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Saturday, 24 December 2011

Apprentice Wanted!

It’s an unfortunate fact that we all get older.  No one has trained as a  letterpress compositor or printer for many years.  This presents Robert Smail’s Printing Works with a real dilemma – how are we going to replace the skills that the current staff bring to the Printing Works in the future.  The answer is of course to reinstitute another of part of Smail’s history and bring back apprentices.

In partnership with Historic Scotland the National Trust for Scotland is participating in Skills for the Future – a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  This has provided funding for two apprenticeships in Heritage Engineering Skills.  One will be based at Robert Smail’s and the other at Barry Mill in Angus.  These bursaries are for 18 months – a lot shorter than a traditional craft apprenticeship so we’ll have to see how things develop.

Advertisements for these two post will appear in the New Year and the apprenticeships will start in March 2012.  The successful applicant will develop a range of skills to operate, repair and maintain the machinery at Smail’s.  They will also be involved with visitors.

For an application pack email your CV to:

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Switched-on Innerleithen

The best Christmas Lights in the Borders were turned on this evening. Prior to that there shops were open and there were all kinds of activities on offer.  This whole affair - Switched On Innerleithen - was orchestrated by our very own Gen Harrison who spent the afternoon as the Town Crier encouraging active participation in all the events.

As well as very busy afternoon in the shop Smail's "Get Crafty" was available in the Masonic Club in Chapel Street, the first time that the Mason's have been involved in Switched-on Innerleithen.  All afternoon Rachel was surrounded by children decorating Christmas Trees and Snowmen and making their own wrapping paper.

On the other side of the room I was encouraging people print their own bookmark on one of our Adana printing presses.  Not as busy as Rachel but it became quite hectic towards 16:00 and I had fun and so I hope did everyone who had a go.  Every time I do one of these events I always get caught out by just how heavy a case of type is.

An excellent afternoon - well done Gen.

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Archive Update

A lot of work has been done in the Paper Store by Rachel who has been helped by Anna Starkey who is spending a year with the Conservation Department of the National Trust for Scotland as an intern (paid).  This is funded by the Bute Memorial Fund and ICON (The Institute of Conservation). She and Rachel have been cataloguing the items in the paper store and in the process finding a great deal of interesting material of which more later. I've been helping with this rather than getting to grips with some of the outstanding archive work.  As you can see from the list on the water wheel door there's still a lot more to be done.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Late Night Innerleithen

Mulled wine, Mr Harrison's famous mince pies and retail therapy were all on offer at Smail's on Friday evening.  Tom did a sterling job upstairs producing batch after batch of fresh hot mince pies and ensuring that the mulled wine didn't run out.  Ailsa and Gen had a successful evening in the shop where the takings matched or even exceeded expectations and Rachel made sure that no one missed out on the wine and mince pies.  Meanwhile I was there to bark (but not often) at anyone who didn't use a coaster when they put their glass down and talk about Smail's to those that behaved.  A very successful evening all round.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser

Last week I wrote about an enquiry from Langholm Archive about a collection of printer's blocks they'd acquired from the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser.  Today  Tom Hutton from the Langholm Archive came to see us with the blocks.  There were four cardboard boxes of blocks - difficult to estimate how many but far fewer than the original enquiry suggested.  Amongst them was some fascinating stuff - pictures of many of the Cornets - the principle in Langholm Common Riding - photographs of the Langholm area and some lovely line drawings of local buildings.  Regrettably some were in poor condition but we'll see if we can get could quality prints from as many as possible as and when we have time.  You never know there might be one or two interesting additions to our collection of printed material.

Friday, 4 November 2011


Monday was of the course the last day that we were open to the public.  Shortly before we closed two young ladies from St Ronan's School came in asking about Victorian History.  Unfortunately they were a bit early for Living History which won't happen before the spring (watch this space) and we struggled a bit for suggestions. Gen suggested Horrible Histories and gave them a copy of our Schools Pack for the class with a suggestion that they came back for a visit.
Earlier this week a message was sent to all Trust staff looking for people willing to talk to Members Groups. Well I’ve been on their list for a couple of years with talks on: 
  • Robert Smails’s Printing Works
  • Robert Smail’s Archives
  • Lasting Impressions ( a history of printing)
I’m not proud I’ll talk to any group about Smail’s for little more than travelling costs and a beer. Of course if you want the best deal ask for Gen instead.
A contact in Langholm wanting to make copies of hundreds of old printing blocks from the Eskdale and Liddesdale Advertiser.  At the moment we’re thinking about that.  If there really are hundreds that’s  a lot of work for someone so how best to help them do it for themselves? If anything interesting comes out of this we'll let you know.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Leaf Printing

