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Map of the world from the Polychronicon. Britain is the red blob at the bottom left (east is at the top).

The print and book trade in Chester was highly regulated since its emergence in the early 16th Century following the advent of printing and the dissolution of the monasteries. The main source of this regulation was the desire of local traders to maintain a monopoly although there were some elements of political control. The advent of movable type was, like clockmaking, one of the major "general purpose" technologies to emerge from the middle ages and spread to England from continental Europe. Whereas clockmaking was seldom politicaly contentious and affected society by the establishment of regular order, the distribution of print materials was frequently far more inflamatory.

Early Print

William Caxton was born in Kent between 1415 and 1424. He was apprenticed to Robert Large, a mercer, probably when he was about fourteen or a little older. At some date between 1444 and 1449 he went to Bruges, then a thriving merchant town. Because of its predominance as a market, merchants from all over Europe gathered there and established themselves in national communities ruled by a governor. The English community was known as Merchant Adventurers and Caxton became their governor in 1462. He probably sold cloth and other goods including manuscripts, for Bruges was the centre of a flourishing trade in manuscripts and paintings. In 1469 or earlier Caxton decided to learn how to print and by using this knowledge to produce books in English for sale in England to the nobility. Having acquired a copy of the French version of the History of Troy, he started to translate it with the intention of printing the finished translation. The outbreak of civil war in England led him to postpone his plan. When after two years Edward IV was safely re-established in England he resumed his project, with the patronage of Margaret of Burgundy, Edward’s sister. He quickly finished his translation and went to Cologne to learn the art of printing. The first book Caxton printed, and the first book to appear in English, was his own translation of the History of Troy. It probably appeared in late 1473 or early 1474. In all he printed six or seven volumes before returning to England; these bear no place or date of printing but were almost certainly printed at Bruges.

The word "stationarius" was being used in Oxford and Cambridge as early as the thirteenth century and appears in the records of London and York at the beginning of the fourteenth century. It describes a person who has a fixed place of business - a stall holder rather than a hawker. It became attached to members of the book trade first in the University towns and by the fourteenth century the word had general use in London as an alternative to one of the four trades involved in book production - the parchminer who supplied parchment; the scrivener or text writer who wrote the text, the limner who added the illuminations and the bookbinder. The stationer may have been a member of one of these crafts but was principally a shopkeeper who could arrange and co-ordinate the various steps in making a book required by a customer.

In 1476, the English government passed a statute to regulate and restrict the manner in which Italian merchants, and other "merchants strangers", were able to carry on their trade within the City of London. An act clearly concerned with the encouragement of domestic trade alone, it nevertheless specifically allowed any foreigners to import books into England, as well as providing that any foreign "scrivener, alluminor, reader [binder] or printer of ... books" might carry on his business within the realm. Printed books were a new technology and the government clearly did not want to suppress it. At Michaelmas, 29 September, 1476, Caxton’s name was entered on the account roll of John Estency, Sacrist of Westminster Abbey, as paying a year’s rent in advance for the premises - probably a shop - in which he set up his press. The first known piece of printing done in England, a Letter of Indulgence by John Sant, Abbot of Abingdon, with the date of purchase 13 December 1476, issued from this press. Its existence was unknown until February 1928, when it was discovered at the Public Record Office. The first dated book printed in England, The dictes or sayengis of the philosophres, was completed on 18 November 1477. This book was translated from the French by Caxton’s friend and patron, Earl Rivers. It was followed by nearly one hundred other works before Caxton died in 1491, including (1480) the Polychronicon written in Chester by the monk Ranulph Higden.


The presence in Chester of many clergy, teachers, lawyers, palatinate officials, gentlemen, and other educated people stimulated literary interests. By the early 17th century there were stationers and a printer, but as yet apparently no dedicated bookseller. Local authors included clergy who published religious tracts, and Robert Rogers (d. 1595), archdeacon of Chester, who collected materials for a history of the city, the 'Breviary', which was completed by his son David in several versions. The original Charter of the Chester "PAINTERS, GLASIERS, EMBROIDERERS AND STATIONERS COMPANY" is dated 1st May 1534 and was granted during the mayorality of Henry Gee, a noted Puritan mayor. This charter should not be seen in isolation as from the 1530s onwards Henry VIII issued a number of royal proclamations designed to both secure his own position as the head of the Church in England as well as suppress ecclesiastical texts (printed primarily on the continent) with from th which he took issue. Henry's 1534 Act ("Act for Prynters and Bynders of Bokes") was passed for the protection of native printers against foreign competition and a number of restrictions were placed on all books printed abroad. Although, this printing privilege was primarily economic and legal in nature; it granted to its recipient the right to enjoy the economic benefits derived from printing. The idea behind the act was also for it to be a censorious measure, specifically an attempt to suppress dissenting opinions that could undermine the safety and peace of the kingdom or threaten the king’s authority. 1534 was also the year of the Act of Supremacy which split England from Rome. The original 1534 Chester charter has a clause which reads:

