The Davison Bible
(Selected as one of the Top 100 Items of the North East during the festival of 2013)
William Davison (1781 - 1858) was an important and prolific printer in Alnwick, as well as being a noted apothecary, newspaper producer and philanthropist in the town.
William Davison Mannequin in Bailiffgate Museum
Davison was born in Alnwick on the 16th November 1781 younger son of William Davison, a husbandman, gardener and farmer, and his second wife Mary. After his school days, probably in 1795 when he would have been 14, Davison was apprenticed to a
Davison’s more important, though also short-lived, partnership was with John Catnach. This seems to have begun in 1807 with the publication of James Beattie’s The Minstrel and was followed by a collection of Burns’ poems. Catnach had moved his small printing business to Alnwick in 1790. From the mid 1790s, Catnach began using illustrations in his publications and in his 1800 publication of some poems he used woodcuts by the famous engraver Thomas Bewick.
Catnach seems to have had a history of financial problems and this is perhaps the reason for Davison’s short-lived partnership. He left Alnwick in 1808, but Davison continued printing until his death in 1858. His output included the full range of printed material from notepaper and handbills to a range of books including a bible, a prayer book and even a monthly newspaper.
Although only a small town printer, Davison produced the full range of printed material of the highest quality. He was been described as:
“by far the most enterprising printer in the north of
Davison’s interest in printing probably initially stemmed from a need to advertise his own medicinal wares. This may have been the reason for his early partnerships with both Perry and Catnach. As a printer he certainly produced many handbills, posters and leaflets both for his own and other businesses. As already mentioned, it was his (and Catnach’s) early books of poetry with their illustrations by Bewick and others that was to establish Davison’s reputation. These early books included two volumes of poetry by Robert Burns (Davison produced four different editions of these volumes), the popular poem The Minstrel by the Scottish philosopher James Beattie and The Grave by another Scottish writer Robert Blair. These were all well presented volumes as was his most popular publication The Hermit of Warkworth written by Bishop Thomas Percy in 1771 of which there were nine different editions. These volumes were sold for between 5/- and 8/- each.
Davison also publish works by local authors. These were both poetry and prose and included such books as W. H. Brown’s Journal of a voyage from
Another group of books from the Davison presses were school books. There were a number of different textbooks and one of the most successful was The Complete Treatise on Practical Arithmetic and Book-Keeping. Originally written by Charles Hutton, this had been enlarged and corrected by a local schoolmaster, James Ferguson. Editions were published in 1828 and 1835.
The Bible was an even more ambitious publication. This included not only the full text of the bible but also some commentaries upon it which, according to Davison’s preface, were:
More popular were his garlands and chapbooks.
“the vast amount of advertisements which were now necessary” and “our pages will be enriched with gems of literature of a miscellaneous but instructive nature and entertaining character.”
Besides his printing and pharmacy businesses, Davison took a keen interest in local affairs and was particularly concerned to improve the condition of the people of Alnwick. He was always supporting proposals which he thought would be beneficial to the Town.
He was also a pioneer in bringing gas to Alnwick. Initially this was in 1817 but this does not seem to have been very successful. However, in 1825, Davison, along with another eight men of the town began with a new works in Canongate which continued to produce gas until 1882 when production was moved to another site in Alnwick.
“the secret of its ultimate success lies with ourselves ... with the education of our own minds. “
Descriptive and Historical View of Alnwick
Davison did however produce his book on Alnwick and its second edition was published in 1822. A large part of Davison’s book is taken up with a history of
The Davison Bible - Access for All
Davison's desire to increase and support Christian learning led him to develop an innovative approach. Rather than solely print The Bible in its entirety, his Universal Holy Bible or Complete Library of Divine Knowledge was published in 100 parts at 1 shilling each. This enabled it to be more widely available to people. A complete bound copy of The Bible (complete with 49 engraved plates) cost £2. 2s.
The Bailiffgate Museum is proud to have a copy on display in our museum as part of our feature on the life and work of Wiliam Davison and for this to have been chosen as one of the "Top 100 Objects in the North East" during the "History of the North East in 100 Objects" in 2013
Davison died in 1858 and is buried in Alnwick cemetery.