David Atkinson and Steve Roud (eds)

Published On


Page Range

pp. 27–52


  • English

Print Length

26 pages

2. Charles and Sarah Bates and the Transition from Black-Letter

  • David Atkinson (author)
The end of the seventeenth century was an important time for the growth of street literature. The lapse of the Printing Act in 1695 enabled the expansion of printing across the country. At much the same time, the ballad partnership, which had been in existence for much of the century, came to an end. This was also the time when street literature finally made the transition from black-letter (gothic) to white-letter (roman) type. This chapter looks at these changes through the output of two booksellers, Charles Bates and Sarah Bates, his widow, who were publishing ballads and chapbooks from the 1690s to the 1730s. In particular, ballads sold by Charles Bates have survived in considerable numbers, in part because the first half of his career as a bookseller happened to coincide with the period when Samuel Pepys was collecting ballads. That the use of black-letter for ballads and other kinds of street literature as late as the beginning of the eighteenth century was distinctly anachronistic is well known, and the chapter also addresses the various explanations that have been advanced for this state of affairs.


David Atkinson

Honorary Research Fellow at the Elphinstone Institute at University of Aberdeen

David Atkinson is the author of The English Traditional Ballad (2002), The Anglo-Scottish Ballad and its Imaginary Contexts (2014), and The Ballad and its Pasts: Literary Histories and the Play of Memory (2018). With Steve Roud he has co-edited Street Ballads in Nineteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, and North America (2014), Street Literature of the Long Nineteenth Century (2017), Cheap Print and the People: European Perspectives on Popular Literature (2019), Street Literature and the Circulation of Songs (2019), and Printers, Pedlars, Sailors, Nuns: Aspects of Street Literature (2020). He has published articles on cheap print in The Library, Publishing History, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, and the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society. He is the editor of Folk Music Journal, Honorary Research Fellow at the Elphinstone Institute, University of Aberdeen, and Executive Secretary of the Kommission für Volksdichtung (Ballad Commission).