  • "that noe person or persons of what trade or occupacion soever as is abovesaid shall use or exercise the trade and occupacion of a Stacioner, etherr to binde, folde, cut or sell bookes of any sorte or sise whatsoever, and that none other company within this Citty of Chester shall intermedell in that profession, save such as have sarved as apprentises to the Stacioner or Bookebinder, or put of(f) any books for profitte or gane one the forfiture of v (five) poundes, and the said bookes with the tooles belonginge to a Stacioner that are soe set to seile [? sell] or used in the said occupacion to be seised one by the Sherifes of the Citty for the use of the King's Maiestie and the Companye of Painters, Glassiers, Imbrauderers and Stacioners as aforesaid "

This is a very early date for a stationers charter as the London Stationers Company was not incorporated until 1557, although some form of guild existed prior to that date. Note there is no mention in this 1534 Chester charter of printing books, only of binding them etc. Printing was virtually unknown in the north. Indeed a Star Chamber decree of 1586 limited the area within which the printing trade could be carried out. All printing presses were to be located in the City of London or its suburbs. The only exceptions were for one press each at the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. Penalties for the possession or operation of a clandestine press were severe.

However, Chester was to become the home of the county print trade with a larger number of bookbinders and sellers, papermakers and printers than anywhere else in the county. Some few of the more interesting stationers, booksellers and printers are described below. One of the more interesting is Richard Thorpe, who was apparently the brother of the publisher of Shakespeare's Sonnets and did remarkably well in Chester despite an initial clash with the Stationers company when he first arrived in the city.

The meeting house in Chester of this Company and of the Barber-Surgeons was called "The Golden Phoenix." and was on the same site as the Phoenix Tower. The Bakers' Company and the Linen Drapers' Company in 1633 paid a fine of 20s. to the Painters and Barber-Surgeons, with a rent of 23s a year, to meet in the lower meeting house of "The Golden Phoenix" and not in the higher, unless some other Company, tenants already to the Painters, was there at a meeting before them. On 6th April, 1643, the Company met at Alderman Holme's house because "The Golden Phoenix" was at that time taken to be a house for the service of the city for the planting of several ordnance for the defence of the city against the enemies of the king.

Many of the later publishers and booksellers were involved in the production of guides to Chester which became popular when the city became a tourist location.

William Holme

Many guidebooks state this emblem on the Phoenix Tower was sculpted by Randle Holme III in 1613. However, Randle Holme III was only born on the 24 December 1627

In the City of Chester, the existence of the charter shows that there were booksellers and stationers from the sixteenth century, but the first of which there is any record was William Holme, who "came to Chester" in 1592. Holme was the son of Richard Holme of Tranmere, apprenticed 1569 for eleven years to John Harrison, citizen and stationer of London, admitted a freeman of the Stationers' Company of London 1580, and to the London Livery Company in 1604. He died in July 1617 at the age of 63 and was buried at Holy Trinity. Richard Holme was the brother of Thomas Holme, father of the first Randle Holme.

Exactly who was the city's first letterpress printer still remains something of a mystery, although copper-plate (or intaglio) printing seems to have been practised from the middle of the seventeenth century by William Thorpe (or Thropp) senior (1657-76) who was a native of Upton, Wirral.

There is a curious, perhaps co-incidental, relation between the Holme and Thorpe families. Thomas Thorpe (c. 1569 – c. 1625) was an English publisher, most famous for publishing Shakespeare's sonnets and several works by Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson. Geoffrey Caveney, an American researcher, has unearthed possible evidence to link the initials with William Holme, who had both personal and professional connections to Thorpe. Both possibly came from prominent Chester families, were publishing apprentices in 1570s London and had strong connections with theatres through publishing major playwrights such as Ben Jonson and George Chapman. The 1609 quarto of Shakespeare's sonnets include a dedication to "Mr. W.H.". The suggestion has been made that "W.H." is William Holme, and that this is the same William Holme who lived in Chester, or a relative, possibly the eldest brother of Randle Holme, another William, who died in 1607. This second William Holme was apprenticed to his uncle in 1581 and admitted to the London Stationers Company in 1589.

There is some evidence of a connection between the Chester and London Stationer Companies found in the August, 1625, accounts of the Chester Company which contain this item:

  • "Spent in wyne to entertayne the wardens and others of the Company of Stacioners of London. 2s. 6d."

The books of the London Company do not seem to throw any light upon this visit, but that Company was interested in a plantation in Ireland, and it is possible that the wardens stopped at Chester on their way.

The Holme pedigree - this is from the corrected edition of Ormerod as that in the first edition is somewhat inaccurate. This may not be accurate either, but does have a "WH" who died in 1607, just prior to the publication of the Sonnets.

Richard Thorpe

A funerary memorial board by Randle Holme in the former vestry of St Peter. This relates to the Cowper family and bears (on the left) the arms granted by Charles I. The chequered arms on the right are that of Thorpe/Thropp as Cowper married into that family.

Richard Thorpe/Thropp stationer, of Chester was a relative of Thomas Thorpe who published the Sonnets. He was the son of Thomas Thorpe of Barnet, innholder, and grandson of William Thropp, sheriff of Chester 1597 and therefore younger brother of the Thomas Thorpe of the Sonnets, who was apprenticed 5th June, 1584, to Richard Watkins, then senior warden of the London Stationers' Company.

