When the printer John White moved to Newcastle upon Tyne in 1708 and established what would become a very lucrative business he was a pioneer in a fledgling industry. There had not been a publisher based in Newcastle since the Restoration. Moreover, White was the first producer of books to settle permanently in the town, and as others followed in his footsteps Newcastle became an important print centre. This was part of a more general growth in provincial printing that can be linked to the lapsing of the Printing Act in 1695, as this had ended the London Stationers’ monopoly on publishing. Yet, this legislative change did not prevent London's continued dominance of the book trade, and in isolation it does not explain why provincial printing expanded as it did. A clearer picture of causation emerges if this trade is considered as part of the wider economic developments that were underway, but the print industry was more than an aggregate of individual business endeavours. Printers provided a means of communication and cultural expression that helped to engender the social milieu in which their businesses prospered. Printing is also often associated with a strengthening of national identities, Benedict Anderson influentially linking early modern ‘print capitalism’ to the forging of nationally focused Imagined Communities. This investigation of Newcastle's print trade therefore provides an opportunity to re-evaluate the significance of provincial printing in both a national and regional context whilst exploring the interdependent nature of economic and cultural change.
Focusing attention upon the print trade can result in technologically determined accounts of cultural production that cast the printing press as an agent of change or credit printers with the ability to define ‘public opinion’. Even if only implicitly, such claims suggest that the uniform production of print results in a refinement or homogenisation of ideas. But if eighteenth-century ‘print culture’ is assumed to reflect a specific set of values and opinions that were disseminated through the medium of print then it is a problematic concept. If, on the other hand, the expanding print trade is assumed to have allowed for a wider and more dynamic discussion of competing and complementary ideas, then it can indeed help us to understand what set the eighteenth century apart from earlier times.