Time for our annual leaf printing fun as part of Tweed Valley Forest Festival on Friday 28th October at St. Ronan's Primary School, Innerleithen. We are running two sessions in the afternoon/evening, either 3.45 - 5.45 or 6.30 - 8.30. After a short walk with ranger Susan Kevan from the Borders Ranger Service collect our leaves we will be using them to create beautiful printed images for pictures and greetings cards. Cost to cover material - £6.00 Adult £5.00 Child/Conc. Booking is essential - either pop in to Smail's, t: 0844 493 2259 or e: Looking forward to seeing you there.

Big Draw Apple Day

Well, despite the dreadful weather in Melrose earlier in the month, our Big Draw Apple Day went ahead and although there was not a great number of people out in the garden, we still enjoyed creating our apple inspired images inside the warmth and comfort of the dried flower shop. It was a great experience to have two very different Trust properties working together to promote a fun day out for all the family. We had young budding artists creating Apple Monsters (very scary) and some beautiful images of the garden and the apple orchard by four delightful ladies, some of whom had not put pencil to paper since school days. That is truly what the Big Draw is all about - getting people drawing and remembering that we don't all have to be Turner Prize Winners to enjoy drawing and to have fun being creative. Inspired...? I hope so. Look out for information coming soon on next years Big Draw Event on our website To find out more about the Big Draw visit

Saturday, 22 October 2011

2012 Calendar

Using calendars as a marketing tool didn’t start with Pirelli Tyres - although the fact that I remember that particular series undoubtedly dates me badly.  Robert Smail and Sons were producing and distributing a calendar from at least as early as 1879.  The early editions were printed letterpress albeit multi-colour affairs with elaborate borders.  However once the business was able to undertake lithographic printing the calendars became quite elaborate affairs.  The National Trust for Scotland continues the tradition by producing an annual calendar based the design of the calendar from 100 years ago.  All that we change is the calendar itself everything else remains as it was 100 years ago - so don’t rely on the postage rates given in the margin.  The 2012 Calendar can be bought in our shop which will be open between now and Christmas although the Printing Works closes at the end of October.  The shop opening times can be found in the previous blog.  The calendar can also be supplied by mail order - email for more information.

Friday, 21 October 2011

33 Smail Shopping Days to Christmas

Christmas is Coming

Rachel is really looking forward to Christmas
Halloween is approaching rapidly which means that we’re coming to the end of another season.  Give us a chance to draw breath and then we’ll share some of our experiences with you.  

However it already looks like Christmas in Smail’s shop - much too early for some of us.   The Christmas Gift Shop will re-open on 4 November when there’s a chance to buy Christmas Cards (many printed here), decorations, wrapping paper and all the usual range of National Trust for Scotland goods.  All the usual Smail goodies - including our 2012 calendar will be on sale as well.

Opening Hours: 10:00 - 16:00  (09:00 - 15:00 on Saturdays)
Open:  04/11/11 - 23/12/11
Every: Tursday, Friday, Saturday and Monday
Plus:  Sunday, 27/11/11 (part of Open Innerleithen)
Sunday, 11/12/11 (part of Switched on Innerleithen)
Tuesday, 20/12/11
Wednesday, 21/12/11

Stormy Days

Gen models the NTS Poncho

Forgotten your raincoat again?  If you pop into Smail’s shop we can provide you with a very fetching dark blue poncho with the National Trust for Scotland on the back.  A snip at £1.99 a better value still if both you and your partner need to stay dry - they’re £3 for two.

Friday, 7 October 2011

The Big Draw Apple Day

The Big Draw, the National Campaign for Drawing, is an annual event and takes places in thousands of different venues all across the UK throughout the month of October. They range from schools and shopping centres to museums, art galleries, gardens and even the occasional Victorian Printing Works. This year Smail's will be working with another of the National Trust for Scotland's amazing properties, Priorwood Garden in Melrose, to host The Big Draw Apple Day on Saturday 8th October from 10am.

