Printing in Newcastle

Map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Gateshead, 1610

Map of Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1610. The town is much smaller than it is today, surrounded by a town wall. Click to enlarge.

In the 1600s the town of Newcastle-upon-Tyne was a prosperous trading port. It was the fifth largest town in Britain (after London, Norwich, York and Bristol), with a population of around 10,000, growing to around 16,000 by 1700 despite several very bad attacks of the plague in the 1630s. Newcastle owed its prosperity to a monopoly on coal: the dissolution of the monasteries meant there was private access to coal mines which had previously been owned by Tynemouth and Durham priories, and a royal act meant that from 1530, all coal from the area had to be shipped from Newcastle quayside.

Despite its prosperity and growth, Newcastle was a long way from London. Throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the printing of books was confined to London, Oxford and Cambridge. There was no printer operating in Newcastle until 1639, more than 150 years after the first English printing press was set up by William Caxton.

When King Charles I came to Newcastle in 1639, just before the start of the English Civil War, he brought the royal printer Robert Barker and a printing press. The first books printed in the town were a sermon by the Bishop of Durham and a book of instructions to the army, Lawes and Ordinances of War, as well as a newspaper, probably the first one printed outside of London. When Robert Barker left Newcastle, there was again no printer there until 1646, when Stephen Bulkley transferred his press from York at the command of the King, who was then in Newcastle under the protection of the Scottish army. Bulkley worked in Newcastle and Gateshead from 1646-1662.

There was no printer in Newcastle in 1626 - so where did William Corbett get his books from?

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Sources and Further Reading

Robert Davies (1868) A Memoir of the York Press. Westminster: Nichols and Sons.

Newcastle Local Studies (2009) ‘History of Newcastle Upon Tyne’.

Henry R. Plomer (1907) A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers who were at work in England, Scotland and Ireland from 1642 to 1667. London: Bibliographical Society.

Richard Welford (1898) ‘Newcastle A Hundred Years Ago’ in Lectures Delivered to the Literary and Philosophical Society, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, on Northumbrian History, Literature, and Art. Newcastle: A. Reid & Co.

Printing in Newcastle