Richard was apprenticed 6 Sept. 1596, for seven years to Martin Ensor, citizen and stationer, of London, made a freeman of Chester, 1635-6. In 1635 the Chester Company prosecuted him (under their charter) for setting up a shop as a "foreigner" and obtained an order to shut it up. The accounts of the stationers company record money spent:

  • "Given ye macebearer his fee for fechinge of Ric. Thrope, the Stationer, before Mr. Maior, for setting up a shoppe in ye citty, being a forener"
  • "Spent more on Munday after, to suppresse Richard Throppe when we had a warrant from Mr. Maior for shuttinge in of his shoppe"

He petitioned to join the Company, and on 22 Feb. 1637, "by extraordinary favour" secured admission on payment of the £5 fine specified in the charter and the gift of a cup worth thirty shillings (Cheshire Sheaf, I, 216-17, 225, 238). He also agreed, according to custom, to give a dinner on St. Luke's Day to the members of the Company and their wives. St Luke's day (18th October) was or later became the traditional "feast" day of the Company: Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that Luke was the first icon painter. Of the five pounds the twenty-nine brethren and the widows of two others received two shillings each. He was alderman of the Chester Company 1655, and was several times fined for being "tardy" and attending meetings in his gown. Stewart-Brown states that he died on 18 April, 1668, aged 58, and was buried on 20 April at Holy Trinity Church, Chester. However those dates make little sense: as he could not have been born in 1610. It is possibly relevant that the family name seems to be sometimes recorded as Thorpe and sometimes as Thropp, and that a Thomas Thropp was mayor of Chester in 1637 and several other Thropps appear to have been sheriffs. Perhaps Richard was well enough connected to get the "extraordinary favour". Thorpe/Thropp certainly made good use of his freedom, in 1638 the minutes state:

The book-plate of William Thorpe
  • "Richard Throppe, stationer, petitioned that Gilbert Vawse, glazier, on 24th November last was granted the loan of £25, part of Robert Offley's money. As Vawse had not received the loan, nor found any security for its repayment, nor was resident in the City, Throppe requested that he as a freeman and inhabitant of the City should have the money. His petition was granted."

Robert Offley was the son of William Offley who was Mayor of Stafford twice and Sheriff and Alderman in Chester in 1517. William Offley was married at least twice and had as many as 26 children. Robert later served as executor of the will of his half-brother, Sir Thomas Offley who was Sheriff and Mayor of London. Robert prospered in trade with Calais and Bruges on the coast of France. In a monument to his father placed in St Peter's Church in Chester by his brother William it was said that Robert left £600 to the town of Chester for relief of the poor and two £5 scholarships. It would appear that the money was not made available only to the poor, but was like the bequest of Owen Jones used for the benefit of guild members whether rich or poor.

A rather radical theory about Richard Thropp is that he was actually a run-away Christopher Marlowe, who had escaped an assassination attempt (May 1593) in London (or faked it), and consequently assumed the identity of a real Thropp who remained in London. There is a good deal of speculation about Marlowe in various publications. The facts of his life are that he was born in early 1564, and active as a playwright from 1587, being patronised by Ferdinando Stanley. If Thropp arrived in Chester around 1635 he would have been far too old to be Marlowe. However given the connection between the Thropp of Chester and Thorpe of London there may be an interesting tale still waiting to be discovered.

Richard Thorpe was followed in his business by his son, William Thorpe. A hand-bill from William is the earliest known existing sample of Chester print media. It reads:

  • "THESE are to give notice, That at the Sign of the Hand and Bible in this City of Chejter, that any one that stands in need or hath a defire to buy any Boohes, may there be furnifhed with feveral forts of New and Old, or have new and old bound at a reafonable price; and smal Pictures in black and white, and in colours, And alfo feveral forts of Maps, fmall and large, black and white, and in colours. Like-wife white paper of feveral forts gilt and ruled for Mufick Books, and ruled for books of Accompts, and coloured paper of the beft. Sealing Wax hard and soft. Pennes, Pen/Us black and red. And also Ink-horns of several sorts; and Letter-Cases, black boxes, Vellome, Parchment, Spectacles of several sorts, Mouth-glue, clasps for books, Quills, Wafers, New-bookes and Newes weekly. WILLIAM THORPPE"

Peter Ince

Peter Ince stationer, of Chester (Watergate Street) was made a freeman of Chester, in 1612, as a draper and admitted to their Chester Company. He was an alderman 1635-42: leave looker of Chester in 1635, he died 1648. The registers of Holy Trinity, Chester, have many references to his family but do not give his burial. Writing on 20 Aug. 1637, to the Archbishop of York on the subject of Wm. Prynne and Peter Ince (see: Bruen) Bishop Bridgeman of Chester says:

  • "We have no other stationer in that city, yet no Puritanicall bookes [appear] but our citizens get them as soon as any, which I suppose come by his means, tho' he be so cunning as it will hardly be discovered unless by his own answers upon his oath." On 20 Nov. 1637, the Bishop writes that Ince had visited Prynne in the Tower and that the Privy Council ordered a search to be made in Ince's house for seditious books. This the mayor did, but all the birds were flown ere the nest was searched." (a reference to a quote from Charles I).

