John Oswen, Worcester's First Printer

  • 26 Oct 2020
  • Trade and Industry
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High Street was for many centuries the street of printers. The first of that craft to practice in Worcester began in 1548. He was John Oswen of Ipswich, which at that time, he had three printers, Worcester being the 9th place in the British Isles to take up the 'art'. Other places ranking in time before Worcester were Tavistock 1525, Cambridge 1521, York 1509, Edinburgh 1507, London and St Albans 1480 and Oxford between 1478 and 1486.  

Oswen was the most famous of the three Ipswich printers. He is known to have printed at least 29 works, though of these, only about 30 copies in all - not one apiece- have been preserved. He is said to have been patronised by Cardinal Wolsey, and came west on appointment as official printer for the Marches, which included the counties of Worcester, Hereford, Gloucester, Salop and all Wales.  

Like Caxton and the other early printers, he also translated some of the books he printed. His religious views were in sympathy with the Reformation, and when Queen Mary came to the throne, his work ceased, he probably took cover on the continent, and his books were proclaimed heretical, every possessor being ordered to submit them to the authorities for destruction, on pain of summary execution as a rebel. Hence naturally, the extreme scarceness of the volumes.