Printing in the British Isles


Map Code: Ax01753

William Caxton, a wealthy London merchant, acquired the art of printing while based in Bruges. His first printed English work, Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales, was produced in 1476 in Westminster. His output was eclectic, including chivalric romances and classical translations, such as Aesop’s Fables. Britain was a slow burner in the printing revolution. After Gutenberg invented the printing press in Mainz (c. 1440), continental uptake was rapid: 77 Italian cities had printers by 1500, for instance. For England, the comparable figure was four; apart from Caxton, a John Lattou had set up shop in London, a schoolmaster in St Alban’s, and one bible was printed in Oxford. Post-Caxton, the epicentre moved to Fleet Street in London, and the business began to take off, with Robert Wyer, a pioneer of the popular press, the most prolific. In 1507, James IV of Scotland extended the first Edinburgh patent for printing, Dublin began in 1551.

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