A Great Family of Printers



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.

    I recently 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 Recollections.' "

    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 BRITISH PRINTER.

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, Edinburgh.

   William Fleming 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 to success.

    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 London.

   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.

   Meanwhile, his 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 use.

    Then followed 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 Clark’s, Edinburgh.

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, sometimes.