Printing in York

The City

York is a walled city in North East England. It is famous for the preservation and wealth of its history. The city was founded by the Romans in 71 AD, settled by the Angles, captured to become the Viking capital and then, during the later Middle Ages, prospered as a major trading centre.

Today the city is eager to celebrate its past. One often overlooked aspect is York’s vibrant printing history, so we hope our mission to build a working reproduction of Gent’s common press will provide an opportunity to uncover and celebrate the history of printing.

Church & the Crown

In 1649, Parliament passed an ‘Act against Unlicensed and Scandalous Books and Pamphlets, and for better regulating of Printing.’ This meant ‘printing presses were restricted to London, the two Universities, York, and one press in Finsbury used to print the Bible and the Psalms.’[1] The Act allowed York to continue printing and all books of divinity were licensed by the Archbishop of York. This supported York to become an important ecclesiastical centre — a role it has retained to this day. Printing in the city even developed Royal connections as, after deserting parliament, King Charles I moved himself, his printer (Robert Barker), the royal press and his court to York to publish royalist propaganda.[2] It was said the King’s press was housed ‘at so short distance from the Royal Residence, to admit of quick and unobserved communication between the King and his printer.’ [3]

Who were York’s printers?

The presence and importance of printing in York led to the rise of numerous printing houses at Minster’s Yard and Stonegate. They can be traced across the city, from the royal press and even down to Thomas Gent.

Stephen Bulkley 1642 – 1646

Stephen Bulkley rose to prominence a short time before the King’s presses were removed from York. It is believed that his printing experience came from working with the royal typographer, even though ‘his type was of inferior quality and not at all equal to the King’s Printer.’ This didn’t stop him styling himself as ‘Printer to the King’s Majesty.’[4]

Thomas Broad 1644 – 1650

Bulkley was removed as the ‘quasi-royal printer’[5] and Thomas Broad was employed. His printing office was located in Stonegate (opposite the Star Inn) and later moved to Coney Street (near the Guild Hall).[6]

Stonegate, York.jpg
Stonegate York

Alice Broad 1660 – 1667

Alice Broad was the widow of Thomas Broad, and inherited the printing business. Her time as a printer in York was significant as one publication presents the ‘names of both the printer and stationer appearing in a title page of a book printed in York.’[7]

Yorke: Printed by Alice Broade, and are to be sold by Francis Mawburne at the Minster-Gates, 1661.

John White 1680 – 1715

John White followed Stephen Bulkley’s second term as printer, arriving in York in 1680. White married Hannah, the daughter of Thomas and Alice Broad and inherited the printing business ‘over against the Star in Stonegate.’[8]

White left the estate to his son but his printing equipment was given to his wife, Grace. His son was the result of his first marriage so Grace chose to leave her printing equipment to her own grandson, Charles Bourne. Some money was also left to ‘Alice Guy, her maid-servant’[9] who later married Bourne and, after his death, remarried as a widow to Thomas Gent. So, by marriage to Alice Guy, Thomas Gent obtained a print business in York.

History Today
Printer's Devil
Printer’s Devil at 33 Stonegate

Today York’s printing past can be spotted along its streets. The carved red devil situated on Stonegate at the entrance of Coffee Yard was placed there in 1888 as a representation of the York Printers. Thomas Gent’s original printing office was situated at No.33, Coffee Yard and the previous printers of York, such as Thomas and Alice Broad and their son in law John White, printed near this location. The early printers of York may not be visible in the same way as the striking 13th century walls or the celebrated Viking past, but they remain a quietly valuable aspect of York’s history.

[1] Holdsworth, W. S. “Press Control and Copyright in the 16th and 17th Centuries,” The Yale Law Journal. Yale: The Yale Law Journal Company. 29. 8, 1920, pp. 841-858.
[2] “No Longer in Print” The York Press, April 2005.
[3] Davis, A Memoir of the York Press, 39
[4] Ibid, 56.
[5] Ibid, 70.
[6] Ibid, 72.
[7] Ibid, 90.
[8] Ibid, 97.
[9] Ibid, 121.