Preston Mystery

You might have heard the name William Caxton in the news recently. This is because two very rare printed pages by him were found in an archive at the University of Reading.

You might wonder why this is important, and what this has to do with Preston. Some of you may be familiar with a mysterious bust on a building on Marsh Lane, and we will uncover its identity in this blog post.

Mystery bust on Marsh Lane

The recently discovered book pages are from a priest handbook from 1476 or 1477, and are in Latin. But why are these pages so important? Not only because these are the only surviving pages of its kind, but also as William Caxton was probably the first person to have brought a printing press in England in about 1476, and he was also the first person to deal with printed books in England. As he was a merchant he travelled abroad, and it was on the continent that he encountered the new printing industry. Printing was not new, but what was new was a movable printing press. Earlier systems had been created in China, but the first European type was developed by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, Germany, in about 1439.

William Caxton

This was an important new development, as the movable type page setting was quicker than the more usual woodblock printing. Books could be produced faster and cheaper, and it is no coincidence that the number of books and texts increased after the invention of the printing press. This also meant that information could travel faster. Caxton also worked as a translator, and he is credited with pushing the standardisation of English forward.

So what is the link to Preston? You might be familiar with a building on the north end of Marsh Lane, close to the junction with Corporation Street. If you look up, you might see a mysterious bust of a man, and you might have wondered about his identity. It depicts William Caxton.

North End of Marsh Lane

So how do we know that it is William Caxton? The symbols on the base of the bust provide an important clue, as they are the emblems used by Caxton to ‘sign’ his work. It might be difficult to make out nowadays, but they are his initials ‘WC’. They are the medieval version of a trademark or brand, and is also known as a colophon.

Detail of William Caxton bust
Printer’s mark of William Caxton

The former warehouse was occupied by Kilner’s Glass and China Warehouse, who produced a large range of ceramic and glass souvenirs for the Preston Guilds. Prior to being a warehouse it housed the printing workshop of Robert Parkinson. It would be logical to assume that this creates a link to William Caxton, the printing pioneer, and this was the reason why it was put in its place. But this is not the case, as the bust was not originally attached to the warehouse, as is apparent in a drawing from about 1900.

Kilner Ltd., 10 Marsh Lane, Preston

How exactly the bust came to its location on the former warehouse is unclear. It could have been attached to the building in 1898 in honour of the printer, though this is disputed. It could have also originally come from the wall of Halewood’s bookstore or the offices of the Lancashire Evening Post on Fishergate, which would mean that it was put up on Marsh Lane, then called Bridge Street, much later. It seems most probable that the bust came from the former Lancashire Evening Post offices on Fishergate, also known as the Guardian Office Building. It was built in 1872 and was demolished in 1989, and it has since been replaced with retail developments. If you look at the picture below you might be able to see the bust on top of the building.

Preston Guardian Office, Fishergate

At the time of writing there is extensive building work being undertaken on the former warehouse, as student housing is being built at the site. If the bust will be incorporated into the new building is unclear, yet it would be lovely if this little bit of Preston history would be preserved for future generations.

Picture credits

Bernie Blackburn, North End of Marsh Lane, image via <;

Home Jules, Detail of William Caxton bust, image via <;

Marty Hopkirk, William Caxton bust on Marsh Lane, image via <;

William Hughes (block cut by), William Caxton, 1824, image via <;

Preston Guardian Office, Fishergate, 1902, image via <;

Printer’s mark of William Caxton, from Image Du Monde, 1490, image via <;

Kilner Ltd., 10 Marsh Lane, Preston, image via <;




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