What an amazing aquatint of a woman I would love to have met. It was produced after her death, but it’s full of such character, but who was she? Her name was Isabella, known to all as Tibby Tinkler.
The image itself does provide a few clues about her. We know that she was a bookseller in the town of Richmond, North Yorkshire and possibly the very first in Richmond and that the image above by George Cuitt, of Richmond, tells us that it was produced after her death in 1794 when she was aged 92.
Now, firstly, was she really 92 when she died? well yes, for a change we know that this to have been accurate.
She was born Isabel, rather than Isabella Foster, and her baptism tells us that she was baptised on 15 June 1702 in Richmond, North Yorkshire, her father being named as Francis, so perhaps she simply preferred the extended name, so we’ll continue to use that.
Isabella was the middle of five children, her siblings being Mary, Ann, Elizabeth and Menhill. On 30 July 1732 she married Robert Tinkler and the couple lived in Richmond for the rest of their lives, although Robert originated from Darlington, North Yorkshire.
For how many years they owned and ran the bookshop is unclear, but Isabella was definitely trading under her own name, in August 1769, according to the Newcastle Courant, which was quite unusual for a woman of that period and her name stands out here, as the only woman listed.
We know that Isabella was widowed April 1782 and that her husband Robert was buried in the parish church which would have meant that Isabella was left to continue running the book shop alone, as they had no children to help her.
In Harry Speight’s book, Romantic Richmondshire, written in 1897, Isabella was described as being:
Quite a character in her way. Her real name was Isabella Tinkler, but she was always known as ‘Tibby’ and few in her trade knew more of books, their histories, mysteries, prices current etc. George Cuitt, the artist etched her portrait in a characteristic attitude in her shop.
On 29 April 1791, Isabella sat down and dictated her last will and testament. She was clearly unable to write as she marked it with a X, the standard way to sign your name if unable to write it, which begs the question as to whether she could read – an interesting thought in light of her occupation or maybe her inability to write her name was simply down to her age.
Isabella made provision for what appears to be quite a number of friends, so she was obviously a popular woman. She named some 14 people in her will leaving them a variety of sums of money, from one guinea to ten guineas each and named an Isabella Brough, who lived with her, as her executrix and to Isabella she left the remainder of her goods and effects, but no explanation as to who she was, a servant, nurse or simply a friend.
Another indication that she was well known being that the Newcastle Courant of 11 October 1794, published news of her demise.
After her death, the bookshop was taken over by Mr John Bell, who was father to the well known George Bell of the well known London publishers.
If anyone knows anything more about her, I would love to hear from you.
Yorkshire Notes and Queries Vol 1-2. 1888
Easby Hall and Easby Abbey with Richmond, Yorkshire in the Background by George Cuitt (1743-1818)