The Ladybird story began with Harry Wills, the owner of a bookshop-cum-lending library in Loughborough Market Place in the area now occupied by Barclay’s Bank. Wills expanded his business in 1873, buying the nearby Angel Press from which he published his annual ‘Wills’s Loughborough Almanac’, along with street directories and trade guides – the business advertising platform of the day.  William Hepworth became his partner in 1906 and the firm became Wills and Hepworth.

The company continued to print catalogues and advertising material for local and national companies.  Their first children’s book, Tiny Tots Travels, was published in 1914, with the name Ladybird Books registered in 1915.  Many of the early books were printed in black and white, with the colourful Ladybird format we know today first produced during the Second World War.

Production moved to a specially constructed factory in Beeches Road as Ladybird became a company of international standing. Printing continued at the site until the company was bought by Penguin Books in 1999, when production was moved elsewhere.

Exhibitions to mark the centenary have been held locally at Charnwood Museum and Loughborough Library, as well as further afield.  The story of Ladybird Books has also been featured on several television programmes.

You can watch a clip about the 1953 Ladybird Book ‘British Birds and their nests’ here.

Read a BBC blog about Ladybird’s innovative key-word reading scheme here and read about the man behind the idea for Ladybird’s educational books here.

Alison Mott