Page 12 - August 2014
P. 12

ales from a

     COMPOSING ROOM

                                          by Peter Criddle (6562)

             HE DAY AFTER my fourteenth           the end of the first week I was informed that
              birthday, I began a seven-year      I would have to buy my own composing sƟck.
              apprenƟceship, ostensibly as a      This cost £1 – and I sƟll use it aŌer nearly 70
                                                  years!
           compositor, but soon to find out
that I had to learn how to operate leƩerpress     The two partners were as alike as chalk and
machines and do some basic bookbinding -          cheese. The elder was a large, blustering,
not to menƟon stoking the coke stove, making      someƟmes short-tempered but good-hearted,
coffee, polishing the brass plate, and generally   pracƟcal workman who had been with the
keeping the works clean and Ɵdy.                  firm since his own apprenƟceship at the start
                                                  of the twenƟeth century. The other partner
The War had only just ended and the staff of       was younger, in his forƟes. He had been
this small Lancashire prinƟng office consisted      exempt from military service but had been
of two partners (and occasionally their wives)    acƟve in the local Auxiliary Fire Service. A
and a journeyman compositor who had               deacon of the adjacent BapƟst chapel, as well
recently been demobbed. He had just finished       as an acƟve Freemason, he saw his role as the
his apprenƟceship with this firm when he was       firm’s administrator and spent much of his
called up. The prinƟng firm had been started       Ɵme in the office or dealing with customers.
around 1880, in a specially-built two-storey      The young journeyman was quite a dab hand
building, by a BapƟst missionary on his return    at layout, although his style was very much
from Bible prinƟng in India. Much of the type     ‘Art Deco’, popular in the 1930s. Each year he
and other equipment, including three presses,     disappeared for three or four weeks in the
dated from the 1880s or earlier.                  run-up to Christmas when he went to a firm
                                                  specialising in prinƟng personal Christmas
My starƟng weekly wage, for a 48-hour             cards – he claimed that he could earn three
week, was 16 shillings and 4 pence (82p)          Ɵmes as much as his normal wage.
from which the 4d was deducted for Health
& Injury cover. I was also expected to join the   The composing room occupied half of the
Typographical AssociaƟon (later renamed the       upper floor which, being on a steeply-sloping
NaƟonal Graphical AssociaƟon) which cost          site, was actually at ground level, with the
me, I think, 1d per week. On my first day I was    press room on the lower floor having been
put to learning the lay of the case from a font   partly cut into the hillside at one end. This
of 36pt Gill Ultra Bold. This was not a very      meant that all type formes had to be carried
sensible choice of font as the lowercase a and    up or down a flight of stairs. There were only
g, b and q, and d and p, were easily confused,    four ‘modern’ dust-proof type cabinets with
especially to a ‘new boy’. However, I soon        iron brackets to hold a pair of cases, all the
picked it up and by the end of my second day      rest being ancient, open wooden frames,
had set and proofed the Ɵtle page for a play –    which had probably served in India, along
Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’ – for a local school. By

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