Biographical and bibliographical information on the book trades
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16 January 2007

Devon Book Introduction

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
Contents and introduction

1. Contents and introduction
10. Contents and introduction.
2. Some early riddles (-1500)
21. Early evidence of literacy.
22. Saxon Devon.
23. Exeter Cathedral Library.
24. Libraries on the eve of the Reformation.
25. Medieval Devon scholars.
25a. Some medieval Devon private libraries.
26. Education and literacy in medieval Devon.
3. The arrival of printing (1500-1700)
31. The earliest printing in Devon.
32. The book trade in the early period of printing.
33. The Reformation in Devon.
34. The establishment of the Exeter book trade.
35. Books and readers in the 17th century.
36. Printing in 17th century Exeter.
37. Disruption and recovery.
38. The structure of the 17th century book trade in Exeter.
4. The provincial press (1700-1790)
41. The provincial press and the origins of the local newspaper.
42. A good face of learning.
43. Controversies in print.
44. Jobbing work and advertisements.
45. The market for books in the 18th century.
46. Libraries and readers.
47. The spread of printing.
48. Popular literature in the eighteenth century.
49. Spreading the word: postboys, hawkers and billposters.
5. Revolution and evolution (1790-1850)
51. The French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars.
52. Tourism and topographical views.
53. Some Exeter businesses of the early 19th century.
54. The newspaper in the age of reform.
55. The move to self-improvement.
56. Couchers and layers: the paper industry in mid nineteenth century Exeter.
57. Some scholars in the book trades.
58. Libraries in the early 19th century .
6. The growth of mechanisation (1850-1940)
61. The printer's repertoire.
62. The spread of the newspaper.
63. The development of scholarly publishing.
64. Booksellers in a time of change.
65. The public library.
7. Past in to present (1940-2000)
71. Survivors and failures.
72. Booksellers since World War 2.
73. Antiquarian booksellers in post-war Exeter.
74. Libraries since World War 2.
75. Publishers and grey literature.
76. The newspaper since 1945.
77. The alternative press in Devon.
78. The death of the book?
7. Past in to present (2001-2021)
81. Austerity, covid-19, UNESCO.
91. Bibliography and references.

The written word is a pervasive means of human communication and the prime means of recording information about all aspects of our society. Devon has benefited from its presence for some two thousand years. The aim of the present study is to provide a local reflection of what is becoming known in the academic world as "book history". This is an interdisciplinary study whose scope is only partially reflected in its commonly accepted designation, covering as it does not merely books, but newspapers, periodicals, archives, ephemera and a wide range of texts, printed or manuscript, together with any associated illustrations. It does not only cover the objects themselves but the technical processes and institutions which made them available, from scribes to printing offices, from booksellers to libraries, and of course includes the whole range of readers, actual or potential. It bears on the intellectual and cultural background against which these texts were received and, unlike many other studies of local history, seeks to get inside the minds of the individuals which made up past communities, to gain some awareness of the mental baggage which they carried about with them, as reflected in the materials they may have read. It also show how local communities are linked to the outside world through the commonwealth of letters.

It is a wide study and there is a danger of straying too far into specialist fields such as the history of education or literary studies. The present work is a conflation and extension of a series of earlier papers and research projects on local and national book history. It has had an organic growth over a long time and as a result some areas are better covered than others. In some fields data has been gathered intensively, for example local imprints to 1800 or biographical data on book trade members to the mid nineteenth century. Generally the foundations are best for the eighteenth century with a tailing off on either side of that date which at least leaves the field wide open for other studies.

Despite the title, there is a concentration on Exeter although, where information is lacking or local examples could be usefully augmented for the purpose of comparison, I have also drawn instances from elsewhere in Devon or, on occasion, from the south-west region, from elswhere in Britain or even from overseas. To cover all Devon to a similar level, epsecially Plymouth, would have made this work more twice as long. Again there is room for further studies.

One theme that emerges throughout the period covered is the significance of the written word in forming ever wider social networks, be it the group of scholars corresponding about sources of information, the chain of printers, publishers, booksellers and librarians involved in distributing bodies of literature, or the community of readers linked by the shared experience of reading the same book or newspaper. It is a social structure which has continually evolved and the harnessing of new technologies through such networks as the World Wide Web must be seen in Devon as elsewhere as being not a new departure but an inevitable step in a continuing process.

It is the doubtful privilege of the generalist that he can display his ignorance to a series of specialists in turn, but I hope that this consolidation of the experiences gained in rubbing shoulders with Devon's written heritage for more than twenty years will add a new dimension to local studies and pave the way for others to fill out various aspects in a coherent way. A book history of Devon on the lines of the History of the Book in Britain project would provide an important section in any revived Victoria County History.

Many people have assisted, often unwittingly, in the gradual growth of this volume: My predecessors in the field of Devon's history and bibliography from John Hooker in the sixteenth century through James Davidson to Professor W.G.Hoskins and Allan Brockett of Exeter University Library. My colleagues in libraries in Devon, including Geoffrey Paley in Exeter and John Pike and Lorna Smith in Torquay. Those in the Devon Record Office who have always passed me snippets of information: Margery Rowe, Trevor Falla and Mike Dickinson among others, not to forget Christine North from Cornwall Record Office. Academics in Exeter who have been willing to tolerate me among their ranks, Professors Joyce Youings, W.D.Ravenhill, Walter Minchinton, and members of the Centre for South Western Historical Studies, notably Dr Jonathan Barry and Dr Todd Gray. Others further afield who have encouraged me: Robin Myers of the Stationers' Company, Professor Michael Treadwell of Trent University in Canada, Professor Peter Isaac, that tireless begetter of the British Book Trade Index, Richard Goulden, Mike Crump and others working at the English Short-Title Catalogue Project at the British Library, Dr Christine Ferdinand at Oxford. These are only a selection of so many people who have helped, often with the apparently insignificant detail. Always present, and tolerating the time I have spent gathering this material together over the years, is my wife Jill, who has patiently read proofs and listened as I expounded various sections to her. To all these friends and colleagues my grateful thanks.

As to my errors of omission or commission, I am going to eschew the normal humility formulae in favour of the robust statement offered by the editor of Sir John Hayward's Sanctuary of a troubled soul: "I must ... profess that they are: first I know what where, second I think not many, third I care not what."

Ian Maxted
January 2001

This introduction was written for a work that was intended to sum up the first two millennia of literacy in Exeter and Devon, but print publication was never achieved and the text was put onto the Exeter Working Papers website. Twenty years on, the designation of Exeter as UNESCO City of Literature and the growth of print-on-demand publishing have made it possible to self-publish books without significant speculative expenditure in advance. It is intended to pass all royalties forthcoming from this and future publications in the Exeter working papers in book history series to support public heritage library collections in Exeter, which have been disproportionately affected by a decade of austerity cuts since 2011. Many of those who were acknowledged in 2001 are sadly no longer with us, but it is a pleasure to thank for their support those who have courageously accepted the poisoned chalice handed to them by Devon County Council, notably Libraries Unlimited in Exeter and the South West Heritage Trust in Taunton. Let us hope that the Exeter phoenix will rise again after Covid-19 as it did after World War 2.

Ian Maxted
June 2021

This page last updated 16 November 2023
© Ian Maxted, 2001.