There must have been an element of farce in this, as Ince held the lease on the "long shop under the Pentice and next to the High Cross" (ZCHD/6/8). The Pentice was effectively the Mayors office and so Ince had the shop directly beneath the Mayor (probably Thomas Thropp). Peter Ince was the cousin of Royalist mayor William Ince (1642-3) who protected William Brereton from a Royalist mob and so survived the purge of the Corporation at the end of the Civil War siege, married Thropp's daughter and was elected MP for Chester in 1660. Hanshall informs use that:

"The Holy Life and Happy Death" of John Bruen, by William Hinde - a free eBook is available but the text is hard-going. This was one of a deluge of 1641 publications on iconoclasm and fuel on the fire of civil unrest
  • "There were several other prosecutions but it is said the offenders bought peace of the Archbishop (Laud) for two butts of sack"

Ince was fined £300 for associating with Prynne and made a public recantation in the Cathedral and before the Mayor.

In 1640-41 on the eve of the Civil War a century-long partnership of the Crown and the London Stationers collapsed, leaving state control of the press and the Stationers' interest in copyright in an extremely vulnerable situation. Examples of "political" publications involving Chester at this time include the "Remonstrance against Presbytery" and the "fake news" about the Cholmondeley "rising".

Tentatively at first and with growing assertiveness by 1642, the Lords and Commons revised and restated in their own interest the old partnership of the state and the Stationers; for their part, the Stationers worked hard to demonstrate their utility to the new regime and to preserve the privileges that allowed them to control the book business. The result of their joint efforts was the Licensing Order of 1643, which critics, including John Milton, thought to be scarcely distinguishable from the Star Chamber decree of 1637, the high-water mark of the old regime. But the ordinance proved only partially successful.

There is a later Edward Ince printer in Chester, from about 1712. Perhaps Edward Ince (son of Randle Ince), freeman of Chester 1709. Thomas Gent (1710-78), the York and London printer, in his "Life", p. 79, writing of his return to Ireland to visit his parents in 1718, states, "I would not stay [in Chester] to ask Mr. Ince, a master printer newly set up, for business, but travelled to Holyhead," etc. Ince probably died about that date, as Gent also states that William Cooke (q.v.) bought the late Mr. Ince's materials.

Daniel King

Daniel King was born in Chester son of William King, a baker, and became a well known engraver. He was apprenticed as an heraldic painter to Randle Holme, sometime deputy for a King of Arms. He began his apprenticeship on 3rd Sept 1630, and was admitted a member of the Chester Stationers' Company in Aug. 1640. He was steward in 1642/3. He made an annual payment to the company from 1639 to 1642/3, during which years he employed a number of journeymen, tut thereafter he ceased to make payments and evidently left the city. On visiting Chester in 1660 he was received and entertained by the Stationers' Company of that city. Wood states that he made an unfortunate marriage, and that after his wife had robbed and left him, he died heartbroken near York House, in the Strand, about 1664.

Daniel King is not accepted as an heraldic authority but in his book, "The Vale Royal of England", he was fortunate enough thanks to the generosity of his patron, Peter Venables Baron of Kinderton, to have been able to include the armorial bearings of some 520 Cheshire Gentlemen. King's Vale Royal (1656) published in London, contains the work of William Smith and William Webb and a section on the Isle of Man by Challoner, but the title page carries the name of King in such a manner as to suggest that he was the principal author. Dugdale told Wood that he was not able to write one word of true English, being "a most ignorant, silly fellow," and moreover "an arrant knave." The engravings to the "Vale Royall" are admirably done by King himself in the style of Hollar, who may have trained him in part.

His work was used as a source by Ormerod.

King's Vale Royall gives the impression he created the work himself.

Randle Holme

Randle Holme (III) (1627-1700) is included here as a Chester publisher and printer, but he was primarily a herald painter. In 1688 he issued his well-known book, The Academy of Armory. A complete copy should have two title pages. The engraved title page has upon it:

  • "Printed att Chester by the Author."

The printed title page has:

  • "Chester: Printed for the Author MDCLXXXVIII."

There are some commendatory verses in the book signed "T. Tillier, Typog." In expressing the opinion that the book was printed in Chester, Earwaker (Jour. Chester Arch. Soc., N.S. 4, 152) points out that the will of Randle Holme (IV) (son of the author) refers to a room in his house in Bridge Street, "which room was formerly made use of as a printing house or place"; that at the end of the book Randle Holme (the author) writes of the high price of paper, great wages and his daily layings out; and that elsewhere he described the book as "my own labour and printing." According to Beloe, (Anecdotes of Literature, vi, 342) Dr. Johnson confessed that the Address to the Reader, at the end of Holme's book, suggested to him the idea of his own preface to his "A Dictionary of the English Language".

