Thomas Balston

Thomas Balston OBE MC (30 July 1883– 4 October 1967)[1] was a director of the publishers Duckworth and Co., and a noted scholar of English book production and illustration.[2][3] He was also an amateur painter, having studied under Mark Gertler.[4]

Thomas Balston. Mark Gertler, oil on canvas, 1921. Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

Early years and educationEdit

Balston was born at Bearsted House, Bearsted, Kent, fourth son of University College, Oxford-educated[5] William Edward Balston and Emily Julia (née Whitehead).[1][4] The Balston family had been paper-makers since the 18th century, entering business with the Whatman paper-making family. Their success in business led to social prominence and the Balstons were regarded as being amongst the gentry of their county.[6][7][8][9] His paternal great-uncle was Rev. Edward Balston, headmaster of Eton from 1862 to 1868.[10][11]

Balston was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, and prior to being called to the bar in 1909, served as tutor to Count Gianbattista Spaletti and his brother Count Cesare Spaletti in Italy. From 1912 to 1914, he was secretary to the publisher T. Fisher Unwin.[12]

Military careerEdit

Balston was awarded the Military Cross and an O.B.E. by 1940, at which time he was a Major on the Army's General List,[13][14] having served during the First World War with the 12th Gloucestershire Regiment in France and Belgium from 1914–1919, as a staff captain with the 96th Infantry Brigade from 1915–17, and as Deputy Assistant Adjutant General to the 3rd Division and 3rd Brigade from 1917–18 and 1918-19 respectively. His service in the Second World War came to an end when he was invalided out after three months due to suffering from pneumonia, having been called to Southern Command as a staff captain.

Book illustrationEdit

At Duckworth from 1921 to 1934, Balston promoted the work of English wood engravers. He produced several books on the history of the subject.


Balston died in 1967. He bequeathed his collection of pictures, drawings, and prints to The Art Fund, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ashmolean Museum and other public institutions in Britain.[15]


Papers from Thomas Balston relating to the Sitwells, published by Duckworths, are held at Washington State University.[16] A small collection of Balston papers relating to John Martin are held at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library.[3]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • Sitwelliana. 1915–1927. A Handlist. Duckworth, London, 1928. (Compiler)
  • The Life of Jonathan Martin incendiary of York Minster: With some account of Richard and William Martin. London: Macmillan, 1945.
  • John Martin, 1789–1854. His life and works. Duckworth, London, 1947.
  • The wood engravings of Robert Gibbings. Art and Technics, London, 1949. (Later edition Dent)
  • English wood engraving, 1900–1950. Art and Technics, London, 1951.
  • William Balston: Paper maker, 1759–1849. Methuen, London, 1954.
  • The housekeeping book of Susanna Whatman 1776-18. Geoffrey Bles, London, 1956. (Editor) Wood engravings by Frank Martin.
  • James Whatman: Father & son. Methuen, London, 1957.


  1. ^ a b Who's Who, 1968-1969, A. & C. Black, 1968, p. 144
  2. ^ Mark Gertler (1891 - 1939) Ashmolean Museum, 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  3. ^ a b Collection Title: Thomas Balston Papers, 1946-1948 Rare Book Literary & Historical Papers at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  4. ^ a b Who's Who in Art, vol. 14, The Art Trade Press Ltd, 1962, p. 29
  5. ^ Alumni Oxonienses: the Members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886, vol. I, Joseph Foster, Parker & Co., 1886, p. 55
  6. ^ Walford's County Families of the United Kingdom, 52nd edition, ed. Edward Walford, Spottiswoode & Co., 1912, p. 1229
  7. ^ William Balston, paper maker, 1759-1849, Thomas Balston, Methuen & Co., Ltd, 1954, pp. vii, viii, 171
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Dr Balston at Eton, Thomas Balston, Macmillan, 1952, p. ix
  11. ^
  12. ^
  13. ^ Oil Paintings in Public Ownership in Cambridgeshire, Andrew Ellis et al, Public Catalogue Foundation, 2006, pg 207
  14. ^ Supplement to the London Gazette 26 April 1940, pg 2463-
  15. ^ Portrait of Thomas Balston by Mark Gertler The Art Fund, 2014. Retrieved 12 August 2014.
  16. ^ "Guide to the Thomas Balston Papers of the Sitwells 1924-1960Cage 9". Retrieved 2014-08-12.

External linksEdit