Thomas Wright, printer and paper merchant

After qualifying as Master Stationer Thomas Wright and his brother-in-law William Gill opened a shop in the chapel of St Thomas à Becket in the centre of the old 12th century London Bridge. It had a lower cellar at (or under) water level which they used as a warehouse and an upper room at bridge level that served as a shop. From here they supplied paper to government departments such as the Board of Longitude which had been set up to solve the problem of finding longitude at sea.

 Wright & Gill's first business premises

Wright & Gill's first business premises

 Bill for the supply of paper by Wright & Gill to the Board of Longitude, 1775. Source: Cambridge Digital Library

Bill for the supply of paper by Wright & Gill to the Board of Longitude, 1775. Source: Cambridge Digital Library

Thomas Wright’s success also stemmed from bidding for monopolies for the printing of books. He secured the right to print and sell almanacs, a highly profitable franchise. More financially rewarding still was the printing of bibles and prayer books. In 1765 he bought the monopoly to print religious works for Oxford University after the previous printer, the Baskett family, had produced books riddled with mistakes. One book had been called the ‘vinegar bible’ because the parable of the vineyard was misprinted as the parable of the vinegar. Baskett employed ‘idle and drunken staff’ and things got so bad the university had to buy their religious books from Cambridge. Thomas Wright cleverly agreed to protect the risk-averse university against any loss brought by the notoriously litigious Baskett and this helped him win the lease. 

 Wright & Gill's first business premises

Since Oxford held the right to print the King James Authorised Version, this proved highly lucrative to Thomas’s firm until the American War of Independence affected their overseas market and an increase in paper costs caused them to withdraw from the lease. Many of their books survive in libraries around the world such as the British Library and the Royal Collection. Wright & Gill were the last leaseholders as the University took the work inhouse and started what became the Oxford University Press.