Industries: Printing

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1911.

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'Industries: Printing', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton, ed. William Page( London, 1911), British History Online [accessed 19 July 2024].

'Industries: Printing', in A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Edited by William Page( London, 1911), British History Online, accessed July 19, 2024,

"Industries: Printing". A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 2, General; Ashford, East Bedfont With Hatton, Feltham, Hampton With Hampton Wick, Hanworth, Laleham, Littleton. Ed. William Page(London, 1911), , British History Online. Web. 19 July 2024.


The City of Westminster enjoys the honour of being the place where a printing press was first set up in this country.

Of William Caxton it is unnecessary to speak at length. Sprung from an old Kentish family, he was born, probably in London, about the year 1422, and was afterwards apprenticed to Robert Large, an eminent member of the Mercers' Company, and Lord Mayor. On the expiration of his indentures, in 1446, he went to Bruges, where he engaged in business and became the Governor of the Company of Merchant Adventurers. In March 1468-9 he began an English translation, 'as a preventive against idlenes' (he tells us) of the Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye, which he continued at Ghent, and finished at Cologne, in 1471. The book being in great demand Caxton set himself to learn the newly-discovered art of printing in order to multiply copies. The Recuyell probably appeared in 1474, and was the first book printed in English. Caxton learnt the art of printing from Colard Mansion, who set up a press at Bruges about 1473. He left Bruges in 1476 and returned to England.

Caxton's claim to be the first English printer has been opposed by some older writers, who considered that Oxford was the first seat of printing in England. It is now generally agreed that Oxford's claim to have had a press in 1468 cannot be sustained, and rests only on a typographical blunder in the printing of a date. Caxton's first printed works were small treatises and short poems by Lydgate and Chaucer; many of these are probably lost; his first dated book is The Dictes and Sayinges of the Philosophers, printed in 1477. The chief work from his press was The Golden Legend, a large folio volume illustrated with rude woodcuts, and containing the lives of the English saints. His press was set up in the Almonry at Westminster, where the Guards' Memorial now stands.

Caxton remained a parishioner of St. Margaret's until his death in 1491. The parish accounts for 1490-2 state that 6s. 8d. was paid for four torches 'atte burreying of Wylliam Caxton,' and '6d. for the belle atte same burreying.' A memorial tablet was erected to his memory in 1820 by the Roxburghe Club, and in 1883 a stained glass window was also set up in his honour by the London printers and publishers. Caxton's life was a busy one. To his work as a translator we are indebted for twenty-one books from the French and one from the Dutch; besides which he printed nearly eighty books, some of which passed through more than one large edition. William Blades his biographer sums up his character as that of a pious, diligent, and educated man, who without aiming very high led the life of an honest and useful merchant.

Caxton's successor was Wynkyn de Worde, who came to England with him, as a youth, and continued as his workman and chief assistant. He remained at Westminster after his master's death and finished the Canterbury Tales and Hilton's Seale of Perfection, which had been begun by Caxton. In 1496 he removed to the sign of the 'Sun' in Fleet Street, and printed as many as 488 books between 1493 and 1534. He was, like Caxton, a man of learning, and introduced many improvements in the art of printing as practised in England. He founded his own types, which were of beautiful design, and his books are noted for the excellence of their press-work. He was the first printer who introduced the Roman letter into England, and made use of it to distinguish anything remarkable.

Richard Pynson, like Wynkyn de Worde, was a workman or 'servant' of Caxton, and afterwards set up a press of his own at Temple Bar. He was King's Printer to Henry VIII, from whom he received a grant of £4 annually during life. In this grant, which is dated 27 September 1515, he is styled 'Richard Pynson, Esquire, our Printer.' Pynson used this title of 'Esquire' in the colophon of his Statuta, etc. His known productions number 210, and his types are clear and good; but his press work is hardly equal to that of De Worde. His first dated book was Diues and Pauper, printed in 1493, and he continued to print until 1529 or 1531. In his later books he describes himself as living at the sign of the 'George,' in Fleet Street, beside the church.

