Yorkshire and printing

An illustrated version of this text is available from Google Drive.

Of particular interest within this study is the local connection with printing; the associated creative response to this thesis deliberately focuses on twenty first century letterpress printing within Yorkshire, while this document puts it into context.

The Industrial Revolution accelerated growth in the Yorkshire region, which became known internationally for its textiles. In the Yorkshire Post’s first supplement to mark their 260th anniversary in 2014, they described nineteenth century Leeds as an ‘industrial powerhouse’. With international exports at a high and a record number of businesses, the workforce increased too, moving from the countryside to the towns and cities to seek good fortune. With this came an increase in demand for printed materials: business stationery, product labels, advertising and marketing material, newspapers and magazine, and other printed sundries. It is little wonder that print factories grew hand-in-hand with the mills.

Leeds boasted the largest and most completely fitted printing works in the world – Alf Cooke’s Crown Point Printing Works. Cooke (1842-1902) opened his first business on Hunslet Road in 1866, selling stationery and newspapers and doing letterpress printing. He moved premises twice due to fires destroying his works, before architect Thomas Ambler built the world-leading premises, which remained in use until 2005.

To illustrate the respect afforded the printing industry at the time, in 1885 Cooke was appointed by Queen Victoria as “Her Majesty’s Colour Printer”, and in 1890 he was Mayor of Leeds.

Another company ten years the Crown Point Printing Works senior is still operated in Bradford today by one of the original business partner’s great-great-grandson. Hart & Clough Ltd in Cleckheaton, founded in 1885, moved from letterpress printing in 1952 to focus on lithographic press printing. Arguably Hart & Clough Ltd is one of the oldest printers in the region, however Cambridge University Press is the oldest printing and publishing house in the world, running continuously since its first book was printed in 1584.

The Leeds Mercury was amongst the first British newspapers, certainly the first in the North. It hit the streets in 1718, later merging with the Leeds Intelligencer in 1754 before later becoming the Yorkshire Post. In issue 603 of the paper (8 October 1765) Leedes becomes Leeds for the first time and powerfully illustrating the long term effects of the printed word.

As told by a Print Gallery volunteer at Bradford Industrial Museum – it is well known that if the River Wharf in Otley were to run dry, all that would be found would be letterpress parts.

The Wharfedale press, as the name suggests, was created and produced in the Yorkshire Dales, in Otley on the banks of the River Wharfe, from 1855. It is a ‘stop cyl­in­der’ press with an accurate registration, wide printing area and quick impression rate. According to britishletterpress.co.uk (no date) ‘at that time twenty men were employed in this work. By 1911 between two and three thousand men were engaged in building this type of press along the Wharfe at different works: Dawsons, Payne, Folds and so on.” In 1911, Leeds also had a significant number of people employed in the printing industry, 8,000 in total.

The britishletterpress.co.uk website also reports a continued history with the Wharfedale press and the region. The website said Scarborough printer Ken McWhan closed his print works in 2007 where his Wharfedale had been used to produce posters for over seventy years – the site suspected he was the “last exclusive letterpress print in Yorkshire, if not the UK”.

Otley was also home to the Bremner Machine Company — makers of letterpress machines – founded in 1863. The company was amongst a list of ‘veritable “household names” in the realms of printing’ according to an 1897 account of a visit to the works reproduced on britishletterpress.co.uk (no date).

In a nice continuation of regional service, nowadays Wakefield-based Letterpress Services is one of the few companies that services Heidelberg letterpress printers, bringing them back to their original condition and supplying them worldwide, in particular the United States where the printing method is experiencing its most significant renaissance.

The region also has a connection with type. Founded in 1818, Stephenson, Blake & Co. Ltd. of Sheffield became the dominant British type-founding business until the digital era called an end to the company in the 1990s. According to The Guardian (2013) it was the last type foundry in Britain. A hundred years earlier they were a key supplier of metal type to Fleet Street, and were selling to the States by the end of the nineteenth century. The company was responsible for designing and supplying the metal type Impact (1965), Latin Wide (1940), and Playbill (1938)

At the turn of the twentieth century the business started making furniture for composing rooms and type cases. A year later the production of wood letter was brought in-house, with examples first appearing in the specimen books of 1910. There were many prestigious orders for their furniture and the even furnished the Sunday Times’ composing room in 1973.

Star­type, formally of Birstall, but now a minimised version run under the name XXX by XXX in Guiseley, it is one of the very few places in the UK where you order….

Looking back over Yorkshire’s significant connection to the letterpress printing trade it is easy to see the cultural significance of it, yet there is little collated record of it. This becomes even more significant when combined with the fact that much of it is still in living memory of the last generation of apprentice-trained jobbing printers.

Bradford Industrial Museum and Beck Isle Museum (Pickering) do a fine job collecting key printing pieces and displaying and demonstrating them to the public, but questions are raised about the best ways to record this element of our cultural heritage, especially as the next set of volunteers may have solely been linotype or litho print trained and our letterpress experts are no longer with us.

Ways to both record and generate interest in the craft are social media and film and this will be explored later in section ‘…’.


One thought on “Yorkshire and printing

  1. Pingback: 3,000 words | KJG that's me

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