Pioneers of Stereotyping
HOW DEEPLY lie the roots
of THE BRITISH PRINTER! What memories are brought to mind and what
stories are revealed when mention is made of the trade's most-loved
magazine where old-timers are gathered together.
made the acquaintance of a printer who has come out of retirement to
fill one of the places left vacant by men who have been called up.
We began yarning about the old days and he produced some faded
photographs of his father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He
told me with some measure of pride that they were all printers—and
good printers at that—in their time. It is good to meet men who are
proud to be printers and the sons of printers.
With my news sense
working at high pressure it seemed likely that a good story was
merely awaiting .the digging out, and when I asked my new friend
whether he was acquainted with THE BRITISH PRINTER a light danced in
his eyes and he said: "Why, yes ! I have known it all my life; in my
home there were piles and piles of copies. In 1894 my great
grandfather's memories of the printing trade appeared in the
September issue under the title of 'An Octogenarian Printer's
So what had
seemed likely became a certainty, and here is the story of four
generations of printers, all of them, I am told, readers of THE
First Professional Stereotyper
Leslie Fleming, my
informant's great-grandfather, was a Greek scholar. For some years
he worked as a compositor in the days when a candle was the only
artificial means available by the light of which to set type. A
candle-holder, called a "horse," consisted of a piece of bent brass
rule erected over the "e" box. Afterwards he became the first
professional stereotyper, employed by Stevenson's Foundry,
Edinburgh. He was also a founder-member and first treasurer of the
Edinburgh Typographical Society.
Most readers of THE
BRITISH PRINTER will know the story of the invention of
stereotyping, what an uproar it caused in the trade and how
jealously guarded were its secrets when first put to commercial use.
Therefore it will not be surprising to learn that Leslie Fleming
worked behind locked and guarded doors, for his personal safety as
well as for the safety of his equipment.
The moulds were of plaster of
paris, so it will be seen that the present day method of half-tone
stereotyping has much in common with the old method. When he retired
at the age of 80, after a long life of varied usefulness in the
trade, Leslie Fleming read a paper before the Edinburgh
Typo-graphical Society and this was considered to be of such
educational and historical value that it was printed in the form of
a 32-page booklet by the Society. This grand old printer enjoyed his
retirement for fourteen years at Glenluce, near Stranraer, where he
died at the age of 94.
First Apprentice to Stereotyping
By that time
his eldest son, William, had also made a mark in the craft, in
widely-separated areas. Perhaps he is the outstanding figure in
these notes. For one thing, he had the distinction of being the
trade's first apprentice to stereotyping, at Stevenson's Foundry,
moved to London soon after serving his time, first securing
employment at either Clowes' or the Oriental Press. My informant
thinks it was Clowes'. For many years he was foundry foreman with D.
& B. Dellagana and it is said that his skill, experience and
enterprise were mainly responsible for putting that firm on the road
Later he went to
Belfast in charge of Marcus Ward's foundry, where he stayed for many
years, but ultimately the lure of Fleet Street brought him back to
At this stage he was
known in Fleet Street as the "lightning finisher." Possessed of
remarkable eyesight, he would, in making corrections, merely drop a
piece of solder on to the plate and engrave the requisite letters.
There was great competition for his services between Marcus Ward's,
Dellagana's, Clowes' and the Oriental Press, and he was always
assured of generous remuneration wherever he might be employed.
During his last few
years. Anno Domini naturally somewhat retarded his speed and skill.
When that happened he was undaunted. He merely knocked ten years off
his age and obtained employment at Waterlow's, Dunstable, as an
ordinary bench hand. He died in August, 1914, at the ripe old age
of 86, working practically right up to the end.
daughter had married James Swanson, another foundryman, variously
employed on the
London Reader, Dellagana's, and the Daily News,
He left the Daily News to start a foundry at the offices of
the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury, where he
ended his days, his eldest son being employed as. a stereotyper on
the same paper.
On Britain's Oldest Weekly
Leslie Swanson (son
of James Swanson, grandson of William Fleming, and great-grandson of
Leslie Fleming) is the last in line of these four generations of the
printing trade. He served his time at Stamford and is the proud
possessor of a copy of the Stamford Mercury bearing a stamp
tax. It may be unnecessary to recall that the Stamford Mercury is
Britain's oldest weekly newspaper, and holds the place of honour in
the British Museum.
Before serving his
time at Stamford, however, Leslie Swanson had had some experience of
the craft, for he started at what we would consider now a tender
age, with Marcus Ward's at Belfast, with his grandfather, William
Fleming, working on a hot-rolling machine and afterwards at plate
etching, at which he acquired considerable skill. Then his father
had him home at Stamford where, as mentioned, he was apprenticed. He
came out of his time just as the linotype was coming into general
a period when he, like his forbears, started travelling about the
trade in earnest. He worked at Louth, Grimsby, Peterborough and at
last settled down for eleven years at Waterlow's, Dunstable, where
he was the highest-paid compositor. While there he entered the
reading department and finished up in charge of the night staff.
The last war
interrupted his printing activities for three years while he was
serving in the R.F.C. and the R.A.F. When he was. discharged from
the Army he became overseer at Hudson & Stracey, of Watford which
firm executes some first-class work. Ultimately he went to H M S 0
Press at Harrow in the reading department, from which he retired
under the age limit last Christmas.
From Printer to Fire-Fighter
He lost little
time in proving that if considered too old for print he was not old
enough to be put on the shelf, for the week after his retirement he
was wearing the steel helmet and equipment of a professional
fire-fighter! He had to relinquish that post when, under the Defence
(General) Regulations the fire-watching of business premises had to
be undertaken by employees.
Immediately this happened, the call happened to come for retired
printers to volunteer for further service in the trade So Mr.
Swanson is back at the desk, where he hopes to read many more
proofs, and many more copies of THE BRITISH PRINTER.
This somewhat lengthy biographical sketch of a great printing
family has taken note of only the direct line. It would not be
complete without brief mention of other members of the family.
Charles Fleming, second son of Leslie Fleming, was foreman
electrotyper at R, & R. Clark’s, Edinburgh, and his elder son is now
employed in the same branch of the trade in London. There is also a
daughter of Charles Fleming employed as a monotype operator at
Skilled Printers' Joiners
Another son of
Leslie Fleming (Leslie) took to printer joinery. He not only became
a printer's joiner of some repute, but encouraged his sons to excel
in this branch of the trade. One of his sons, yet another Leslie,
was for years foreman joiner at Caslon's. He died eighteen months
ago at the age of 80, being pre-deceased a year or so by his brother
Jim, who was foreman joiner at Harrild’s.
I have called this
article "A Great Family of Printers.” On reflection I might have
called it "A Family of Great Printers," for its sons have made good
in many branches. Perhaps you will agree that it can be taken both
ways; and as various offshoots of the family are still actively
employed in the trade, perhaps in fifty years' time some other
writer who loves THE BRITISH PRINTER will stumble across the
descendants of this family and pick up the threads of the story
where I have left them.
Things do work out that way,