Ormerod describes the book as follows:

  • "The author’s object appears to have been the formation of a kind of encyclopaedia in this awkward heraldic form; and in the rest of the present book he proceeds through all the range of creation, treating the reader with the strangest jumble on Natural History, Mineralogy and Surgery, occasionally diversified by Palmistry, Hunter’s terms, the Cock­pit laws, Diseases, an Essay on Time and on Men punished in Hell. Introducing each subject successively as the fancied bearing of an armorial coat"

Peter Bodvel

Peter Bodvel (Bodvell, Bodrell) had been apprenticed to Thomas Brewster, bookseller of London, and gave evidence against his master in 1664 at the latter's trial for seditious publishing. The case arose when John Twyn was brought to trial under the prosecution of Roger L’Estrange, government surveyor of the press, on a charge of high treason. Twyn had published a book, "A Treatise of the Execution of Justice", in which he had asserted the right of the people to revolt under an oppressive government. Rumour then circulated that he was about to publish a pamphlet calling for the Kings execution. His premises were raided and he was convicted, hanged, drawn, and quartered. Twyn claimed he was not the author of the work, had never read it but refused to say who the author was, saying first that it had been given to him by "a servant". Twyn told those who begged him to confess the source of the treason that "it was not his principle to betray the author." The next day, Twyn's head was duly placed on a Ludgate spike.

In company with Simon Dover the binder and Nathan Brooks the printer, Brewster was also tried at the Old Bailey for having caused to be printed two pamphlets, the one entitled "The Speeches of some of the late King's Justices"; the other "The Phoenix of the Solemn League and Covenant". Brewster was found guilty of sediton condemned to pay a fine of 100 marks and to stand in the pillory on two days. [An Exact Narrative of the Tryal … of John Twyn, etc, 1664.] In a note in The Newes of April 28th, 1664, Brewster is said to have died shortly afterwards. A list of books on sale by Thomas Brewster occurs at the end of Robert Purnell's Little Cabinet, 1657. [E. 1575.] It consists mainly of theological books and pamphlets against the Quakers.

John Twyn was hung, drawn and quartered after a trial at which Peter Bovdel gave evidence.

Bodvel's shop in London was burnt out in the fire of 1666, and he then removed to Chester, where hed had trouble with the local Company but bought his way out with a fine. He was associated with Edward Fowkes of London in publishing the first Prayer Book in Welsh, printed for them by S. Dover, London, 1664. He was an eccentric Presbyterian and, at the beginning of the book was written a memorandum that:

  • "Peter Bodvel, the undertaker of this book, was a Presbyterian bookseller at Chester, and often bragged of comparing the King to an owl, the Royal family to cranes and the clergy and their followers to apes, by the capitals in the Morning and Evening Service at the beginning of those Prayers."

The words quoted are written on the flyleaf of one of the copies (G. 19895) of this Prayer Book in the British Museum. The capitals used for certain of the prayers have owls, cranes and apes in the designs. A suggestion that this note is in the writing of Dr. Johnson seems to be without foundation.

When Bodvel opened a shop in Chester, he was brought by the Chester Co. before the mayor, whereupon he obtained admission to the Company. He was made freeman as bookseller in 1668, later alderman of the Company. He died 22 April, 1676, and was buried at St Michael where there is a memorial to him.

John Minshull

John Minshull, stationer and bookseller, of Chester (Bridge Street) was the second son of Randle Minshull of Chester, merchant and innholder. He was made a freeman 1676 and perhaps disenfranchised and re-admitted 26 Oct. 1687. He was sheriff of Chester 1702, alderman 1708 and mayor 1711. He had been apprenticed to Peter Bodvel (q.v.) and completed his term with Elizabeth Bodvel, the widow, and was admitted to the Chester Company on 18 Oct. 1676.

The Assembly on 15 Sept. 1691, ordered Minshull to be indicted for an encroachment in Bridge Street. He had begun "to enclose a small shop there over against the shop of Henry Lloyd which he thought might be to his advantage without the least prejudice or inconvenience to the Row". He was fined £5, reduced to £3 in 1694, and ordered to pay 5s. a year for 21 years. In a paper on "A Chester Bookseller, 1667-1700," in "The Library" for 1903 (2nd Series, vol. iv, No. 16, p. 373), H. R. Plomer has some interesting notes on John Minshull, derived from a Chancery suit brought by the Stationers' Company of London against Robert Wellington, bookseller of London, and John Minshull of Chester in 1699, for infringing the Company's privilege of printing the Psalms in metre, and for importing and selling other books which the Company claimed as its exclusive property. In his answer, Minshull stated that he purchased his freedom from the Stationers of Chester, that he had "carried on business there as a bookseller for twenty-five years, and that he considered he was free to do so without the interference of the London Company". In his Life and Errors (ed. Nichols, 1818), John Dunton, the London bookseller has some references to John Minshull :

  • "Mr. Minshull, in Chester, is a man of good sense, very courteous to strangers (as myself have lately experienced) and manages his trade with a great deal of prudence. But I have done this man a better justice in my Dublin Scuffle than my designed brevity will admit of here " (vol. i, 237).

In the last-mentioned book at p. 412 Dunton refers to a visit to Dublin, and that after having seen the Library at Trinity College:

  • "we went to visit Mr. Minshul (whose father I knew in Chester). Mr. Minshul has been student in the college for some time and is a very sober ingenious youth; and I do think is descended from one of the most courteous men in Europe (I mean Mr. John Minshul, bookseller in Chester)."

