225 Years of Letts – The Charles Letts Years

This year is the 225th anniversary of Letts. We are celebrating this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles (and events) – from the early years right up to today. The third article looks at the transition to the third and fourth generation of the family business – run by Charles Letts.

A miniature tortoise shell Letts diary – 1940

In the 1870’s Thomas Letts, who had now been joined in the publishing business by his son Charles, took advantage of recent changes in company law to convert the business to a limited liability company. At the same time new capital was introduced to help finance the expanding business, and non-family directors became involved.

This, and the more academic nature of Charles, led to tensions between the family and non-family directors which culminated in Charles leaving the company in 1881 to set up on his own and thus create the business which developed into the 21st century diary publishing business bearing his name.

Thus two competing brands of Letts diaries were published until 1945, when Charles Letts & Co Ltd re-acquired the copyright of the original business founded by John Letts.

Charles Letts was not as innovative as his his father or grandfather. The diary and stationery products changed little during his time.

To set up on his own was a brave step for a man of forty-two with a growing family, and the first years of developing his own business were an uphill struggle. Charles was a scholarly man, author of an excellent essay on Celebrated Diarists, and the business only developed slowly under his control. It was not until his two sons, Harry and Norman, joined him that real signs of growth and prosperity were apparent. Harry, in particular, displayed many of the characteristics of his grandfather, Thomas, and he was mainly responsible for developing the business from one publishing a few hundred thousand diaries per annum at the turn of the century to a circulation of 2.7 million at the time of his retirement in 1932.

The fluctuations in the fortunes of the business were not reflected in the product. If you compare a diary produced in the early part of the century with a similar model at its end, what is apparent is the slow pace of change, no doubt reflecting the gradual maturing of the product and a more stable and conservative society. Designs and formats developed almost imperceptibly, while the information alone became more detailed and comprehensive. Even prices remained stable, with the 1856 and 1894 editions of the same model retailing at an unchanged shilling.

One innovation which occurred in the 1860’s was the introduction of advertising in the diaries which, no doubt, allowed for a better value to be provided at the same price. It was not until the twentieth century that a certain dynamism becomes apparent in the product, reflecting underlying changes in demand which took the diary from a conventional but restricted market of a few hundred thousand to the mass consumer product of today.

In the last of our anniversary articles about the past history of the eponymous Letts diary family, we will look at the development of the Letts Diary business in the twentieth century and the gradual transition, by the Letts family, to the new, twenty first century Letts Group.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us @LettsGroup.

Letts Group Launch New Greentech Venture

The family that invented the commercial diary 200 years ago have launched an ambitious new greentech venture called Letts Safari. Letts Safari was created to expedite the move to ‘renewable nature’, obtained through nature regeneration and surface-based carbon capture.

Bird of prey hunting at Letts Safari’s first safari park

Letts Safari harnesses the energy of the environmental movement and gives those involved actions to take beyond protest. It enables all people to do something about climate change. Members subscribe to a digital platform at LettsSafari.com that builds next generation safari parks – one tree, one animal, one new park at a time. Every 10 subscribers they plant a tree a year, every 100 subscribers they release a wild animal, and every 10,000 subscribers they will create a new, real-world safari park a year. Their first safari park is up and running in southwest England.

The Letts remind us of the threat of climate change. They explain that our soil and waterways are so damaged that they’re no longer able to absorb the carbon we produce. As a result emissions are trapped in the atmosphere creating pollution, violent storms, droughts, flooding and wildfire. We’re losing wildlife and plants faster than ever before.

Our first safari park is at Mamhead Park South. The next one is up to you.

Letts Safari offers a simple solution. They build rewilding safari parks that do something about climate change. The parks rapidly repair soil and waterways so they can absorb carbon dioxide, and ensure that trees and plants thrive naturally, providing habitats for wildlife.

When you subscribe to Letts Safari they plant trees, release wildlife and build new habitats. Each tree they plant removes 1 tonne of carbon dioxide during its life. They also remove carbon with scrub, wild grasses, wetland and bog.

