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In 1786, when he was financially secure, he married Isabella Elliott from Ovingham; she had been a friend when they were children.They had four children, Robert, Jane, Isabella, and Elizabeth; the daughters worked on their father's memoir after his death.
He is credited with popularising a technical innovation in the printing of illustrations using wood.
He adopted metal-engraving tools to cut hard boxwood across the grain, producing printing blocks that could be integrated with metal type, but were much more durable than traditional woodcuts.
The result was high quality illustration at a low price.
his father John had been married before his union with Jane, and was in his forties when Thomas, the eldest of eight, was born.
John rented a small colliery at Mickley Bank, which employed perhaps six men. At the age of 14 he was apprenticed to Ralph Beilby, an engraver in Newcastle, where he learnt how to engrave on wood and metal, for example marking jewellery and cutlery with family names and coats of arms.