Several other Minshulls were known in the Chester print trades.

The Pages

Humfrey Page, stationer and bookseller, of Chester, made freeman 1684, was formerly of Nantwich, bookseller (Local Gleanings, i, 254, and Plomer, Diet.) where he was one of the advertised sellers of Holme's Academy of Armory, 1688. He complained in 1685 against John Minshull (q.v.) for having set up two shops in Chester contrary to ancient usage and about the same time (and later) action was taken against grocers for selling books (Jour. Chester Arch. Soc., O.S., 2, 28-9). He was alderman of the Chester Company, sheriff 1700, and mayor 1707. Leigh Page, his son was also a bookseller, made freeman as gentleman 15 Oct 1719 and Sheriff of Cheshire 1733. Leigh's son John was apprenticed 15 November, 1721, for seven years to his father and was sheriff of Chester 1742, alderman 1750, mayor of Chester 1755. He relinquished his business in Dec. 1751 to his apprentice John Lawton (q.v.). The death of John Page is recorded in the Chester Courant of 30 May, 1780:

  • "Sunday last, died, John Page of Hawthorne [Hall, Wilmslow], Esq., one of the Body Corporate of this City, a gentleman much respected by all who had the Pleasure of his Acquaintance."

He was Provincial Master of the Freemasons in Chester.

Seacome was another bookseller who wrote a guide to Chester. Here is his Shop in 1836 - on Bridge Street Rows from an illustration by Chester artist William Tasker (1808-1852). The shop front is largely unchanged today.

William Cooke

William Cooke, printer and bookseller, of Chester (of the sign of the Bishop of Canterbury, near the Eastgate) was apprenticed to Andrew Crooke, King's printer and bookseller in Dublin (1681-1731), for seven years, but returned to Chester, his native place, and was admitted a freeman. He set up a printing press and became a bookseller. He was Postmaster of Chester about 1727. He bought the materials of the late Edward Ince c 1718. Cooke complained, in 1726, of the interference of the Chester Stationers' Company stating that:

  • "there was only one bookseller in the said city who had served his apprenticeship Mr. Leigh Page, and also Peter Potter, who, although never apprenticed to that trade, had been apprentice to a bookbinder and followed that trade solely, until lately, yet by connivance of the Mayor & Citizens, for about 3 years he (Peter Potter) has kept an open bookseller's shop. He (Cooke) hoped he would have been permitted to carry on the said trade, there being demand for the sale of books, for until lately there had been no bookseller there, but divers grocers had sold schoolbooks, Bibles - common prayer books, divinity, history and poetry books, and they sold them openly, without interference from any corporation."

Cooke then goes on to describe how the Stationers were asking him for fees and damages and that they had no right to do so. Adding:

  • "As the Mayor is judge of the Portmote Court and the jurors free men of the City and also free of other companies and corporations, complainant could not expect a fair trial and he desires the same may be tried elsewhere,"

The Corporation denied any irregularity and the matter appears to have been settled "out of court". Cooke was printer of the Chester Weekly-Journal, the first Chester newspaper, probably commenced in 1721 (Jour. Chester Arch. Soc., N.S. 21, 25) and in existence in Sept. 1729, in which the following advert appeared in 1725:

  • "WILLIAM COOKE, Book printer and Book-Seller of the City of Chester, at the Sign of the Bishop of Canterbury near the Eastgate, doth all manner of Printing Work, as Books, Bonds &c. and selleth Books in most Faculties ; With all sorts of Stationary; which Goods may be had if sent for by the Men that carried this News. Also all manner of Almanacks. December 8, 1725"
The Chester press still continues to report important news.

He largely printed religious works and one contains the note:

  • "N.B. We were forced to print the Greek words in English characters for want of Greek letters"

George Alexander Cooke may have been a relative.

John Lawton

John Lawton, stationer, of Chester (Bridge Street) and son of John Lawton of Chester, innholder (The Plume of Feathers) was made a freeman 13th July, 1747, after being apprenticed to John Page in 1742. On 2nd Dec 1751, John Lawton advertised that his employer Page had turned over his business to him and asked for:

  • "the continuance of the resort and orders of his master's friends to the old accustomed shop where they will be sure to meet with every Piece that takes with the Publick and as early as such can possibly be got from London; and likewise shall be well supplied with every Particular in the Book- sellers and Stationery Way."

John Page added a recommendation (Chester Courant, 3rd Dec, 1751). Lawton was sheriff 1758 and mayor of Chester 1770.

John Monk

John Monk, printer, of Chester (Newgate Street. in 1780) was apprentice to a William Monk and made a freeman 19th April, 1765. He was sheriff of Chester in 1776; councillor 21 Oct. 1784; alderman 1791. He was printer of the Chester Courant from 1771. In 1785 was publisher of Salomme and Eleazer (By a Lady of Chester). He printed the following works by Thomas Pennant Synopsis of Quadrupeds, A Tour in Scotland in 1769, Chester, 1771, with Supplement. 1772, and the first volume of A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, Chester, 1774, vol. two being printed in London for B. White, 1776. Pennant sent a letter, dated 6 January 1796, to John Monk, regarding the murder of a tenant's son. He is named as Benjamin Edwards, "charged, on the oath of two witnesses, with the murder of William Dyson". Pennant offered a reward of 10 guineas above what was allowed by act of parliament for apprehending Edwards.

