Tillotson's Fiction Bureau


A history of the Tillotson family from Bolton, Lancashire, from 1831

Fiction syndication, the simultaneous serial publication of novels and stories in several newspapers and magazines, usually arranged by literary agencies, originated in France early in the nineteenth century but was a late development in both England and Americal Despite some newspaper appearances of serialized novels (Harrison Ainsworth's Old Saint Pauls first appeared in the Sunday Times from January-December 1841), the practice did not become common until the late Victorian period with the expansion of weeklies and dailies. The pioneer in syndication in England was the newspaper firm of William Tillotson and Sons. ln 1868 they began to serialize novels in their Bolton Weekly Journal, primarily as a means to draw more subscribers. In 1873 they inaugurated Tillotson's Fiction Bureau as an agency to syndicate fiction in six provincial newspapers, and soon extended their operation to newspapers throughout the country. The first English novel syndicated in England was Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Lucius Davoren. Braddon was followed by such popular writers as Walter Besant, Rhoda Broughton, Hall Caine, Marie Corelii, G. Maville Fenn, H. Rider Haggard, and Ouida. Among “classic” writers, Thomas Hardy (see Tess of the d'Urbervilles) and Robert Louis Stevenson first reached a wide readership through their connection with the Tillotsons.

From the Times Literary Supplement – March 25th 1955


Sir – Your recent review of Mr R.L.Purdy’s bibliography of Thomas Hardy mentions the inclusion of a note “on that elusive organisation which frequently crops up in bibliography from Wilkie Collins to H.G.Wells, ‘Tillotson’s Fiction Bureau.’”

For two generations of newspaper men from the 1870s to the 1930s, there could have been nothing eliusive about that enterprise. It was one of the earliest examples in Britain of what would now be called a feature syndicate, acquiring the serial rights in various forms of literary work, fictional and non-fictional, for sale to newspapers at home and oversea, and having only a regional circulation, so that a number of publications could acquire the same work, each paying a fee proportionate to its area of circulation.

Its founder, W.F.Tillotson, was himself proprietor of an evening newspaper in Bolton and several weekly newspapers in South Lancashire which have since developed into one of the most important provincial newspaper groups. By his enterprise, W.F.Tillotson was able to secure for his own and many other provincial newspapers serial stories and non-fictional contributions by famous writers whose work would be beyond the means of a single provincial newspaper.

Frank Singleton has told the story of this remarkable organization in his centenary history of the firm, Tillotsons 1850-1950, in which he lists some of the celebrated novelists – from Miss Braddon and Thomas Hardy to Arnold Bennett and Conan Doyle – who wrote for Tillotsons. He mentions also that Sir Philip Gibbs served as fiction editor of the Bureau for a period ending in 1902.

The firm still continues to enjoy distinction ass newspaper proprietors and printers, but the Fiction Bureau was acquired in 1935 by the London syndicate, Newspaper Features Limited.



email: petertillotson@btinternet.com