The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).
Volume IV. Prose and Poetry: Sir Thomas North to Michael Drayton.

XVIII. The Book-Trade, 1557–1625

§ 29. Provincial Stationers

The provinces were supplied by stationers in the larger towns and by the great periodical fairs, while popular literature was carried into the remoter country districts in the pack of the travelling merchant or chapman. Stationers carried on business in most of the important towns, and sometimes published books, printed, of course, in London; or joined with a London stationer in a similar venture, the portion of the impression taken by the provincial bookseller generally bearing his name in the imprint. At York, there existed a company of stationers and bookbinders, who had a new code of laws confirmed by the corporation in 1554. In the east, Norwich, and, in the west, Chester and Exeter, were prominent centres of the trade; at Shrewsbury, Roger Ward, the pirate printer of London, kept a shop, and thither he despatched a large number of his illegally printed ABC and Catechism in 1582; and John Norton had a shop in charge of his servant Edmond Wats, as far away as Edinburgh. Among the principal provincial fairs were those of Oxford, Bristol, Salisbury, Nottingham, Ely, Coventry, and, chief of all, the renowned Sturbridge fair near Cambridge. These marts played an important part in the internal trade of the country, and were largely depended upon for the laying in of supplies for the year. Stationers, both from London and the provinces, attended them, and a large trade in books was one of the features of the multifarious business transacted there; indeed, so far as the provinces were concerned, new books were practically published at these fairs, and the issue of books was frequently timed with a view to the dates on which they were held.

In the first half of the sixteenth century, printing had been carried on in the provinces at Oxford, St. Albans, York, Cambridge, Tavistock, Abingdon, Ipswich, Worcester and Canterbury. The productions of these presses were mainly works of a theological, liturgical, or grammatical character, and contributed little or nothing to English literature, if we except a few books such as the translation of Boethius’s Boke of Comfort, printed at Tavistock monastery in 1525, Lydgate’s Lyfe and Passion of Seint Albon, attributed to John Herford’s press at St. Albans in 1534, and the undated edition of the same author’s Churle and the Bird which John Mychell may have printed at his Canterbury press.