1853: McGahey's New Chester Guide. This shows the location of the "Courant" offices - their clock can possibly still be seen.

Monk was the printer of Dr. Matthew Dobson's "A Medical Commentary on Fixed Air" which suggested the use of carbon dioxide for the treatment of scurvy. He was a defendant, with Thomas Amery, in the six years' litigation with the Corporation of Chester over the charter of Charles II (see: Charters). In that case Ralph Eddowes, a merchant, fought a legal battle to try to establish their right under the city’s original charter, to participate in the election of members of the corporation. Although they obtained a favourable decision in the Lords early in 1790 (Journal of the HOL, 31 Geo III), they were financially exhausted and in too much disarray to enforce the ruling, which the corporation simply ignored. Eddowes, on whom most of the cost had fallen, gave up the struggle in disgust and later went to live in America. John Monk died 3 Feb. 1799, aged 58, and is buried in St Johns.

His son, another John was editor, printer and proprietor of the Chester Courant, who died 3 May, 1817. He had married Miss [? Margaret] Harrison of Aldford (Gent. Mag., Nov. 1801) and she appears to have succeeded him as proprietor of the Chester Courant, and of his printing press. In 1814 appeared The Weekly Entertainer or Companion to the Chester Courant. Chester: Printed by J. Monk in Newgate Street. (Only seven fortnightly numbers appeared.)

Several othere people named Monk were active in the print trade in Chester.

The Brosters

Peter Broster stationer, bookseller, printer and antiquary, of Chester (The Exchange) was the son of Thomas Broster, alderman, and father of John Broster. He was made freeman 6th June, 1766. He was the publisher of The Chester Guide and Directory, 1780, and later editions of the same. His son John Broster wrote and published "A Walk round the Walls and City of Chester", 1821, and several later editions, being a revision of The Chester Guide. Broster & Son published The Traveller's Companion from Holyhead to London, 1794 ; and Willis's History of the Cathedral of Chester, 1794. He sold, by auction, in Jan. 1816, the library of John Lloyd, LL.D., M.D., deed., of Wigfair, St. Asaph, the sale catalogue, entitled Bibliotheca Lhvydiana, including books printed by Caxton, Wyiikyn dc Worde and Pynson (Cheshire Sheaf, II, 271). He projected and advertised, about 1822, Holmieiana or Biographical Notices of the three Randle Holme's, an octavo, 30 copies large paper and 150 small; but apparently it was never published (Cheshire Sheaf, II, 28).

John Broster conducted other auctions besides books and in Dec. 1817, held an important sale of furniture, etc., at Brereton Hall, Co. Chester, when the Brereton estates were being sold, and he also sold at Liverpool, in April, 1818, the ancient stained-glass figures of the Earls of Chester, once at Brereton Hall, and later in the possession of Lord Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey (Cheshire Sheaf, III, xxi, 13). John Broster, who lived at Brook Lodge, Flookersbrook, Hoole, went to Edinburgh and became F.A.S. (Scot.) and thence to London. He died at Chester Lodge, Sandown, in the Isle of Wight, aged 84.

John Fletcher

John Fletcher in a portrait from the Town Hall.

A Fletcher family has been prominent in Cheshire since the 16th century and probably from an earlier date. John Fletcher purchased the Chester Chronicle in 1783 and it stayed with his family until the 1960's. Another John Fletcher was chief engineer for the Chester canal in the early 1800's. They have been confused, but are not the same person.

The Whig Chester Chronicle was begun by the printer John Poole in 1775 and at first struggled to survive, changing its day of publication several times before settling on Friday in 1776. It was rescued in 1783 by John Fletcher (d. 1835), whose long life, business acumen, and growing political influence in Chester ensured its continuance. Fletcher had purchased the paper after the proprietors published the following notice:

  • "8th August, 1783. The Editor of this paper begs leave to inform, the public that finding the printing of it to be a losing concern, on several accounts, is determined to discontinue the publication of it from this day. He esteems himself much obliged for the kind indulgence and favours shown to him by the public, and shall ever retain a grateful sense of the obligation. All persons who have any demands on this Printing Office, are requested to send in their accounts, in order that they may be immediately discharged; and those who stand indebted to it, in any sums of money, are desired to pay the same to Mr. Charles Hamilton, Attorney at Law in Chester, who is authorised to settle all accounts."

However when the next publishing day came round, the Chronicle appeared as if nothing had happened, though under different auspices, as will be gathered from the following announcement:

  • "15th August, 1783. John Fletcher having purchased of the late Proprietors of this Paper the Stock of their Office, will, in compliance with the requests of his Friends, continue to publish and circulate it as heretofore and execute any orders in the Printing or Copper-plate Branches in the most correct, neat and expeditious manner, and on terms to merit the continuance of the favours of the generous Public. The heavy imposts on Advertisements, Stamps, and paper will, he hopes, be sufficient plea for requesting payment for Advertise- ments at the time of insertion."

