Devon's printed heritage
The following account is based on notes prepared for a seminar on the bibliography of Devon held in Exeter in July 2015. It traces the changes that have had a major impact on the type of printed material that was produced or distributed in Devon. There is a fuller history of the book in Devon on the Exeter Working Papers in Book History website.
London printers and publishers
The first Devonian to get into print was Alexander Barclay of Ottery St.Mary in 1509. His translation of Sebastian Brant's Stultifera nauis. Shyp of folys of the worlde was printed in London by Richard Pynson. This image is taken from the second edition, printed in London by Cawood in 1570.
The first topical printed item about Devon is probably a broadside ballad relating to the Western Rebellion in 1549. It is fragmentary but printed and published in London.
Early Devon printers
The first book to be printed in Devon left the press in Tavistock in 1534: The boke of comfort called in laten Boecius de consolatione philosophie. Translated into englesse tonge. Emprented in the exempt monastery of Tauestok in Denshyre. By me Dan Thomas Rychard monke of the sayd monastery.
From 1557 to 1695 printing in England was limited by law to London, with special dispensation given to Oxford and Cambridge in the 1580s and York by the Licensing Act in 1662. There were two exceptions for Exeter:
The King's printers Robert Barker and John Bill had followed the King's court around the country during the Civil War. They were in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1639, returned to London and set off travelling again, to York in 1642, Shrewsbury in 1642-43, Bristol in 1643-45 and finally reaching Exeter in 1645.
A press may have remained in Exeter for a few years during the upheavals of the Civil War but the next definite appearance of a printer is the itinerant J. B. (probably John Bringhurst) who accompanied William of Orange to Exeter in 1688-1689.
Davidson describes a 1683 proclamation by the Devon Quarter Sessions as being printed in Exeter and this is given as the date a permanent press was set up in Exeter by subsequent historians, including Hoskins, but Davidson must have seen an incomplete copy. The imprint clearly states that it was printed in London by Freeman Collins.
Local booksellers as publishers
The first Devon publisher was Martin Coeffin of Exeter active from about 1505. His schoolbooks were printed in Rouen.
Authors as publishers
John Hooker, the Chamberlain of Exeter published a number of items in the 1570s and 1580s, although his name does not appear as publisher. These titles were normally intended as gifts to friends and colleagues. Many of the sermons and other religious tracts with printer's names on title-page were probably financed by authors or their patrons.
Works printed and published in London
These even included topical items such as newsbooks, These were produced in great quantities during the Civil War, many of them for Devon.
A permanent press in Devon
In 1695 the Licensing Act was allowed to lapse and printing spread to the provinces. The spread in Devon was slow until the 1780s:
|1696||Plymouth||Jourdaine. Little printing in Plymouth until 1760s|
|1783||Honiton||Lott – also land surveyor|
The first Exeter printer was Samuel Darker who came from London in 1698 and the following year entered into partnership with Samuel Farley who continued printing in Exeter when Darker returned to London. Items printed in the provinces were mainly for local consumption and many important Devon items still continued to be printed and published in London. However a number of categories of material were produced by local presses:
The earliest in Devon probably began around 1704. Some early titles survive patchily if at all The only surviving issue of the first known title, Sam. Farley's Exeter post-man, is no. 556, dating from 23 September 1715. Early on they mainly reprinted from London papers with local advertisements. Andrew Brice added more local items, including controversial campaigns. They included advertisements for books printed in London and locally. Up to 1988 over 260 different Devon titles are known, plus many changes of name.
Printed forms are the earliest manifestation of this. In 1699 there appeared Articles of visitation and enquiry concerning matters ecclesiastical, exhibited to the ministers, church-wardens, and side-men, of every parish, within the Diocess of Exeter, at the visitation of the Right Reverend Father in God, Jonathan, by divine permission, Lord Bishop of Exeter in the year of our Lord, 1699. - Exon : Printed by Sam. Darker and Sam. Farley, for Charles Yeo, bookseller , 1699.
Apprenticeship indentures preceded this, being printed in London for Exeter booksellers in the 1680s and 1690s.
These were produced in Exeter from the early 18th century but few survive before the 1780s when an unusually rich series of broadsheets is held in Exeter.
These were largely printed by specialist London printers in the 18th century but Exeter printers such as Brice and Trewman did produce them, although few survive, and there is a collection in the British Library produced by Besley dating from the early 19th century. The main Devon printers of this type of material are the Keys family, active in Devonport from the 1820s to the 1860s.
Parliamentary elections were the occasion for the printing of posters and squibs or satirical items. Because of the rapidly changing events at the hustings, speed was of the essence, so local printers were employed. Devon was also unusual in having a burlesque election at Ide in the 18th and 19th centuries,
The first purpose built theatre in Exeter was in Waterbeer Street, dating from 1749. The Andrew Brice was a great supporter of the players so it comes as no surprise that there is a series of surviving 18th century playbills printed by him and later by Robert Trewman.
