Thursday, May 07, 2009

Printing - another Ulster-Scots industry

Much is made of Belfast's great shipbuilding industry and its Scottish roots - and rightly so. But that's sometimes as far as the Ulster-Scots industrial story goes. Box ticked, job done, move on.

Printing is another very important one, and I would suggest that it was more revolutionary than commercial industries - because printing and publishing created an intellectual revolution. About 34 different titles were printed in Belfast before 1750. Back in Scotland, printing was a far more developed industry and had begin in 1508. But Ulster, and Belfast in particular, caught up quickly. Here's an overview of the early stuff -

1694 - Patrick Crawford, Ulster Presbyterian, and a member of the Belfast Corporation, decides that Belfast needs its own printing press. A press had been brought over by the army of King William III, but it went back to England.

Crawford brought Patrick Neil, an experienced printer from Glasgow, and his apprentice brother-in-law, James Blow, to Belfast. The Blows were from Culross, Fife. They went into partnership with Crawford, and founded "Patrick Neil and Company".

1699 - their first Belfast publication was "The Psalms of David in Meeter" (a copy is in the Linenhall Library)

1705 - a bound edition was presented to First Belfast Meeting House, and in it was an advertisement for other Patrick Neil and Co books:

- Christ's Famous Titles by William Dyer
- Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
- A Choice Drop of Honey from the Rock Christ
- Advice for Assurance of Salvation by Robert Craghed (1702)
- The Bible (1704, no known surviving copy)

Neil died in 1705, and Blow carried on the business with his son Daniel Blow. Later printings included

- An Elegy to Arthur Upton by Rev James Kirkpatrick (1707)
- The Experienced Huntsman by Arthur Stringer, Huntsman to Lord Kilultagh (1714)
- The Church Catechism in Irish and English (1722)
- The Bible, known as Blow's Bible (1751)
- Another edition of the Bible (1755)
- Discourse on the Lord's Supper by Henry Groves (1758)

The Blows were non-subscribing Presbyterians, and so in true Ulster-Scots style, the other Presbyterians decided to set up their own printing outlet, with a Robert Gardner in 1713. The Blows were also paper merchants, and sold paper to other printers who were springing up in Belfast.

They also printed on contract for Dublin printers. The biggest of these was George Grierson, who was appointed the King's Printer. On one contract alone the Blows printed 8,000 Bibles for Grierson - the Griersons themselves were originally from Galloway in south west Scotland with large estates near Dumfries and Kirkcudbright... and related to the ruthless Covenanter persecutor Grierson of Lagg. George Grierson had arrived in Dublin around 1703 and almost immediately began printing large quantities of Bibles and the Book of Common Prayer. He was an Anglican - and so perhaps life in post-Revolution Scotland was uncomfortable for the wider family of a notorious Covenanter killer.

The first printed Ulster-Scots linguistic material was a series of "Scotch Poems" in the Ulster Miscellany, printed in 1753.