Apple Day is also an annual event held during the month of October in Orchards and Gardens around our beautiful countryside and celebrates the humble apple, with taster sessions, fascinating discussions and growing tips. Priorwood Garden, in the center of Melrose, has a wide variety of apple trees in the orchard garden, all flourishing in the backdrop of the breathtaking Eildon Hills and Melrose Abbey.

It is in these surroundings that we will be encouraging artists, of all ages and abilities, to put pen, ink and chalk to paper. There will be opportunities to try a variety of drawing materials all of which will be provide. Inspiration will be there in abundance, whether it be the views and landscape or the apple trees themselves. Even if you have never tried drawing before, the main aim of the day is to have fun creating images. Smail's staff will be on hand to do some printing from apples and their leaves.

Feeling inspired? Log on to for more information and venue details. Look forward to seeing you there.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Wayzgoose 2011

The Community Mini-bus bears no resemblance to a traditional charabanc which would have been the vehicle of choice for a Wayzgoose in Smai'ls heyday and was an eminently practical mode of transport for our "works outing" yesterday.  During the summer the staff from the Printing Works at Beamish Museum had visited Smail's to see what we do and of course pick up tips and ideas for their own display. Yesterday was the return visit and 11 of us headed down to County Durham to see what we could learn and if there were any ideas we could adopt or adapt.

It had been an early start for some so a coffee stop on the way south was essential - we went to Kirkharle Courtyard, home of Capability Brown and purveyors and excellent coffee, scones and tea cakes.   The sat-nav decided that a cross-country route from the A! to the museum was shorter than the main road - well it was more interesting at least.
We were greeted on arrival by Celyn Williams and Emma Pargeter who escorted us passed the waiting queque and onto a tram. (The museum is spread over 300 acres and vintage trams and replica buses are used to move people about the museum). The town section of the museum is set just befroe the World War 1 and like most of Beamish comprises buildings which have been collected from all across the north-east of England. Prominent in the town centre is a newspaper office which originated in Hartlepool. The ground floor is the newspaper office whilst the newsapaper and jobbing work was printed upstairs. A very substantial floor was required. This Phil's domain (that's him in the photographh at the head of this post) and he spent a fascinating 45 minutes showing us what he did and talking aboyut his equipment and answering questions and dealing good naturedly with the comments of the printers - Phil was a compositor and typesetter. There ware Arab, Columbian and Wharfedale presses and as you see the photograph above the Columbian is a little larger than ours. 

Time for lunch and we opted for coal fired fish and chips - fried in beef dripping - not the healthy option. The queue was long and the wait lengthy but all worth it in the end. An hour or so to explere the other bits of the museum individually before it was time to set off back to Innerleithen. The rear of the bus was very quiet on the way home - I think a good time was had by all

The Wayzgoose was the distinctive name given to the annual outings or dinners for printers. Nobody knows where the word came from; a meal was traditionally given to print employees on St Bartholomew’s Eve, which marked the end of summer, where goose may have been served, but this is unconfirmed.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Family History

We received an email about a Smail Family Re-union in Vermont a few weeks ago. They were keen that Robert Smail would come and join them. Regretfully we had to decline on his behalf as he is of course passed such excitements.

Whilst that's probably the most interesting enquiry we've had we do get regular questions about Robert Smail's descendants - short answer there are none. However his brothers children and grand-children did dispersed themselves out across the globe. I've now added a Page to the blog which summarises what I know about the extended Smail family although the family tree needs a bit more work and there are no sources cited. I'll try and up date it - if I succeed I'll post a note here.

The gent in the photograph is Thomas Scott SMAIL, former Baillie of Jedburgh and if any Smail in the USA is related to our Robert then they are his descendants.
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Friday, 19 August 2011

I went up to the Edinburgh Book Festival this afternoon to a talk by Simon Garfield. He recently published a book on type design called “Just my Type (Profile Books, London 2010, ISBN 978-184 668 301 5). The talk was an anecdotal discussion of some type faces and why they were designed.

First up was Comic Sans which elicited groans from many in the audience. He did a partially successful rehabilitation on what is now considered a joke amongst type faces. In fact it was designed to provide a more cuddly image for some basic easy-to-use software produced by Microsoft. It was never used to put words into Microsoft Bob’s mouth but was used in another piece of simplified software and thus unleashed on the world. A perfectly good type-face for comics and jokes it has no place on more serious applications. As such it made a good introduction to subject of type design and why there are over 100,000 typefaces available.

