Little Waldingfield History Society was most pleased to welcome Little Waldingfield resident Chris Bowden to the Parish Room on April 9th to present to us and demonstrate his hobby.
He began his talk by describing how recorded history of printing in this country has greatly favoured William Caxton at the expense of Johannes Gutenberg, who was the person who introduced printing to Europe. Around 1439, Gutenberg invented mechanical movable type printing; in combination with wooden printing presses, which were similar to the agricultural screw presses of the time, and oil based inks, this created his a ground breaking practical system which allowed mass production of printed books. The Gutenberg system was viable for both printers and readers alike, beginning the printing revolution widely regarded as the most important event of the modern period; it introduced mass communication, which quickly and permanently altered the structure of society.
Caxton on the other hand was an English merchant, diplomat, writer and printer, thought to be the first Englishman to introduce a printing press into England in 1476, circa 40 years after Gutenberg's invention. That said, Caxton was also named among the 100 Greatest Britons in a 2002 BBC poll!
Chris described the rapid spread of printing presses across Europe and then the rest of the world, commencing with Mainz in the 1450s, Cologne 1466, Rome 1467, Venice 1469, Paris 1470, Cracow 1473 and then London in 1477. According to one estimate, around 1,000 printing presses were in operation across Europe by the year 1500 which between them had produced some 8 million books, an enormous number when compared to the length of time it took monks and scholars to hand write books previously. By 1720 there were 12 London newspapers, with 24 in the provinces.
Chris then described how printing houses were run by Master Printers who owned printing shops, selected and edited manuscripts, determined the size of print runs, sold the works produced, raised capital and organised distribution. Printers' apprentices prepared ink, dampened sheets of paper and assisted at the press whilst those wishing to become compositors also had to learn Latin and spend time under the supervision of a master. Compositors assembled the type one letter at a time into the frame, backwards, upside down and in Latin - not at all easy!
Chris next described the mechanics and subsequent development of printing, introducing metal in place of wood. In 1800, Earl Stanhope introduced an iron press, which was not only stronger and more durable but could create a much larger impression at a time as it had a much bigger platen. This was followed by the Columbian press, invented by George Clymer in 1813, which could print a whole newspaper page in a single pull. Mr Hopkinson then improved on the Stanhope by creating the Albion Press around 1824; amazingly Albions continued in production until the 1930s and quite evidently Chris really liked these presses. What he was not too keen on was the apparent complete disregard for health and safety, with many printers suffering the effects of lead poisoning from the movable type, often with damage to the ends of the fingers that required excruciating and frequent treatment in very hot water that, according to Chris, left the fingers looking as if they had been “par-boiled” - cue many groans from the audience who could not quite believe their ears at this point.
Chris concluded by printing a page on a small, though still very heavy hand press, demonstrating how the various components worked, how the ink was applied and what to watch out for.
LWHS would like to thank Chris for an enthralling presentation much appreciated by the audience.
Our next talk will be on 14th May, when Ancestral Voices take us on a historical journey through East Anglia, from the beginning of the sixteenth century up to the early 1700s, in words, images and music (played on period instruments). It will be a celebration of our region's rich cultural heritage through the eyes of visitors such as Will Kemp, a Shakespearean comic actor, and Daniel Defoe. East Anglia's royal connections will also be explored, including the effect Henry the Eighth had on the region, as well as the summer progress made by Queen Elizabeth the First in 1578.
This “experience” will be held in Little Waldingfield's beautiful St Lawrence church, which should considerably add to the sense of occasion and ambience. There will also be a licensed bar, before the event and during the interval; we can hardly wait, so do come along with friends and family for a truly great evening of entertainment for an incredibly modest £4.00 (or just £2.00 for members).
Andy Sheppard 10th April 2014