Once they get enough subscribers they will create more eco safari parks – with their members – to make a bigger difference. Hopefully along the way members will get inspired to build a mini wildlife haven in their backyard, at work, school and in their community. They’ll share the secret source.

Land holders with 50+ acre parks can apply to join the Letts Safari network of parks. Approved parks will receive support and guidance from Letts Safari and its members. 

Subscribers to Letts Safari get a front row seat at the safari parks. With video footage, hidden cameras, wildlife photography and stories that transport them to the wild – online.

Specialist herbivores drive the forces of habitat regeneration

The Letts accidentally discovered rewilding in 2006 when they decided to create a small, wild space outside New York. They built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before they knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.

They decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 they bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden on the outskirts of Exeter, in the southwest of England. It was a mess. Today it’s a leading rewilding wildlife park. They created Letts Safari so they can share this fascinating new approach to ‘renewable nature’ and build many more safari parks. What they accidentally discovered back in 2006 is today called smaller-scale rewilding. If enough of us do enough of it, we can help fix the climate problem.

It looks like a fascinating new greentech offering – providing a mass market approach to rewilding with a digital, subscription economy wrapper. It could prove a timely new way for us to offset carbon and restore nature, while reducing emissions and rebuilding biodiversity. It’s well worth taking a look at.

You can subscribe to Letts Safari from £3.50 a month or £35 annually. Go to www.lettssafari.com.


Find out more about our climate projects at Letts Environment. You can also reach us on twitter.

What is Smaller-Scale Rewilding?

Rewilding could be one the most holistic and natural solutions to the climate crisis. Large national parks started the practice nearly thirty years ago in places like Yellowstone Park in America. Large scale projects are focused on wildlife conservation and reintroduction through natural, wild habitat regeneration.

Rewilding solves three key problems at once. It restores our soil so that it can become an effective carbon sink, it develops habitats which support wildlife and it helps regenerate natural plant growth. Each are critical ingredients to saving the planet from the effects of global warming. If we get it right, our soil alone should be able to absorb the majority of carbon emissions that we produce each year.

Rewilding is about creating the right balance of three essential habitats: woodland, open scrub and wild grassland. Smaller-scale rewilding also involves the creation of a fourth, which is waterways. Larger-scale rewilding assumes that there will be natural waterways flowing through the land. With smaller-scale rewilding this often has to be created.

Up until recently rewilding has been the sole preserve of national parks and a few large farms. They have proven the model and provided some of the approaches for how to make conservation-based rewilding work. But it needed something else to deliver climate-fixing rewilding at scale.

“A few years ago a Letts Group project started playing with an idea which could end up cracking the code for scalable, mass market solutions to the climate crisis. It is called smaller-scale rewilding.”

We accidentally discovered rewilding in 2005 when we decided to create a small, wild space outside New York for a specific project. We built an ecosystem of wild grasses, wildflower, shrub, scrub and trees on just a few acres. Before we knew it the wildlife started arriving. First insects, bugs and snakes. Then birds and mammals. A wasteland turned into a wildlife haven in just a couple of years.

We decided to do it again in a larger space. In 2014 we bought an old, run down 100 acre park and garden, called Mamhead Park South, on the outskirts of Exeter in the southwest of England. It was a mess. It has become a leading smaller-scale rewilding park.

Smaller-scale rewilding has become an accepted practice and it is classified as a rewilding project smaller than 250 acres. Over the last few years Letts Group have taken it a step further and defined a number of practical and distinct models from garden-scale rewilding through to 250 acre projects.

Smaller-scale rewilding is more involved, more technical and much more scalable. It is also focused on solving the climate crisis and not just limited to certain objectives around conservation. Smaller-scale rewilders make green spaces that are effective carbon sinks and oases of low carbon energy and natural food production. Their spaces also accelerate natural plant growth in a more controlled environment while nurturing habitats for wildlife.