One other early printer contributes to the fame of Westminster as the cradle of the English press. Julian Notary is believed by Ames to have printed in France before he came to this country. His name is associated with that of John Barbier as printer of the Salisbury Missal which Ames believed to have been printed on the Continent. His first residence in England, as stated on the colophons of his earliest books, was in King Street, Westminster, but about 1503 he removed to a house with the sign of the 'Three Kings,' in the parish of St. Clement Danes, without Temple Bar. In 1515 the colophon to The Cronycle of England shows that he had removed to a house with the same sign in St. Paul's Churchyard, at the west door of the Cathedral, by the Bishop of London's Palace. He is known to have printed twenty-three books, the earliest of which is dated 20 December 1498, and the latest 1520. Notary used two devices, which also appear upon his bindings, and will be described in the following section of this article.

London printing soon left its first home. Caxton's successors migrated to Fleet Street, and the entire body of printers with hardly an exception set up their presses within the City, where the trade remained almost exclusively for over two centuries. Professor Arber's list of London printers for the year 1556 reveals the curious fact that of the 32 booksellers and printers then living in London no less than 15 lived in St. Paul's Churchyard, 5 others in close proximity, 8 in Fleet Street, 2 in Lombard Street, 1 in Aldersgate, and another in a locality unknown.

As a result of an examination of London printed books from the time of Caxton to the year 1556 it appears probable that only three presses existed during that period outside the City of London besides those of Caxton and his immediate successors. (fn. 1) The three printers were William Follingham or Follington, who printed for Richard Banks in 1544 at Holy Well in Shoreditch ; Hill, who printed between 1548 and 1553 at St. John's Street, Clerkenwell; and Robert Wyer, 1527-50, whose press was 'in the byshop of Norwytche rentes, besyde charyng crosse.'

Wyer was one of the most prolific of the English printers of the 16th century. Many of his books are without date, and of a fugitive and popular character. His printing for the most part is exceedingly poor, but some of his books in 'foreign secretary Gothic' and 'large lower case Gothic' types are very well executed.

The printing trade was kept under strict control by the state, a control exercised chiefly through the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Stationers' Company. This company made an order on 9 May 1615 limiting the number of presses in the City of London to nineteen. Similar, but for the most part ineffectual, attempts were made from time to time to stop the natural growth of the art of printing. In a list of printers in England who in 1649- 50 entered into recognizances not to print seditious books, among sixty-seven names, only one Middlesex printer is found-William Bentley of Finsbury. (fn. 2) In 1666, the year of the Great Fire, the entire number of working printers in and about London was stated to be 140, but how many of them were working outside the City does not appear. (fn. 3) From another list in 1724 we have a more complete view of the printing trade of the metropolis. (fn. 4) The list was prepared by Samuel Negus, a printer, who distinguished printers according to their religious and political principles. The number of printers is 75, of whom 15 have addresses outside the City. Of these 6 lived in St. John's Lane, 2 in Goswell Street, 2 in or near the Savoy, 2 in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and the 3 others in Covent Garden, Bloomsbury, and Without Temple Bar.

The only printer of note in Negus's list living outside the City is Woodfall, 'Without Temple Bar.' An anonymous contributor to Notes and Queries (fn. 5) gives some valuable notes drawn from the ledgers of Henry Woodfall between the years 1734 and 1737. On 15 December 1735 he charged Bernard Lintot as follows:-

£ s. d.
Printing the first volume of Mr. Pope's Works, Cr. Long Primer, 8 vo, 3000 (and 75 fine), @ £2 2s. per sheet, 14. sheets and a half 30 09 0
Title in red and black 1 1 0
Paid for 2 reams and ¼ of writing demy 2 16 3

He also printed Pope's Iliad for Henry Lintot in 1736 at a cost of £143 17s., described as 'demy, Long Primer and Brevier, No. 2000 in 6 vols. 68 sheets & ½ @ £2 2s. per sheet.' Woodfall's customers included also Robert Dodsley, Lawton Gilliver, and Andrew Millar. For the latter he printed Thomson's poems; 250 8vo. copies of Spring, in October 1734, and in the following January the 1st part of Liberty in a cr. 8vo. edition of 3,000 and 250 'fine copies.' The Seasons was issued on 9 June 1744 in octavo. There were 1,500 errata in the work, and a special charge of £2 4s. was made for 'divers and repeated alterations.'