The life and work of Eric Gill came up. He was a sculptor with a very peculiar life-style and the designer of Gill Sans. Simon touched on the suggestion that Gill Sans was less popular now because of Gill’s proclivities. Another odd type designer was Cobden-Sanderson who designed Dove – a type face that disappeared. Cobden-Sanderson fell out with his partner Emery Walker who was supposed to inherit the type-face when the designer died. To prevent this happening Cobden-Sanderson took the complete letter fund and threw it from Hammersmith Bridge.

A thoroughly enjoyable hour although largely concerned with dispay type-faces rather than body type. Maybe this was because if you notice the body type-face in a document something has gone wrong. I’m looking forward to reading the book

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Innerleithen Music Festival

The Innerleithen Music Festival runs from 19 to 21 August and if you have a valid Music Festival Ticket Smail's is offering 2 for 1 on paying admissions ... cheapest admission price free. Moreover on Saturday and Sunday the Printing Works will be opening earlier than usual – that is from 10:00 to 17:00 on Saturday and 11:00 to 17:00 on Sunday.


Delivery has been taken of the boxes for our precious guardbooks... they are much happier now! Thank you to Carronvale Bindery and to our wonderful volunteers for their tireless catalguing and cleaning...

Games Week 2011

Well the weather was kind for most of the week and Smail's did very well selling a new bespoke range of notepads, scrapbooks and fridge magnets. The window won second prize in the window dressing competition. Our theme this year was 25 years of Games Week Windows... celebrating Smail's 25 years in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. We have always been set a high standard by original shop manageress Isobel Brunton, and we are very grateful for her suggestions and loan of photographs this year.

Thanks to Rachel and Ailsa for their hard work putting it in and to Tom for the much appreciated bacon rolls!

There was more success in the Fancy Dress Parade when our Printer's De'ils won first prize... WELL DONE GIRLS!

At the end of June we facilitated some workshops for the Collective Gallery. Working with public artists they have been putting together an exhibition of public art in a private space. The exhibition is being held at Fettes College this month. Students from both Broughton High School and Fettes College spent two days getting inky and printing slogans, comments and thoughts on postcards at the works.
Working with Edwin Pickstone of Glasgow School of Art, these will be reproduced as posters to supplement/promote their Festival Exhibition, The Indirect Exchange of Uncertain Value.

Whilst preparing for workshops we found some very unwelcome visitors living in our type cases... WOODWORM aargghhh! These evil little pests can lie dormant for up to 5 years and proves to us that no matter how diligent you are they can still be lurking. Thankfully the outbreak doesn’t appear to have spread too far though one old portable shelving system, covered in paper and very tasty animal glue appears to have acted as the main woodworm hotel.
Fine days have seen trays of wooden type treated and set out in the yard to dry. Thank you Rachel and Jim who have been treating the problem- staff and volunteers at Smail’s have to be flexible you know! Also the whole paper store is being thoroughly gone through and treated but our woodworm motel is off on holiday to the National Museums of Scotland for a serious blast in their freezer to cure this more serious outbreak.

Wharfedale, Woodworm & Workshops

Well it has been a busy few months...

We continue on the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum Donor Book...
The Burns Museum in Alloway, Ayrshire has had an extensive makeover since it was taken over by the National Trust for Scotland and the wonderful new visitor centre is now open to the public. This was only possible because of the donations from many individuals and organisations.
Earlier this year over 50 very heavy packages arrived at the Printing Works. These contained the names for the memorial book of all these wonderful donors. The names were set on a Monotype hot-metal type setter by Harry McIntosh at Speedspools.
The correct leading (inter-line space) is added and then the pages are imposed in the Case-room at Smail’s. The book has to be set, proofed, imposed and printed a section at a time due to limited chases and leading making it a very slow process. The pages are being printed on our Wharfedale press, which decided it wasn’t very happy early in July. Thanks to Tony and Eric they have persuaded it to print again (it is amazing what they can do with spit, string and lots of loving attention!)
The first section is complete and the title pages look beautiful with the burnished gold borders printed on high quality paper. Make-ready for printing is more complicated than you might expect as the position of the printed material had to move progressively so that when the pages are folded together for binding the margins line up properly. Once completed the book will be sent to Carronvale Bindery, where it will be traditionally bound, and then it will be finally be placed in the Museum. Unfortunately it has taken much longer than we originally anticipated... the overwhelming support for the project saw more than twice the number of names we expected. Whilst this is brilliant, the collation etc. took longer and once the timing slipped into our visitor season, the time to print has become severely limited. We will get there and I hope, once complete, people will forgive us the wait.

