Fast Facts; BASKERVILLE HOUSE

The Birmingham Post (England), January 18, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Fast Facts; BASKERVILLE HOUSE


John Baskerville was born in Wolverley, Worcestershire, in 1706

His first job was as a headstone engraver in Birmingham

He eventually found business success japanning (coating with black varnish) trays and snuff boxes at premises in Moor Street

In 1750, he set up his own printing business

Such was his quest for perfection, it took him seven years to complete his first book, an edition of Virgil

His printing innovations included blacker and quicker drying ink, woven instead of laid paper and flatter, sturdier printing beds

During this time, he developed a series of typefaces that were his lasting legacy, and still remain in popular use today

In 1760, he was refused a Government subsidy while printing his masterpiece, a Bible for the University of Cambridge

Baskerville was a good friend of the Boulton family, and acted as a mentor for the young Matthew Boulton

One of his biggest fans during his lifetime was American statesman and inventor, Benjamin Franklin

The modern revival of his designs began in the 1920s, thanks to famed 20th century typographer Bruce Rogers

Baskerville Old Face is now a standard font on all editions of Microsoft Word

Throughout his life, Baskerville was an extrovert and would often wear masses of gold lace and would travel around Birmingham in a lavishly decorated carriage

For the last 20 years of his life, Baskerville lived in a manor house located on the site of the current Baskerville House on Easy Row

Defying convention, Baskerville openly lived with his partner, Sarah Eaves, whose husband had deserted her

Baskerville died at the age of 69, in 1775, and was buried in a mausoleum in the grounds of the manor house

Baskerville's house was sold to John Ryland, who then moved out in 1791 after the house was attacked and wrecked in the Birmingham riots over his supposed support for the French Revolution

On his death, the house was bequeathed to his son who, in turn, demised the property to Thomas Gibson, who cut a canal through the grounds and converted it to wharfland

Baskerville's body lay undiscovered under the canal until 1821 when his lead coffin was discovered by workmen digging for gravel

Coincidentally, his body was deposited at a warehouse in Cambridge Street, a street bearing the name of the university where he was master printer for more than a decade

When the coffin was opened for the first time in 46 years, his corpse was in perfect condition except that his eyes were missing

He was buried at another church, but had to be moved again when it was demolished, before finally resting at the Church of England cemetery in Warstone Lane, in the Jewellery Quarter

In 1926, the city council held a competition to design a new civic centre, but eventually rejected the winning design by Maximilion Romonoff, claiming it was "too ambitious"

The Baskerville House seen today was designed by T Cecil Howit in 1939

The original plans for a library, planetarium, great halls and column with statue, were scaled down because of the outbreak of the Second World War Two

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