The First Printing Press in Caernarvon

18th Century Wooden LetterpressThe First Printing Press in Caernarvon

Thomas Roberts (1760 – 1811) was educated as a boy at Talgarth school in 1775 and was then sent to London in about 1782 to be tutored under the supervision of the well-known Moravian Benjamin La Trobe, as well as to learn the printer’s trade. After La Trobe’s death in 1786 Roberts returned to his home at Trefeca (in Wales) to superintend the printing of ‘ y Beibl bach ‘ — the small Bible.

In 1796 he went to Caernarfon and by 1797 had established the first printing press in that up and coming town. In 1800 he printed the first number of what was intended to be a periodical — Greal neu Eurgrawn (The Grail)… seven years later he printed the first number of another periodical — Trysorfa Gwybodaeth, neu Eurgrawn Cymraeg (The Welsh Treasury of Knowledge)… Ifano Jones, in his History of Printing and Printers in Wales, quotes the titles of some other works printed by Thomas Roberts up to 1811 and after his death, by his widow Mary (ne. Williams) Roberts.[6]

(See a select bibliography of Thomas Roberts work from the National Library of Wales, here.)

Caernarvon boasted a growing intelligentsia, established literati, potential wealthy patrons, and by 1797, a brand new printing press for the widespread dissemination of all this creative outpouring. It’s a small wonder that the Jones brothers chose Caernarvon as the launching pad for their sons’ careers. This decision, in the coming years, would prove wise and profitable for the family, as we shall see in upcoming chapters.

Before we go on, there’s one tiny little scrap in both the Welsh Biographical records and in The Baby Book records, which inspires more than a little romantic speculation in regards to the true nature of David Ellis Jones. It’s this; his eldest son William Ellis Jones was born October 9, 1795 at Tyddyn Sion (The House of Sion) in the parish of Abererch, Caernarvonshire. Abererch is a tiny village located a scant two miles from Pwllheli, where David Ellis and his brother William had attended school more than fifty-three years prior to William Ellis Jones birth.

What were David Ellis and his bride Catherine doing at Pwllheli in 1795? It’s impossible to say for certain. I’ll venture a guess that David returned to the scene of the best years of his life, trying to recapture some of that old intellectual nostalgia which so inspired him in his youth. He may even have gotten an appointment to teach at the same school he’d attended as a child. It’s a truly romantic notion. This is the only possible connection I can find between the Jones family and the neighborhood at Pwllheli, so I am inclined to go with it.

Whatever the truth may be, the adventure to Pwllheli was brief. By 1800 when their second son, Thomas Norcliffe Jones was born, David Ellis was raising his family at Caernarvon where his nephew Lewis Evan Jones was busily engaged in the printing trade under the guidance of Thomas Roberts – the only printer in town.


[6] A history of printing and printers in Wales to 1810, and of successive and related printers to 1923. Also, A history of printing and printers in Monmouthshire to 1923, By J. Ifano Jones. (1925) Cardiff | William Lewis.

The North Wales Gazette , 2 May 1811. (Notes taken by Mr. R. Idloes Owen, Bangor , from the diaries of Thomas Roberts, Sr and family document., at the National Library of Wales.)

Additional Source: The Baby Book | William Ellis Jones Jr. Family History, By William Ellis Jones Jr. (1936)


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