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Wales’ First Permanent Printing Press. Why Did it Take so Long? | Mel Hopkins


In a previous article, I discussed the remarkable story of the first printing press in Wales. It had to be kept hidden, during the 16th century and the press was being used by Catholic recusants. The press was discovered in 1587.

Remarkably it was to be another 130 years before a printing press was established permanently in Wales and it would be established in a surprisingly rural area of West Wales.

Its establishment was the enterprise of Isaac Carter, who in 1718 established the first printing press in the village of Adpar located on the banks of the Teifi river near Newcastle Emlyn. The old name for the village of Adpar was Llanhedyn and although Llanhedyn ‘s name origin comes from Llan y Din ( the church or enclosure near the fort) its spelling it Modern welsh can be translated literally as the church or enclosure of the seed. Llan – church, hedyn – seed. I cannot think of a more apt or poetic name for the location of the first printing press in Wales. The seed would indeed bear fruit in the centuries that follow.

The first printing press didn’t appear suddenly not was part of a larger British process of expanding the press in the United Kingdom.
One of the main restrictions on printing in Wales were the restrictions up to 1660 on limiting printing to three areas in England and Wales: London, Oxford and Cambridge. Each printed work had to be vetted by the stationer’s company before going to press. Every press had to be licensed and the king or secretary of state could search for hidden unlicensed presses and dismantle them. It has been estimated between 1546 and 1660, 108 books in Welsh were published and this rose to 545 between 1660 and 1729.

The other restrictions were problems to do with distribution, publicity and finance which many publishers today can sympathise with.
Parliament could see the power of the press from its beginning and in 1662 passed The Licensing Act, or the ‘Act for Preventing the frequent Abuses in Printing Seditious, Treasonable and Unlicensed Books and Pamphlets; and for the Regulating of Printing and Printing Presses’ which was clearly a form of censoring the press. It was meant to be a temporary measure until a better solution could to be found. The act was renewed in 1663 and 1665. The London Gazette, effectively a government news book was the only newspaper published.

In 1679, the Popish plot, an invented conspiracy Titus Oates, who alleged there was an extensive plot by a Catholic network to assassinate Charles II, caused turmoil in the country and amidst the nervousness and fragility of the political situation the act was not renewed and as a result, an explosion of newspapers appeared. Once this occurred there were serious questions being asked about how the act could be administered properly. In 1695 the commons rejected the renewal of the Licensing Act.

This led to an increase in the number of newspapers and new titles being published. The London Gazette began publishing twice weekly and morning posts appeared such as the Post Man and Post Boy three times a week to meet the increasing demand for news.

Throughout the 17th century there had been demands for more printing in Wales. The civil war had seen pamphlets targeting Wales in the Welsh language published at Shrewsbury and Chester. As early as 1662 Sion Gruffydd, a poet, wrote fourteen englynion (a short poetry form involving a rigid pattern of syllables, repeated consonant patterns and accents called cynghanedd) urging the antiquaries Robert Vaughan and Meredith Lloyd to print books in Welsh.

This was followed soon after by the offer of Dr William Lloyd the bishop of St Asaph to fund a printing press in Wales himself in 1689.

During this period Thomas Jones from Tre Ddol published a number of books in Welsh, a Welsh version of the book of Common Prayer in 1687 and a Welsh- English dictionary, Y Gymraeg yn ei Disgleirdeb in 1688. He also published the first Welsh Copy Book in 1683 one of the first books to promote writing in Welsh and was designed to fit in a waistcoat pocket.
After the 1695 act which allowed books to be published outside the three centres of London, Oxford and Cambridge, he moved his press from London to Shrewsbury in that year. Shrewsbury remained the main centre for publishing books for the Welsh market for some seventy years.


Adpar’s location in West Wales and reflecting the monoglot Welsh speakers of the area the first press’ publications were in that language and mainly concerning religious or moral topics. The first publication from the press was a ballad by Alban Thomas Cân o Senn i’w hen Feistr Tobacco.( A song from Senn to his old master tobacco) followed by Cân ar Fesur Triban ynghylch Cydwybod a’i Chynheddfau. (A Song in triplet measure concerning conscience and its qualities.)