Fletcher immediately took advantage of the opposition paper in which to advertise the continuation of the Chronicle. On the first page of his ledger, which is still existing, he made the following entry:

  • "This being our first publication, we are necessitated to advertise the continuation (which the former proprietors had declined) in Mr. Monk's paper, and to encourage the distribution by a treat in ale, and to send to Liverpool for stamps for the publication, which altogether increased our weekly expenses. Mr. Monk was so elated with the prospect of our discontinuation that this day was intended for a festival to his men in triumph of his victory, but which was rendered a Day of Gloominess and Dejection by the re-publication."

He paid 45. for his advertisement in the Courant, Mr. Monk's paper; the cash given to the carriers to drink" (the "treat in ale") amounted to 3s. The "coach express" for taking the papers into Lancashire that week was 2s. 2d., and the weekly rent of the entire establishment was 5s. 8d. There was at that time a tax imposed upon newspaper advertisements, and the amount paid in that week was 35s "duty on 14 advertisements." During the 18th and early 19th centuries, stamp duties had been extended to cover newspapers, pamphlets, lottery tickets, apprentices' indentures, advertisements, playing cards, dice, hats, gloves, patent medicines, perfumes, insurance policies, gold and silver plate, hair powder and armorial bearings. Fletcher's income for his first week's issue consisted of £7 and a half-penny from the sale of the papers, and just over £5 7s from advertisements and printing orders a total income of £12 7s 6d.; while the cost of printing 775 copies of the Chronicle amounted to £5 18s. 9d.

This illustration from Hughes shows the upper end of the south side of Eastgate street and Catterall's. Many publishers included an image of their own shop in their guidebooks to Chester.

Fletcher's obituary read:

  • "Born of humble, but reputable parents, at Halton, in this county, he was the architect of his own fortune, and rose, by the force of his genius and talent alone, to considerable eminence among scientific men, and to the distinguished honour of having twice filled the office of Chief Magistrate of this City. The history of his life is curious and instructive, and furnishes an important practical lesson of the value of Temperance, Prudence, persevering Industry, unsullied Probity, and uncompromising Integrity, in all his relations and Social Life. At present, while the grave has yet to close upon his mortal remains, it will suffice to say, that, in him, his servants of every degree and those who were in any way dependant upon him, have lost a liberal and considerate Master; his fellow citizens, an upright and intelligent Magistrate; the cause of Public and Private Charity, a Munificent Benefactor; and the Community among whom he lived, a kind-hearted and benevolent Man."

Reading the above, one would hardly suspect that Fletcher was once jailed for libel. However on the 19th November, 1785, he was sentenced by the Court of King's Bench to six months' imprisonment and a fine of £50 for publishing an article, which was held to be a libel against Robert Townsend, Recorder of Chester. This concerned the conduct of the Recorder's election, a long-standing issue in Chester - the only thing which Fletcher did wrong was apparently to ask the recorder to justify his unelected position when the Charter appeared to require election and approval by the Crown.

Late in 1816, John Fletcher printed The Stranger in Chester, written by J. H. Hanshall, the first editor of The Chester Chronicle. In 1831, Fletcher printed the important History of Chester, written by Joseph Hemingway, later editor of the Chronicle.

Edward Parry

Born in 1798 at Trelawnyd ('Newmarket'), Flintshire, the son of Edward and Mary Parry, at an early age he moved to Chester, settling in business as a bookseller, first at the Exchange, Northgate Street, and afterwards in Bridge Street Row. Here he had for sale Welsh books, including his own works and illustrations. He was well known for his contributions to the topography of the Principality and his authorship of various works for the use of travellers in North Wales. These included Cambrian Mirror, 1843 (with three other editions). In Hemingway's "Panorama of the City of Chester – A Pocket Directory to the Inquisitive Traveller and Curious Tourist" (1843), he used a view of the new Diocesan Training College as the frontispiece and included a four-page description of the College and its facilities and curriculum. His "Parry's Railway Companion from Chester to Holyhead", 1848 (2nd ed. 1849) and "Railway Companion from Chester to Shrewsbury" provide a wealth of useful information.

His last and most important historical work was "Royal Visits and Progresses to Wales", which he published in 1850 (2nd ed. 1851). He died 25 March, 1854, and was buried at Chester.


Number 8 Eastgate Street was Catterall's Booksellers which Hughes describes as follows:

  • "In the centre of our view looking affably down on its two gabled neighbour is a bold and substantial building of white freestone erected in 1837 on the site of an older and more picturesque house. This is the business retreat of our publisher and by the same token the oldest book establishment in the city. Here are procurable in almost endless variety, Guides to Chester and North Wales, local prints books of views, &c. to suit every imaginable taste and requirement. Perhaps no city in the empire has been so fully and faithfully illustrated as Chester, - Prout, Cuitt, Pickering, Sumners and others equally celebrated in the walks of art, have plied their pencils in its honour, while the genius of the engraver and the enterprise of the publisher have given permanence to their works."
A handbill advertising a Chester bookseller.

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