10. John Baskerville

The Church of England Cemetery (Warstone Lane)


A Remarkable in life.

John Baskerville was born in the village of Wolverley, near Kidderminster in Worcestershire  and was a printer in Birmingham, England. He was a member of the Royal Society of Arts, and an associate of some of the members of the Lunar Society. He directed his punchcutter, John Handy, in the design of many typefaces of broadly similar appearance. In 1757, Baskerville published a remarkable quarto edition of Virgil on wove paper, using his own type. It took three years to complete, but it made such an impact that he was appointed printer to the University of Cambridge the following year.

He printed works for the University of Cambridge in 1758 and, although an atheist, printed a splendid folio Bible in 1763. His typefaces were greatly admired by Benjamin Franklin, a printer and fellow member of the Royal Society of Arts, who took the designs back to the newly-created United States, where they were adopted for most federal government publishing. Baskerville's work was criticized by jealous competitors and soon fell out of favour, but since the 1920s many new fonts have been released by Linotype, Monotype, and other type foundries – revivals of his work and mostly called 'Baskerville'. Emigre released a popular revival of this typeface in 1996 called Mrs Eaves, named for Baskerville's wife, Sarah Eaves. Baskerville’s most notable typeface Baskerville represents the peak of transitional type face and bridges the gap between Old Style and Modern type design.

Baskerville also was responsible for significant innovations in printing, paper and ink production. He developed a technique which produced a smoother whiter paper which showcased his strong black type. Baskerville also pioneered a completely new style of typography adding wide margins and leading between each line.

Extraordinary in death.

Baskerville wrote his own will in 1773. In it he explains his feelings about religion and his plans for his funeral. These are his own words:-

“That my wife in concert with my executors cause my body to be buried in a conical building in my own premises, hear to fore used as a mill which I have lately raised higher and painted and in a vault which I have prepared for it. .................”

John Baskerville died and was buried in his conical tower in 1775. In 1789 the house on the hill was sold and then in 1791 during the Birmingham Riots the house was sacked and burnt to the ground. It is worth considering the possibility that the lingering memory of Baskerville’s Anti-clerical reputation and the religious nature of the disturbance may have lead to the burning of the house.

The conical tower remained and Baskerville’s body lay in it for almost a further 50 years. The property ultimately had a new owner and the body was removed to a plumber's warehouse “where it remained for some time subject to visits from the curious and even to scientific observation of the condition of the body”

The body went on show at a shop owned by a Mr Marston and he eventually applied to the rector of St Philip's to bury the body there but was turned down due to Baskerville's Atheism. A bookseller, Mr Knott, heard of this and arranged for the body to be secretly interred in his own vault in Christ’s Church. He said it was his honour to help but the curse of Baskerville struck gain and the church had to be demolished due to the expansion of the city and plans were made to rebury him again in St Philip's Church next to his wife but again the rector refused due to his Anti-clericalism. John Baskerville was finally laid to rest in vault at Warston Lane Cemetery.

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