Three other titles followed from the press soon after in Welsh, an explanation of the shortest catechism in 1719 which contained 445 pages, a large publication for its time. Dwysfawr Rym Buchedd Grefyddol ( The great power of the Christian Life)in 1722 and Y Cristion Cyffredin (The Ordinary Christian) in 1724 .

Many historians see its location as an odd choice: the press was not located in one of the main towns of Wales of the period. Crawford and Jones argue that most presses of the time were ‘jobbing’ printers, printing posters or bills for local traders or markets and as the press at Adpar printed so few works other areas of Wales may have been better choices. Evans argues against the view that the local wool trade may have supported the ventures of the first press stating if Adpar was near the wool trade then the far larger towns of Lampeter or Llanfair Caereinion would have been much better commercial choices.
Ifano Jones suggests there were sufficient patrons in the locality and the presence of literate people in the area. Despite this, Isaac Carter only stayed in the area for 7 years suggesting it had not been an ideal choice. He moved he press to Carmarthen where his friend Nicholas Thomas had established a printing office in the town in 1721.

When the press moved to Carmarthen in 1725 it may have been because of a local charcoal – iron industry established in the Carmarthen area. As Evans suggests the industry would require a great deal of printing in the form of posters and invoices.
In 1710 the Copyright Act replaced the outdated Elizabethan patent system. It ensured that the legal ownership of a published work passed from the printer to the author. This was the beginnings of hen the modern author was born. Before the Act work was often published anonymously and from this Act, the idea that an author was sovereign of their own work began.
Another consequence of the Act of 1710 was the prominent role given now to booksellers because they were unencumbered with the responsibility of running their own presses. Before the Act many books were sold as separate sheets that were then taken to a specialist bookbinder which gave them an important status in the trade. From the eighteenth century, English printers were commissioned by independent publishers to print a book on their behalf.

In the eighteenth century, the number of books published in England were approximately 270 000 and in Wales, it was estimated at 1 200 and including single sheet ballads, it comes to a figure of about 2 000.

However, there were important social, religious and cultural developments that were to aid the process of printing and publishing in Wales. The Welsh Trust in the late 17th century had the aim of encouraging people to read the Bible in welsh. A number of schools were established to help people to learn to read. A new version of the Bible was published in 1678 at a cost of 4s.2d. To those who could afford it but was also given free to those who couldn’t.

The SPCK followed and distributed thousands of bibles and new religious books. Mainly during the years 1699-1727, they provided schools teaching adults how to read the bible. This was followed by the establishment of the circulating schools of Gruffudd Jones in Wales. Jones used many of the books published by the SPCK in his own circulating schools which also had a focus on reading the scriptures.

As a result of this, there was a much larger audience for books in Wales and because of the growing numbers of readers, it made the spreading of the ideas and beliefs of the religious leaders of the Methodist revival in Wales much easier to distribute. In a similar manner to England, Wales experienced profound religious and social change by the Methodist revival. One of the key preachers of the Methodist revival in Wales was Howell Harris and he saw the importance of publishing and distributing religious books. So much so he established his own press, by forming Trevecka Press in 1757 in Trefeca a small hamlet in Mid Wales. He used his press as a key element in spreading the views and ideas of Methodism throughout Wales.

Many of the itinerant preachers of the revival had to travel along uneven and poor roads throughout Wales. This also caused problems with the distribution of books in Wales.

Another of the main difficulties of publishing was a lack of sponsorship and marketing. When Dafydd Jones published his collection of poetry Blodeugedd Cymry 1759 he had to travel the breadth of Wales to collect enough sponsorship before publishing.

The 18th century had seen the development of a greater market for Welsh books but had also seen key problems which many present-day publishers face: a lack of sponsorship and funding, difficulties with distribution and marketing books effectively.
The next century was to see further developments in publishing in Wales. The years 1850 to 1890 were seen as a golden era for publishing in Wales with journals and weeklies being established to meet growing demand from readers. Although religion remained a key driving force there was also a developing interest in fiction and history.


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Wales’ First Permanent Printing Press. Why Did it Take so Long? | Mel Hopkins

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