Letts have for years been practising what it is now called ‘Wildlife Gardening’ – a trendy new gardening method for rewilding your garden. But we have also developed practical models for rewilding verges, allotments, commons, parks, smallholdings and corners of farms and estates.

If you tour the towns and countryside in southwest England you can already see a number of the approaches developed and showcased at Mamhead Park South appearing in the region. Clearly something is catching on. Indeed, Letts Group regularly host and educate government and business leaders, environmental experts, landscapers, conservationists and land holders committed to a more regenerative form of farming. We have also established a private sculpture park, called Devon Sculpture Park, which is solely focused on environmental art to extend the climate message.

If smaller-scale rewilding can become a wider movement for change then perhaps there is a glimmer of hope in the battle against climate change. After all, we estimate that there are over a billion gardens worldwide, more than 250 million smallholdings, and millions of smaller farms and parks. Imagine if they were at least part-rewilded.

Wildlife gardening is rewriting the book on how to garden, turning gardens into mini carbon sinks that support insects, birds and small mammals while advancing regenerative plant growth. Wildlife gardening practices zero watering techniques, zero chemical or pesticide approaches and zero use of petrol guzzling tools, making the new crop of electric tools truly du jour. All plants are left to seed and pruning techniques could not be more different. Wildlife gardens use outdoor lights that are solar powered.

oznor

Garden rewilding recreates small woodland with just a few trees, shrubs are carefully selected as proxies for scrub and wild grasses abound. Plants are generally chosen for their year round ability to support pollinators. And each plant is left to seed. We have established a three-tier waterway system which effortlessly links a pond to a bog garden and on to surface water over grasses which creates wetland. The insects and birds love it.

Letts Group has effectively miniaturised large-scale rewilding and repurposed it for mass market adoption – making it effective and understandable for everyone. We can all become a rewilding expert, no matter whether you have a small terrace garden, a roof garden, cottage garden or more. We will soon be launching a new Letts branded venture focused on delivering mass market adoption.

The Letts constantly remind us that in your garden you are the herbivore and herbivores are vital to managing projects that are larger than a garden or smallholding. When you walk across the Wildlands at Mamhead Park South you understand why. The extraordinary selection of conservation grazers that are unique to smaller-scale rewilding help maintain and shape the habitats keeping scrub as scrub, woodlands as healthy woodlands (where you can practice silvopasture techniques) and open grassland free of invasive species, scrub or tree shoots.

You can’t exactly reintroduce the bison, the wolf or a red deer into smaller-scale rewilding so at Mamhead Park you get to see what does work. The grazers are smaller and lighter with a reduced footprint, but no less wild and effective than their larger proxies. We even help to mathematically understand how many of these conservation grazers can be hosted per acre.

Smaller-scale rewilding is an eye opener and you are left with a profound sense of hope. We no longer need to wonder what we can do about the climate crisis. We don’t need to wait for the government or super-rich to act. Any of us can become a rewilding expert and planet saver. Greta Thunberg might soon be telling us about how she has rewilded her school yard!

Find out more about our climate projects at Letts Environment and keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news on twitter.

Letts Group’s Incubator

Corporate incubators have been all the rage. Around 10 years ago, a number of corporates started to set up some kind of corporate incubator or accelerator to nurture new business lines and innovative products. They had a limited vision of ‘incubator’ – generally designed to host new startups within their facilities. They offered them resources, support and, as they matured, market access.

10 years later many of these corporates have scaled down their efforts or largely abandoned them. Corporate incubator 1.0 did not realise its somewhat loose ambition. A number of the more innovative corporates and a few management consultants are working on the next generation of corporate incubator.

Letts Group has taken a different approach. Our incubator is an internal function that is central to the organisation. It is our growth engine – period.

“We see our incubator as a strategic, internal, centralised function. We have repositioned the group as a ‘branded incubator group’ to underscore this. We don’t just make small bets on our incubator or outsource it’s core capability. We’ve bet the entire shop on our incubator. It is our core capability.”