Apart from the advertisements in newspapers, broadsheet advertisements for individual traders were produced which shed interesting light on the range of goods stocked.
Almanacs and directories
While almanacs in the 18th century were subject to monopolies, local printers produced merchants' handbooks with official information, lists of fairs and often a diary. These "pocket journals" from the 1790s in Exeter began to include lists of merchants and tradesmen, which developed into directories in the 19th century.
The earliest published map of Devon was Saxton's of 1574, the earliest published Exeter map was Hooker's of 1587. The first maps were engraved by Flemish engravers resident in London. Hooker's Exeter map served as a basis for all subsequent maps until Ichabod Fairlove's plan of 1709 which itself served as the basis for plans by Stukeley and Sutton Nicholls in 1723.
Images of local scenes start to be published for Devon in the 1660s. Manual methods of engraving and lithography were replaced by photogravure or photographic half-tone from 1870s. Illustrations, normally wood engravings began to appear in newspapers from the 1850s.
These developed in the 18th century, the Plymouth magazine; or, the Universal intelligencer dating from 1758. But there were few until the early 19th century. Learned organisations published transactions from the 1840s:
- Exeter Diocesan Architectural Society. Transactions. 1843-. Lithographed illustrations.
- Plymouth Institution. Annual reports and transactions. 1855-
- Devonshire Association. Report and Transactions. 1862-
- Torquay Natural History Society. Transactions and proceedings.1909-.
Institutional or official publications date from the beginnings of printing. In London Richard Faques printed and indulgence for the Hospital of Saint Roche in Exeter in about 1510.
Devon Quarter Sessions declarations were printed in London in the 1680s.
Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital accounts were printed in Exeter in the 1740s.
Local authorities output grew from 1830s under reform legislation. Board of Health reports etc.
Exeter Corporation. Abstract of income and expenditure from the 28th December 1835 to the 1st September 1836.
There is also much from national bodies after Stationery Office afters its reorganisation in the series of House of Commons papers and Command papers. Census reports, Charity Commission etc.
Devon County Council. Printed minutes only from 1905.
This was speeded up by the requirements of newspapers, especially after repeal of Stamp Duty lowered the price in 1855. The iron press replaced wooden press, a wider range of typefaces was employed, wood engraving was used to accompany printed texts. In 1845 Latimer acquired a new steam press to print eight pages per issue, and soon began to use wood engravings. First daily newspaper in Devon was the Western morning news published in Plymouth in 1860.
Education and research
Mechanics Institutes developed from the 1820s. These held lectures and maintained a reading room or library. Lectures were often printed, for example in Barnstaple in 1830. Henwood's lectures on mining read at mechanics institutes were printed in 1855. Devon and Exeter Graphic Society lectures were printed in the 1860s. As late as 1867 South Molton Mechanics institute published songs and glees.
The Devon and Cornwall Record Society have published editions of manuscript records since its foundation in 1904. Universities developed later in the region. The University College of the South West produced printed material from 1906 but especially after the 1920s. The University of Exeter Press became a major publisher from the 1950s.
National publishers based locally
Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries many local publications were published outside Devon, although a reading of imprints shows that a local printer would often produce a title or a local bookseller might be associated with national publishers such as Longmans or Rivingtons. However there were publishers of national significance based in Devon. Some examples from the later 20th century:
- Wheaton's, an important educational publisher, taken over by Pergamon who published items in Exeter from the 1970s to the 1990s.
- Webb and Bower , who achieved fame and fortune from The Edwardian diary of a country lady in 1976.
- David and Charles, who started in Dawlish in 1960 before moving to Newton Abbot.
- Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd of Ilfracombe : "… whether you have an autobiography, a novel, a children’s story or a collection of poetry, our objective is to help turn your dream into reality and to produce a book for you to be proud of".
Local authority publications have mushroomed since 1947 under the stimulus of the Town and Country Planning Act 1947. Structure plans were followed by other publications from other departments. Devon Books was set up in 1984, partly in an attempt to market the information they contained. The delegation of planning powers to district councils in the 1970s spread the production of this type of publication more widely.
Democritisation of print
Vanity publishing has long been possible, for example through A.H.Stockwell in Ilfracombe, but it can be expensive. Privately printed items were largely the preserve of wealthier individuals, frequently in the field of genealogy or poetry. The development of duplicating and photocopying technologies over the course of the 20th century opened up cheap publication to groups and individuals. Local Fascist newsletters were duplicated, for example the Western fascist in 1933 and 1934. The underground or alternative press found some outlet in Devon, for example Catalyst, a periodical produced by an Exeter anarchist collective in 1982.
The World Wide Web grew in the 1990s but many items are still available both in printed and digital versions. This is important as "bit rot" means that it is difficult to access older versions of documents. Increasingly though documents are "born digital" and often die digital. The advent of social media is the ultimate in the democratisation of publishing, and it also poses challenges for those who would find, select and preserve our digital heritage.
Copyright © Ian Maxted 2015
This page last updated 18 July 2015