In 1731 Edward Cave, who had followed many employments, purchased a small printingoffice at St. John's Gate, Clerkenwell. Here he printed and published the Gentleman's Magazine, the first number of which appeared in January 1730-1.

One of the most useful enterprises of the brilliant Horace Walpole was the private printing-press which he set up on 4 August 1757 at Strawberry Hill, his villa at Twickenham. In his letter of this date to Sir Horace Mann he says, 'I am turned printer, and have converted a little cottage into a printing office.' He began with two Odes of Gray, printed by William Robinson, who did not remain long in his employment. His next work was Paul Hentzner's interesting Journey into England, a small edition of 220 copies. In April 1758 appeared the two volumes of his Catalogue o Royal and Noble Authors, of which a second edition, not printed at Strawberry Hill, was called for before the end of the year. Writing in 1760 he says, 'I have been plagued with a succession of bad printers;' this hindered the production of his edition of Lucan. It was published in January 1761, and in the following year appeared the first and second volumes of Anecdotes of Painting in England, with plates and portraits, and the imprint 'Printed by Thomas Farmer at Strawberry Hill, Mdcclxii.' Then another difficulty arose with the printers, and the third volume, published in 1763, had no printer's name in the imprint. The fourth volume, not issued till 1780, bears the name of Thomas Kirgate, who seems to have been taken on in 1772, and held his post until Walpole's death. Between 1764 and 1768 the Strawberry Press was idle, but in the latter year Walpole printed 200 copies of a French play entitled Cornélie Vestale Tragédie, and from that time to 1789 he continued to print at intervals, his chief productions being Mémoires du Comte de Grammont, 1772, of which only 100 copies were printed, twentyfive of which went to Paris; The Sleep Walker, a comedy in two acts, 1778; A Description of the villa of Mr. Horace Walpole, 1784, of which 200 copies were printed; and Hieroglyphic Tales, 1785.

A private printing office was carried on by the notorious John Wilkes at his house in Great George Street, Westminster, (fn. 6) where he produced two works in 1763 and a few copies of the third volume of the North Briton. He is said to have employed Thomas Farmer, who had also assisted Horace Walpole at Strawberry Hill. (fn. 7)

One of the few firms of renown in later times outside the City of London is that of Gilbert & Rivington. John Rivington, fourth son of John Rivington the publisher, and descendant of Charles Rivington of the "Bible and Crown," Paternoster Row, succeeded to the business of James Emonson, printer, in St. John's Square, Clerkenwell. Rivington died in 1785, and his widow then continued the business, taking John Marshall into partnership in 1786. The firm became noted for their fine series of the classical authors. After many changes the business passed into the hands of Richard Gilbert, who in 1830 entered into partnership with William Rivington, great-grandson of the first Charles Rivington; the firm then became and has since continued to be known as Gilbert & Rivington. (fn. 8) The business has since 1881 been converted into a limited liability company, and the firm has a high reputation for its oriental printing. (fn. 9)

The well-known firm of Nichols, of Parliament Street, Westminster, was founded and long continued in the City of London, and does not come under notice here. The old firm of Charles Whittingham & Co., though on the borders of our county, also properly belongs to London, having started in Fetter Lane, and being now established in Took's Court, Chancery Lane.

The story of the Kelmscott Press is a fascinating page in the annals of 19th-century printing. In May 1891 Mr. William Morris the poet set up a private press in the Upper Mall, Hammersmith, where he printed a small quarto book entitled The Story of the Glittering Plain. This was soon followed by a threevolume reprint of Caxton's Golden Legend, illustrated with splendid woodcuts from the designs of Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Together with those completed by his executors after his death, Morris printed in all fifty-three books in sixty-five volumes, including the magnificent Chaucer. By his tasteful combination of artistic borders, initials, and illustrations, with beautiful paper, Morris showed the world how the book as a whole might be made a thing of beauty, and his influence upon book-production will certainly be longlived.

The local presses of Middlesex (fn. 10) are not important and cannot be treated of at length. At Ratcliff, John Storye (fn. 11) printed in (?) 1585 A breviat or table for the better observance of fish days. William Bentley printed Bibles at Finsbury in 1646, 1648, 1651, and later. Thomas Newcomb printed the London Gazette in the Savoy from 1665 to 1668. In other places in Middlesex the earliest known products of the press date from the 18th century. A few instances may suffice. Thomas Davis printed in Whitechapel in 1706. Whitehead's Satires were printed at Islington, 'near the Three Pumps,' in 1748. T. Lake was a printer at Uxbridge in 1774. Printing was carried on at Chelsea in 1772. (fn. 12)

Type Founding.- Closely allied to the art of printing is that of type-founding. Modern type-founding was first successfully established in England at Caslon's foundry in Chiswell Street, close upon the City's border. Caxton seems to have imported from abroad some at least of the type which he used in printing. His immediate successors, Wynkyn de Worde and Pynson, may have used their own types, and Pynson is thought to have supplied other printers with type, but of this there is no direct evidence. (fn. 13) John Day in 1567 cast the type for the works published by Archbishop Parker in Anglo-Saxon. After this date type-founding languished here for nearly two centuries. English type had a poor repute, and the best continued to be imported from Holland. In 1637, by a decree of the Star Chamber, type-foundries in England were limited to four, each of which was allowed to have two apprentices and no more. William Caslon, founder of the existing letterfoundry in Chiswell Street, was born in 1692. He first turned his attention to type-founding in 1740, when he was engaged by the Christian Knowledge Society to make the punches for a fount of Arabic type for printing the Psalms and New Testament in that language. This decided him to follow type-founding as a distinct trade, and he established his foundry in Chiswell Street, his first punches being cut with his own hands. This foundry became the parent house of type-founding in England, and the excellence of Caslon's workmanship soon drove Dutch types from the English market. William Caslon died in 1766, and the firm was then continued by William his son, who died in 1778, Elizabeth Caslon, who died in 1809, and Henry William Caslon, who died in 1874. (fn. 14) The business is now conducted by a limited company under the style of H. W. Caslon & Co. Limited.


  • 1. C. Welch, Literary Associations of St. Paul's (1891), 77 et seq.
  • 2. Bibliographica, ii, 225.
  • 3. The case and proposals of the free Journeymen Printers in and about London.
  • 4. A compleat and private list of all the Printinghouses in and about the Cities of London and Westminster, 1724, printed by William Bowyer.
  • 5. First series, xi, 377, 418.
  • 6. C. H. Timperley, Ency. of Lit. and Typog. Anecdote, 710-11.
  • 7. H. R. Plomer, Short Hist. of Engl. Printing, 280.
  • 8. E. C. Bigmore and Chas. W. H. Wyman, Bibliography of Printing, ii, 263.
  • 9. a The firm is now amalgamated with that of Wm. Clowes & Sons, Ltd.
  • 10. See W. H. Alnutt, 'English Provincial Presses,' Bibliographica, ii, 23, 150, 276.
  • 11. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1581-90, p. 299.
  • 12. Rev. Hen. Cotton, Typog. Gaz. 43, 318.
  • 13. William Blades, Life of Caxton (1882), 104.
  • 14. Caslon's Quarterly Circular, July 1877.