The concept of incubator has been with us for 225 years. In 1996, our original founder, John Letts opened a stationery shop and publishing incubator in the city of London. The front rooms the shop and the back rooms the incubator studio. From this setup he launched the world’s first commercial diary in 1812. It was market tested exclusively in the store and designed and made in the back rooms.

Letts Group’s Chairman, Philip Letts, started to develop the latest generation incubator in 1998. It was a separate entity, called Prophete, that nurtured external, non-branded innovations. It developed concepts such as Beenz, the Web currency, and Surfkitchen, a mobile operating system and media platform. It was an important parallel initiative as we started the process of divesting some of our book publishing interests.

In 2007 we further developed Letts Group’s latest generation incubator, after initial successes. We built a proprietary incubation methodology, which is called Innov@te™, and we designed our first incubator studio with a clutch of then, very new, cloud systems and processes. From this base we launched b-uncut, a social network for artists and blur Group, an online marketplace for creative services. Both were successfully spun out and became independent businesses.

It took much of the last 10 years to perfect the methodology, systems and processes to get to the point where we felt comfortable that our incubator was ready to develop multiple Letts branded businesses and products from scratch – and in parallel.

At the end of 2020 we gave the go ahead for 3 new Letts branded ventures to go to ‘live concept phase’. The tech industry would call it ‘beta launch’. The first hits the market in June. We have engineered the group, and developed the incubator, to the point where we feel comfortable that we will be launching a new Letts venture per year, starting this year.

It’s taken us 20 years to get to this point but we believe that we might have a line on corporate incubator 2.0. The proof will be in the pudding – starting next month!

If you would like to keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news follow us on twitter.

225 Years of Letts – The Thomas Letts Years

This year we celebrate the 225th anniversary of Letts. We will mark this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles and events – from the early years right up to today. The second article looks at the transition to the second generation of the family business – run by Thomas Letts.

The fortunes of a business tend to fluctuate with each successive generation of a family. John Letts, our founder, was succeeded by his son, Thomas Letts, the second generation of the Letts family business. Thomas took control in the 1830’s, provided a degree of enterprise and acumen less apparent in his one-time apprentice-bookbinder father.

Thomas diversified the business into maps and a wide range of stationery products and, in the 1850’s, extended the sale of diaries to overseas markets in response to the demand from Britain’s rapidly-growing Empire.

Then, in February 1858, a wonderful exchange of letters between Thomas and Dr David Livingstone, in which Thomas offers a free supply of diaries for life to the famous African explorer and missionary, marks what must have been one of the earliest examples of corporate sponsorship.

Thomas’s foresight in this gesture must have been repaid many times over in that Livingstone kept a detailed and poignant record of his travels in Letts diaries to the day of his death and thus provided one of the best examples of diary-keeping.

In the 1870’s Thomas, who had now been joined in the media business by his son Charles, took advantage of recent changes in company law to convert the business to a limited liability company. At the same time new capital was introduced to help finance the expanding business, and non-family directors became involved.

This, and the more academic nature of Charles, led to tensions between the family and non-family directors which culminated in Charles leaving the company in 1881 to set up on his own and thus create the business which developed into the 21st century diary publishing business bearing his name.

Thus two competing brands of Letts diaries were published until 1945, when Charles Letts & Co Ltd re-acquired the copyright of the original business founded by John Letts.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

Letts Media Publication Examines Solutions to the Climate Change Crisis for Earth Day

Letts Media publication ‘Surviving’ outlines a possible roadmap to reduce global warming – for Earth Day.

We should all understand the challenge by now. If we don’t keep global warming to 2 degrees above pre-industrial levels we risk an irreversible climate crisis.

“There are two ends of the problem that need to be addressed. We need to both reduce emissions and get better at capturing and storing carbon in the right places, rather than letting it escape into the atmosphere which adds to the heating problem.”

From ‘Surviving’

The article goes on to look at 5 macro-level solutions to the crisis that are proven, deliverable in the shorter term and internationally relevant. As we celebrate Earth Day 2021 it is important to not just focus on the risks that climate change presents – but to highlight the advances and approaches that can start to solve the problem.

