Caxton and the Printing Press

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the life and influence of William Caxton, the merchant who brought the printing press to the British Isles. After spending several years working as a printer in Bruges, Caxton returned to London and in 1476 set up his first printing press in Westminster, and also imported and sold other printed books. Caxton concentrated on producing popular books that he knew would sell, such as Chaucer’s ‘Canterbury Tales’ and small liturgical ‘books of hours’. The standard of Caxton’s printing may have lagged behind that on the continent, but he was a skilful businessman and unusually for printers at the time, he managed not to go bankrupt. The advent of print is now seen as one of the great revolutions in intellectual history - although many scholars believe it was a revolution that took many generations to have an effect.

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  • Richard Gameson 6 episodes
    Professor of the History of the Book at the University of Durham
  • Julia Boffey No other episodes
    Professor of Medieval Studies in the English Department at Queen Mary, University of London
  • David Rundle No other episodes
    Member of the History Faculty at the University of Oxford

Reading list

  • The Canterbury Tales: A Facsimile Edition of William Caxton's Second Edition
    J. A. W. Bennett (ed.) (Cambridge: Cornmarket Reprints, 1972)
  • Caxton and his World
    N. F. Blake (Andre Deutsch, 1969) Google Books →
  • Caxton: England's First Publisher
    N. F. Blake (Osprey, 1975) Google Books →
  • Caxton's Own Prose
    N. F. Blake (HarperCollins, 1973)
  • Caxton in Focus: The Beginning of Printing in England
    Lotte Hellinga (British Library, 1982) Google Books →
  • William Caxton and Early Printing in England
    Lotte Hellinga (British Library, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Cambridge History of the Book in Britain, Vol. III: 1400-1557
    L. Hellinga and J. B. Trapp (ed.) (Cambridge, 1999) Google Books →
  • The History and Fables of Aesop translated and printed by William Caxton 1484, reproduced in facsimile
    E. Hodnett (ed.) (Scolar Press, 1976) Google Books →
  • Print, Manuscript and the Search for Order
    D. McKitterick (Cambridge, 2005) Google Books →
  • Vocabulary in French and English: a facsimile of Caxton's edition of c.1480
    J. C. T. Oates and L. C. Harmer (Cambridge University Press, 1964) Google Books →
  • William Caxton: A Quincentenary Biography of England's First Printer
    George D. Painter (Chatto & Windus, 1976) Google Books →
  • The Book in the Renaissance
    A. Pettegree (Yale, 2010) Google Books →

Related episodes

Programme ID: b01nbqz3

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Auto-category: 686.2 (Printing)

Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. More than 500 years ago, with England still locked into the Wars of the Roses, a merchant called William Caxton set up shop not far from where I am now, in the city of Westminster.