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Sampson Low

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Portrait of the publisher Sampson Low (1797-1886) as a young man.
Image : Portrait of Sampson Low
Date: 1830
Four generations of the Low family c.1738-1908 including Sampson Low, his parents, grandparents, his wife Mary and their six children who reached adulthood. The couple had a further four children who died in infancy.
Image : Low family tree
Date: 2021

Who was Sampson Low?

In 1793 a 25 year old printer named Sampson Low (1868-1801) published an illustrated prayer book titled 'The Book of Common Prayer'. He subsequently set up his own printing and publishing company in Berwick Street, Soho in London where he traded from 1796. Sadly, just five years later Sampson died. He was buried at St James Church, Piccadilly on 5 January 1801. He left his publishing business to his son, also named Sampson, who was only three years old at the time of his father's death.


Sampson Low (1797-1886) was baptised at St James Church on 12 December 1797. As a youth he served as an apprentice to Lionel Booth, the proprietor of a circulating (lending) library in Duke Street, Portland Place in London until Booth’s death in 1815. He then worked at the publishers Longman & Co. until 1819 when, at the age of 22, he set up his own bookshop. The portrait of Sampson Low on this page was probably painted when he was in his thirties. It belongs to his descendant George Low.


On 7 August 1821 Sampson married Mary Stent by licence at the parish church of Harmondsworth where Mary lived. The couple went on to have ten children between 1822 and 1839, four of whom died before they were two years old. The Low family tree on this page includes the names and dates of the six children who reached adulthood.


Sampson and Mary’s four sons all followed their father into the publishing and/or printing trade. Sampson Low Junior became a publisher and worked most closely with his father running the family business. William Henry also became a publisher with a business in Islington. Walter began as a bookseller’s assistant to his father and Matthew worked initially as a printer for the Bank of England and then as a printing machine agent. Tragically three of Sampson’s sons died prematurely before their father – Sampson Junior in 1871 aged 48, Walter the following year aged 39 and William Henry in 1881 aged 55, the same year as his mother, Sampson Low's wife of 60 years, Mary. 


According to his publishing partner of many years, Edward Marston, "Mr. Sampson Low was a man of unusual zeal and untiring energy, but although he possessed excellent business qualities, he was not the man to accumulate a large fortune in trade; his zeal and energy took a less selfish and more philanthropic turn than is generally characteristic of mere business men. Whatsoever he found to do he did with all his might." (From 'After Work' by Edward Marston, published in 1904).


Sampson Low died at the age of 89 on 16 April 1886, outliving his wife Mary by 5 years. His eldest daughter Mary Ann, together with Edward Marston, were named the executors of his will and he left a personal estate of just over £24,000, the equivalent of around £3 million today. According to Edward Marston in his book 'After Work' he bequeathed a "handsome legacy" to The Booksellers Provident Institution. Sampson Low was buried in Highgate Cemetery, London. 


Sampson Low (page 1 of 6)