“We have boiled it down to just 5 macro-solutions to the problem that combined should get us there – they include renewables, electrification, replacements, rewilding and lifestyle.

Extract from Letts Media’s ‘Surviving’

Letts Media publication ‘Surviving’ is about navigating business, innovation and life. It is edited by Philip Letts who is supported by some amazing analysts and researchers at the Surviving thinktank.

To read this and other articles go to Surviving.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

225 Years of Letts – The Early Years

This year we celebrate the 225th anniversary of Letts. We will mark this extraordinary milestone with a series of articles and events – from the early years right up to today. The first article examines the founding of the original diary business by John Letts.

John Letts founded the business 225 years ago, in 1796, when he opened a stationery shop in the City of London. The first of our commemorative articles will look at how we invented the commercial diary and our approach to developing new products.

John Letts invented the world’s first commercial diary in 1812. It was an innovation in that it was future-focused and not designed simply to record past events. It was also a commercial product responding to the growing trade in the City of London. Moreover, the 1812 edition is interesting in that it is quite clearly testing this market. It is a single gathering of 104 pages, stitched into marbled paper wrappers. It simply prints the dates of a six-day working week from Monday to Saturday with no information other than the public holidays as they fall. The product is branded by a printed label on the front cover.

That this test was successful is demonstrated by the rapid sophistication of the product both in content and presentation, and by the early 1820’s a range of diaries providing different sizes and formats was published. They were a most effective combination of the old and new, incorporating between one set of covers the detailed information, governmental, legal, commercial and astronomical, of the long-established almanac, substituting for the plain notebook often sold in conjunction with it the printed format of the diary or bills due book.

The diary soon established itself as an essential feature of commercial life, unaffected by the slump which followed the boom years of the Napoleonic wars. It was given a further boost by the publication of the works of two major diarists – John Evelyn in 1818 and Samuel Pepys in 1825. These publications created a literary interest in diary-keeping and and no doubt stimulated demand for the new product in its more traditional role.

John Letts demonstrated a keen ability to read the market in his popular stationery shop while developing products in the back room. He located himself at the heart of things in the bustling City of London, and his early products were clearly aimed at the traders and financiers that surrounded him. He developed an effective process for testing new concepts and ideas which today is at the heart of Letts Group’s modern day incubator.

Letts Incubate may be a little more sophisticated and high-tech these days but the core principles remain the same. Indeed, we are currently testing three of our latest projects with paying customers in the live environment – just as John Letts launched his first ‘concept’ diary in 1812.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

The History of the Letts Diary

Letts has been a name associated with diaries since the beginning of the nineteenth century. It was for the year 1812 that John Letts, the founder of the present-day business, published his first diary and thereby originated a new concept of diary-keeping completely different from the traditional use as a personal historical record.

John Letts had been in business as a stationer in the City of London since 1796. His shop nestled among the arcades of the Royal Exchange and his clientele must have included the merchants and traders in the City. Their requirements were clear: they needed to know about movements of ships to and from the bustling Port of London, as well as being able to control their finances which were commonly based upon rates of exchange. That the early diaries were designed to meet these requirements is readily apparent. Prominence was given to the working week of Monday to Saturday and Sunday was often excluded. In most editions cash ruling was included throughout the diary section and information at the beginning of the diary invariably included the tide tables so essential to those connected with shipping.

While John Letts opened the first shop in 1796, the Letts family have owned a number of shops over the centuries. The newest is an online bookshop called Letts Books.

The diary which John Letts published in 1812 was an innovation in that it was future-focused and not designed simply to record past events. It was a commercial product responding to the growing trade in the City of London. Moreover, the 1812 edition is interesting in that it is quite clearly testing this market.

That this test was successful is demonstrated by the rapid sophistication of the product both in content and presentation, and by the early 1820’s a range of diaries providing different sizes and formats was published.

The diary soon established itself as an essential feature of commercial life, unaffected by the slump which followed the boom years of the Napoleonic Wars. It was given a further boost by the publication of the works of two major diarists – John Evelyn in 1818 and Samuel Pepys in 1825. These publications created a literary interest in diary-keeping and no doubt stimulated demand for the new product in its more traditional role.

