The Wadham Broadsides

3rd March 2020

News, Alumni news

A series of films illustrating the essential role of broadsides in the dissemination of information in England from the 1640s onward has been produced by Wadham Library.

  • Detail from one of the Wadham Broadsides

    Detail from one of the Wadham Broadsides

  • A selection of Broadsides in Wadham Chapel

    A selection of Broadsides in Wadham Chapel

  • All 68 of the Wadham Broadsides on display in Wadham Chapel

    All 38 of the Wadham Broadsides on display in Wadham Chapel

Featuring expert historians, the films showcase the extraordinary gift to Wadham Library, from alumnus Bruce Burke and his wife Julia, of 38 immaculately preserved broadsides from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.

A broadside is a sheet of paper, printed on one side only forming one large page, and from the 1640s, broadsides increasingly provided information to the public in the form of proclamations, declarations and laws. In 1642 civil war broke out in England between Parliamentarians and Royalists. It was a brutal and bloody conflict costing hundreds of thousands of live over the kingdoms of England, Scotland and Ireland.

It was a war fought not only on battlefields but with words. Print took on a new importance during this period. At the end of the sixteenth century, the presses had produced around 260 items a year. In 1641 they produced over 2000; in 1642 over 4,000.

In a series of five films, Sarah Lawrence Director and Wadham Historian George Southcombe talks to Oxford academics – Clive Holmes on the Civil War period; Grant Tapsell on the Restoration; Paul Nash on the printing of broadsides and Sophie Aldred on seventeenth-century reading practices.

Discussing the civil war period Dr Holmes said: “Some…welcomed the opportunities provided by print to create a new nation, a nation of citizens who were fully informed and able to discuss serious issues of religion and politics. Many also felt this was a very dangerous thing – it was dangerous to provide materials which would make available dangerous and heretical views to the populace. In 1642 Charles I complained bitterly of the uses of the press by parliamentarian leaders.” Interestingly, he added, Charles I was making this comment in print.

The films are produced by Wadham Librarian Tim Kirtley.

Part 1 – Introduction

George Southcombe introduces the Wadham Broadsides and the importance of the print industry in the early 1640s as civil war broke out in England.

Play Wadham Image - intro_0

Part 2 - Civil War

Historians Clive Holmes and George Southcombe discuss the Civil War period and the significance of print in the 1640s and 50s. “Print is one of the major revolutionary features of this period”.

Play Clive Holmes and George Southcombe

Part 3 - Restoration

Historians Grant Tapsell and George Southcombe discuss the return to a monarchy in 1660 after the turbulence and disruption of Civil War.

Play Grant Tapsell and George Southcombe

Part 4 – Printing

George Southcombe is joined by Printing Historian Paul Nash who describes the hand printing process of the Wadham Broadsides, involving a wooden press, metal type-setting, woodcuts for decoration, a beater and a puller.

Play A proclamation document

Part 5 – Reading

Sophie Aldred talks to George Southcombe about the way that Wadham’s Broadsides would have been read in the 1640s and 50s when reading was a group activity where texts would be shared orally after reading.

Play Sophie Aldred and George Southcombe