Friday, 5 August 2011

John Jarrold Printing Museum

Down in Norfolk on holiday I saw an advert for the John Jarrold Printing Museum and of course just had to visit it. The museum is situated in the engineers shop in the Jarrold printworks. In my youth Jarrold were well known for producing a whole range of very colourful guide books for stately homes. As we found out later they were pioneers in the introduction of high quality four colour litho printing.
“Did we know anything about printing?” we were asked when we arrived. As soon as Robert Smail’s was mentioned a lady said that she’d heard Gen speak at the St Bride Library earlier this year and had clearly enjoyed the experience.
One of the volunteers spent much of the two hours we were there showing us the presses and answering questions. He’d visited Smail’s in the past and acted as a straight-man for Gen in the caseroom. As they’re a museum and not a working printshop visitors are free to walk all around the presses. Enough to give any safery officer nightmares as some of them were working - including a 1930s Heidelberg clamshell which dated from before the addition of the safety guard. There was an enviable collection of equipment and space to put much of it on display and no charge for entry.
Amongst the immediately recognisable presses were an Arab and a Columbian. The Arab was up on a (very substantial) shelf but the Columbian was still in use. In fact earlier this year it had been used to at a display in Norwich Cathedral to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible. This Columbian still had a frisket in a frame to hold the paper on the tympan and ensure a reproducible lay. Normally the printer would have held this frame in place as the tympan was lowered but to help the volunteers running the demo at the Cathedral a catch had been added. Instead of a Wharfedale there was a Heidelberg cylinder press with automatic paper feed. However their Furnival litho press had a very similar manual paper feed and sticks to remove the printed sheets.
Given Jarrolds history there was a great deal to learnt about lithography and colour separation. One very impressive early lithograph on display was printed in thirteen different colours. The real advance of course was the facility to produce screens for high quality four colour printing quickly and economically - pioneered by John Jarrold.
As it is located in Norwich of the museum it’s not surprising many of the volunteers worked for HMSO. I hope we’ll see some of them at Smail’s in the future. The museum is recommended to any one with an interest in the History of Printing.

Here is piece to accompany 'Hives of Industry' article in the latest Trust Magazine...

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Father's Day Tour and Lunch Sunday 19th June 2011

Treat your Dad to a special tour of Robert Smail's Printing Works followed by a two course lunch at the wonderful Whistle Stop Cafe. This is the perfect opportunity to show your Dad how much you care by putting him to work!! Tours of the works include the historic office, where you can find out about the family Smail and their business, followed by a visit to the caseroom, where apprentices will be put to work and finally the machine room where you will see the letterpress machinery in action. Smail's also has a fantastic gift shop selling a wide range of quality and quirky gifts, so if your still in pursuit of that last minute Father's Day present, then look no further. After all that work, you can relax over a two course lunch at the Whistle Stop Cafe nearby. Admission prices (including lunch) Adult £20 Child Concession £12. Spaces are limited for this event so please book early. T: 0844 493 2259 or

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Read All About It... St Ronan's set the Standard!

Smail's celebrates 25 years as a property of the National Trust for Scotland by producing a souvenir issue of the St Ronan's Standard and Effective Advertiser. It retains its original 4 page format and comprises a traditional front page full of adverts for local businesses, inside pages reproducing stories from one hundred years ago and reminiscences about the Smail's and the back page has been given over to Primary 4 at our local school for an edition of the St. Ronan's Reporter. This project has been made possible by sponsorship from the Edinburgh Members' Centre of the National Trust for Scotland and from the advertising revenue as well as the time, dedication and enthusiasm of staff and volunteers here at the works.

Well Done and Thank You!

Thursday, 3 February 2011


Happy New Year from all at Robert Smail's Printing Works.

This year Smail's will celebrate 25 years in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. Lots of exciting events are planned to commemorate this wonderful anniversary. These include Workshops for children for all ages and Living History Week. Keep an eye on the blog for more details or visit where you can view all events at Smail's, as well as events taking place at other National Trust for Scotland properties.

The National Trust for Scotland is a registered charity which relies on it's members for support. You too can support the work of the National Trust for Scotland by becoming a member. You can do this by visiting a property and speaking to one of our membership/admissions assistants, by contacting the Membership Department at Hermiston Quay or by visiting our website.