This is the first of a series of articles on the history of Letts by Anthony Letts.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

Art Exhibition Review – Artemisia Gentileschi

Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery.

The National Gallery has opened an exhibition of Artemisia Gentileschi in their more prestigious Exhibition Rooms in the Sainsbury Wings which must be seen and remains the talk of the town. This is unusual because – as one of the first female Artists from the beginning of the Renaissance to the 17C AD –  famous in her lifetime as we read in the contemporary writings – she was hardly known from the 18th century onwards. What prompted her present discovery?

Hardly discussed by the Curators of the present Exhibition which just presents her as one of the greatest baroque European artists ??? – contemporary of Caravaggio, Rubens, Rembrandt, Annibale Carracci, Guercino etc – is not credible; but she is a good and interesting artist to be seen in context. This is what makes her particularly interesting.

A programme shown on Monday 26 October at 9 pm on BBC Four “Michael Palin’s Quest for Artemisia” is well worth listening and looking at –  it was for me a masterpiece which sets the record – and what a record – straight! It can be seen on the BBC iPlayer for the next month.

A girl brought up in Rome – 1593 -1656? – Naples – daughter of Orazio Gentileschi an early Baroque artist – orphaned by her Mother aged 12, had to run the house in which they lived with her three younger brothers. By the age of 15 Orazio started teaching her also to paint since she was the most endowed of the 4 children and by 1610 – aged 17 – she painted a most telling picture:

‘Susannah and the Elders”, oil on canvas, signed and dated, Art Gallery of Pommersfelden.

What sadly made her famous was the fact that a few months later a new painter associated to Orazio’s Workshop, Agostino Tassi, raped her in her Father’s House above the studio – ruining her possibility of a proper life since, having promised it, he could not marry her: he was already married. When the father learnt about the rape he decided to go public and started a legal case against Agostino which they won. It sounds like a real thriller well worth following!

I recommend visiting the exhibition and from time to time I will present one of Artemisia’s paintings and discuss it!

This is the first of a new series of exhibition reviews for Letts Art by Rosa Maria Letts.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.

Letts Media Publication Examines Rewilding in London

Letts Media publication DSP Online is currently running a series on rewilding in London.

When we think of rewilding, too often we imagine vast wilderness or national park’s such as Yellowstone Park. Less known, but potentially as impactful, is smaller-scale rewilding which yields similar benefits in smaller green spaces in cities and the countryside.”

Sebastian Letts

This series is timely given that researchers and scientists have recently stated that we could reverse much of the damage of global warming by rewilding around 15% of key lands. A study in the Journal of Nature has shown that by doing this we could avoid 60% of expected wildlife extinctions while sequestering 30% of the CO2 increase in the atmosphere since the industrial revolution.

To achieve wider rewilding targets we will need to develop rewilding techniques for urban and rural settings. One of Letts Environment’s rewilding experts is producing a series of reports which looks at approaches that could be taken in smaller, well known public spaces in London.

Rewilding such spaces would enable them to absorb the cities emissions while creating habitats which support wildlife. It would also educate Londoners about the importance of rewilding and hopefully inspire them to rewild their gardens.”

DSP Online

Rewilding could prove to be the most cost effective and holistic approach to reversing the damaging effects of climate change by absorbing emissions back into the soil while restoring and rebuilding wildlife populations. We have lost 68% of our animals worldwide in the last 50 years.

DSP Online is the leading publication for people who want to understand the affects of climate change and the growing array of solutions. It also examines eco-futures, research, findings and the environmental arts.

By subscribing to DSP Online you also get to support one of the worlds leading centres for smaller-scale rewilding based in southwest England.

If you want to understand more about climate change and the range of solutions being developed, subscribe to Letts Media publication DSP Online today – CLICK HERE.


Keep up to date with the latest Letts Group news – follow us on twitter @LettsGroup.