The Year of the Book in Ipswich

By James McCall |

In 1548, during the reign of Edward VI, two printers established printing presses in the Suffolk port of Ipswich. By the end of the year, and after producing at least 19 books, both men had ceased printing in the town. What had driven these men to set up presses in Ipswich and why did they stop?

Although London was the centre of England’s book trade in the sixteenth century (and, indeed, all subsequent centuries), a number of presses existed outside the capital in Oxford, Cambridge, St. Albans, Abingdon, Canterbury and York in the 1500s. It was therefore not unknown for a printing press to operate successfully in the provinces.

There were a number of reasons as to why Ipswich may have been specifically attractive to printers. The college established in the town by the Ipswich-born Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s generated an acute demand for books: the town had its first stationer by 1534. The location of the port in the South East of England also allowed for the easy import of paper and type, especially important because of the absence of paper mills in Great Britain.

Proximity to the continent also aided the circulation of Protestant writing, reflected in the fact that the Ipswich presses were concerned primarily with translations of Reformed thinkers and the publications of local religious radicals. Anthony Scoloker, the first Ipswich publisher, was connected to the Reformed world through Dutch roots. One surviving copy of Scoloker’s Ipswich work, A goodly dysputatyon betwene a christen shomaker, and a popysshe parson by Hans Sachs in octavo, is held by the John Rylands Library.

full title page
A goodly dysputatyon betwene a Christen Shomaker, and a Popysshe Parson, The University of Manchester John Rylands Library, R17502, USTC 518050

John Oswen, believed to have been of Welsh descent, was the second printer to set up shop in Ipswich in 1548. He too specialised in Reformed literature producing work including an octavo translation of Calvin’s What a faithfull man, whiche is instructe in the Worde of God, ought to do, dwellinge amongest the papistes also held by the John Rylands Library. The book survives in four variant states and the copy held by Rylands lacks ‘the .x. daye of August’ found in the colophons of other copies, an experiment perhaps indictive of a printer in the early stages of his career.

The colophon of John Bale’s Illustrium Maioris Britanniae scriptorum … summarium also played a part in the print history of Ipswich. The colophon claims to have been printed by a third Ipswich printer operating in 1548, John Overton. However, the research of bibliographers over the last century have made it clear that this work is a false imprint and was almost certainly printed by Dirik van der Straten in the Holy Roman Empire city of Wesel. As this blog has previous noted, false imprints were employed for a number of reasons in the early modern period. Although Bale’s Illustrium was printed elsewhere, the choice to purport an Ipswich imprint speaks to the reputation of provincial presses.

Illustrium Maioris Britanniae scriptorum ... summarium
Colophon from John Bale’s Illustrium Maioris Britanniae scriptorum … summarium, which claims to have been printed in Gippeswici (Ipswich) by John Overton in 1548. Bayerische Staatsbibliothek 4 H.lit.p. 23, USTC 665137.

What happened to the Ipswich publishers? The sudden emergence of the Ipswich presses led some academics to claim that these were all false imprints, used to allow English language books printed abroad to be sold legally in the Kingdom. However, typographical evidence suggests that the two printers were active in the town; Scoloker may even have been present in Ipswich as early as 1547.

We do know that Scoloker later moved to London, the city in which he had been an apprentice, and formed a partnership with William Seres until at least 1550. In contrast, Oswen went into business with the government. He established himself in Worcester, becoming the first printer in that town, after being made the King’s printer for Wales for 7 seven years. His last known work was published in 1553.

The ascension to the throne of the Catholic Mary I in 1553 would have forced Protestant printing to cease or go underground, though there is no record of Scoloker or Oswen continuing to print abroad.

With no printers working in the town between 1549 and the granting of the royal charter to the Stationer’s Guild in 1557 (a piece of legislation that made it virtually illegal to operate a press outside of London), it was not until 1720 that printing resumed in one of the largest settlements in the east of England.


Is your library one of our partners? Let us know if you would like to contribute to this blog. Please contact us by email at [email protected].

Are you a librarian interested in learning more about the rarity of your collection? Learn more about how to partner with Preserving the World’s Rarest Books.

James McCall is a part-time PhD student in the Reformation Studies Institute at the University of St Andrews. His thesis examines early eighteenth-century newspaper advertising in Britain and Ireland. He is interested in the development of political stability, commercial culture and the concept of politeness in the ‘long’ eighteenth century.


Images available from the University of Manchester John Rylands Library and the Bayerische Staatsbibliothekunder the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Licence. Copyright of The University of Manchester and Bayerische Staatsbibliothek.


%d blogger hanno fatto clic su Mi Piace per questo: