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Saturday, 15 September 2012

Greenscene at Newhailes


Greenscene is a conservation based workshop for primary schools - an annual event run by the Ranger at Newhailes. We gave it a miss last year but on Wednesday Rachel and I where there again with a paper-making workshop. Rachel of course did all the work my major contribution was as driver.  Two groups from P7 at Roseburn School and a P5/6 group from Musselburgh had great fun with water and pulp making sheets of paper and of course a mess. I'm not certain which provided the most enjoyment.

We were based in the Education Room which is located in the old stable block.  The stone masons from Culzean were based in the courtyard itself. Lunch in the sunshine was an ideal opportunity to compare notes with staff from another property. We also had a visit from someone from Castle Fraser who was looking for ideas for a similar event there.  A trip to Aberdeenshire next june is an enticing prospect.

Friday, 31 August 2012

Smail's at the Flower Festival

There's a flower festival at Innerleithen Parish Church this weekend. With the theme of Innerleithen. Walkerburn and Traquair Parish Past and Present, Smail's had to figure somewhere. With accessories provided by the Printing Works Carol Rudram has produced this display to celebrate the contribution that Smail's has made to the local community since 1866. The Festival runs until Sunday and entry is by donation to the Church Building Fund.

Meanwhile Rachel has headed off to Halyrude School to introduce the pupils to letterpress printing as our contribution to the Peebles Art Festival.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

Printing Links

I've just added a new page - Printing Links - with, believe it or not, links to other letterpress printers and museums with printing exhibits. If you know of others please contact us.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Pike St Press, Seattle

I'm just back from holiday and once again I came upon a small letterpress printers, this time in Seattle.  It is called the Pike Street Press – I seem to find these little letterpress operations where ever I go. This one was quite new and provides a mix of letterpress and screen printing. Pike Street Press didn't have any type setting capability although when I spoke to the printer he did say that he'd like to be able to do so.  Unfortunately of course providing that sort of service requires access to a wide range of type faces in different sizes, weights and styles - a significant capital outlay.

The letter-press workhorse at Pike Street Press was one of the ubiquitous Original Heidelberg presses. It's a testament to sound design, robust construction and the shear number made that so many of these presses are still in daily use. There was also a Peerless Clamshell platen- equivalent of Smail's Arab -    which had originally been treadle driven.  The treadle had been removed and the press converted to electric power.   Sean Brown the printer did say that he hoped to get it working again although I'm not sure about a powered press where the paper is inserted and removed by hand.


Like Smail's Pike Street Press had a range of cards and other printed material for sale.  Two of their postcards are shown here and I sent a third one to Smail's whilst on holiday.  That one seemed to be a mix of letterpress and screen printing with a screen print of the Seattle skyline overprinted with Seattle.  Typical of modern letterpress all the printing was embossed producing a very tactile result. They were of course delighted to undertake bespoke work and had produced a rather nice tri-fold map of Pike Place Market.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

St Ronan's Calendar 2013

Robert Smail's Printing Works released the latest incarnation of that traditional marketing tool - their calendar.  For something over 130 years Smail's has produced a calendar which was originally sent free of charge to existing and potential customers.  As a showcase for what the business was capable of it was always an elaborate affair.  Originally an entirely letterpress effort it became much more ornate when Smail's had the capacity to produce litho prints.  The 2013 Calender is based on the one produced for 1913 which had an ornate litho frame incorporating St Ronan cleiking the De'il with letter press dates, postage rates etc.


St Ronan's Calender for 2013 went on sale yesterday and costs £2.75.  It can be bought in the shop during normal opening  hours or by mail order - email smails@nts.org.uk for more information.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Future Events

The more observant among you will have noticed a new page in the list on the right hand side of the screen.  Called Forthcoming Events this will give brief details of forthcoming events at Smail's.  To learn more contact the Printing Works via the email address on the page.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Olympic Torch


The Olympic Torch relay came through Innerleithen today and there was a fantastic buzz in the town. The whole school came up to the High Street and we got a mention of the BBC Live Feed (see screen grab below). 

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

The Times - Sat 9 June 2012

There was a long article, with a rather nice  engraving of the Institute in 1892  devoted to the St Bride Foundation in Saturday's Times.

'via Blog this'

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

From the Archive

The Borders Family History society meets the staff of the Heritage Hub in Hawick three or four times a year.  At our last meeting we discussed a project about World War 1 that they are working on with local schools.  The particular focus is on the role of the King's Own Scottish Borders in Gallipoli.  One of the tools they are using are the Rolls of Honour which many communities produced after the war.  These not list not only the those who died but include the names of all who served in the armed forces during the conflict.  I thought I recalled seeing one for Innerleithen  in Robert Smail's Printing Works and and the next time I was in their I had a look for it.

I found several copies of this rather colourful document which appears to be unfinished as the paper has not been cropped back to the edge of the printed sheet.  It is likely that Smail's bought in the coloured blanks (Duncan Campbell & Son, Glasgow are named at the bottom) and then overprinted the names of the men form Innerleithen - there are no woman on this version of the Roll of Honour.  I'll need to go to the Guard Books to try and establish when this was printed.

205 men are named - in most cases both forename and surname are given, most have an address although not all are in Innerleithen and in all cases the unit they served in is named. Whilst there are 51 different units listed, the majority (57%) served with the Royal Scots, 48% with the 8th Battalion.

There's another Roll of Honour in Innerleithen Memorial Hall.  This is of polished brass on a wooden backing.  This lists 478 men and 14 woman  and gives surname and initial, rank for all the men and some woman, the initials of the unit they served in and the medals they were awarded.  The units are simply initials so a certain amount of interpretation is required.  36% of the men served in the Royal Scots  and over 60 different units are represented.  The most unlikely is probably the Somerset Light Infantry. Not surprisingly perhaps 10 of the 14 women nurses of one sort or another.

56 names on the printed roll aren't on the one in the Memorial Hall.  There are possible matches for about half of them but the unit is different.  Overall there's information about more than 500 men and 14 women who served in the forces during World war 1.  At some point it would be interesting to compare the names on these Rolls of Honour, the War Memorial and some of the other memorial in the town.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Father's Day Tours


Finding a present or an activity for Dad on Fathers’ Day can be a bit of a dilemma, but an answer can be found in Innerleithen. Robert Smail’s Printing Works would like you to bring your Dad along to be put through the first day of his apprenticeship. Dads who pass will be rewarded with their own customized Letterpress poster as a souvenir of their day.

This National Trust for Scotland property is a fully operational Victorian Printing Works, where the craft of hand setting type and printing letterpress is still practiced today, just as it has been on this site since 1866.

Visitors to the works will hear about the fascinating archive and business history in the Office, see the waterwheel turning which powered the works for over 50 years, find out what skills you required to pass the first day of your apprenticeship in the Caseroom and see an impressive range of printing presses in operation in the Machine Room. Tours of the works take approximately 1.5hrs so please allow plenty of time for your visit.

Smail’s has a wonderful gift shop stocking a range of letterpress goods produced on the premises as well as a wide range of quality and quirky gift ideas to suit all tastes and pockets.

This is a place for lovers of industrial heritage, and this Fathers’ Day, could be the answer to the problem of what to give Dad!

Olympic Torch

The Olympic Torch arrives in Innerleithen at 11:53 on Thursday 14 June.  The Printing Works will be marking this with a special Olympic letterpress bookmark.  As always with our souvenir bookmarks yours will be unique as you will set your name and it will be printed on your bookmark.

You can see the route if you follow this link Olympic Torch Relay Route, click on 14/06/12 on the calendar and then on Innerleithen.

'via Blog this'

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Visitor’s Book


Some recent comments from the Visitor's Book at Smail's:

Unique / Amazing amount to explore in a very small space.
Janet & John, Auchterarder

Lovely to see machines working and chatting.
Paul, Bolton

Wonderful to see the craftsmanship involved in printing.
Steve, Hawick

Really enjoyed the work that goes into printing & would like to visit again.
Linda, Kelso

Fascinating and deserves to be kept going with work.  Excellent.
Anon

Fantastic!  Came to collect our wedding stationery and had a little look.
Thank you
Leigh-Ann & Neil, Stonehouse

Brilliant, great to see the Heidelberg press running.
Roy & Claire

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Scotland's Stories

Scotland's Stories:
http://www.nts.org.uk/ScotlandsStories/PrintersTale/

An excellent piece on Smail's and I was told by Christine at the Weaver's Cottage (well worth a visit) that the Weaver's Tale is every bit as good.

'via Blog this'

Thursday, 5 April 2012

The New Season

The new season started well last Sunday.  The grey skies, not to mention the rain after that lovely sunshine didn't keep people at home.  It might of course have encouraged them to come indoors and enjoy Smail's.  A high point was our first visitor who arrived from Edinburgh with her Dad and was great fun to talk to.  We just got out into the yard to talk about the laid when another father and daughter arrived.  The two lasses great each other like bosom buddies, neither had known that the other was visiting.  We had nearly thirty visitors on Sunday and almost as many on Monday.  Add those to the hundred plus school children that came to Living History and we're off to a flying start.


Last week 200+ Easter Eggs were delivered for the Easter Egg Hunt this weekend.  With that and some other promotions we hope for another busy weekend.  If we get 200 children to search for Easter Eggs with a parent or two in tow we could have a record weekend.

I spent the morning at Smail's putting the letters that spell Easter Egg around the Printing Works.  There are two trails one using blue letters on bright red card and these should be fairly easy to find.  In case this is too easy for some of the older participants (and the Easter Eggs look very attractive)  there's a second trail looking for wooden type rather than printed letters. The type has all been cleaned but it doesn't stand out like the red card.

One for chocaholics perhaps

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Living History

We've just completed a very successful Living History week for local schools.  Two groups from Walkerburn and St Ronan's Schools travelled back in time to find out about life as an apprentice in late Victorian Innerleithen.  Mr Smail, who was conspicuous by his absence on the golf course, was looking for new apprentices for both the Machine Room and the Case Room and a new Office assistant.  Miss Mays tested their spelling and hand writing, Mr Murray introduced the potential apprentices to the mysteries of the Case Room and Mr MacGregor insisted that only someone who'd had porridge for breakfast would survive in the Machine Room and at the same time harassed Mr Hope the journeyman printer.  Auld Davie the yardman was rarely seen with a brush in his hand but kept interrupting events with messages from impatient customers.  In the Office Mr Stephenson arrived to purchase his ticket to South Africa (or should that be the Cape Colony) and regaled the potential apprentices with tales of life in the sunshine.

At the end of the morning Mrs Harrison returned the children to the 21st century.  Judging by their faces all had a thoroughly enjoyable time and we'd like to think that they learnt something as well.

Friday, 16 March 2012

Easter Egg Hunt

I've just spent a happy morning printing the letters that spell out "EASTER EGG" ready for our Ester Egg Hunt at the beginning of next month.  For four days over the Easter Weekend this will be an additional attraction for children during our normal tours of the Printing Works.  The letters will be on display for those that look carefully and any youngster locate them all will be rewarded with an Easter Egg.  Be warned some of the printed cards may be replaced with pieces of wooden type.

Monday, 12 March 2012

A New Season

A definite touch of spring in the air today and another reminder that Smail's will be re-opening shortly.

Falcon Printing press
Last week Rachel ran a very effective Collections Care workshop for the volunteers who work on al the historic items that go to make the Printing Works as we know it.  It is not just the paper records that need care the Machine Room threw up a very interesting conundrum over the winter.  The Falcon press has an early attempt to automate paper handling.  Part of which is a bellows which provides a stream of air to separate the sheets of paper as they are picked up by suckers.  The bellows are made of wood and leather and the leather rubs on a part of the press wearing a hole.  It is probably been doing this for many years - a possible design fault from the start - but the result is much less reliable paper pick up.  If we want to continue to demonstrate this press the damage needs to be repaired.  How best can we achieve this, particularly as the Trust prefers conservation to restoration.

There was another landmark today.  Mrs Harrison, Miss Mayes the Clerkess, Mr Murray the Compositor, Mr McGregor the Printer, Tony Hope the Printer's Apprentice, Mr Stephenson from South Africa and Davy the  Yardman met at a local coffee shop to discuss the attendance at the Printing Works next week of a number of potential apprentices.  They will be coming from St Ronans and Walkerburn Schools. Yes it is living History Week again.  There are no prizes for working out who is behind some of these people although I understand that Mr Stephenson always sets Mrs Harrison's heart a flutter.  At least this year Mr Stephenson and Davy the Yardman won't disappear to Melrose Sports one day.

A week later we all meet for this year's Team Talk before the Smail's opens its doors to the public once more.

We open for the  new season on Sunday, 1 April and should close again on Monday 29 October.  The next special event in the calendar is the Easter Egg hunt a week after we re-open.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

These Boots aren't Made for Walking

This year's Living History week is happening later this month before the Printing Works opens for the season.  We've got two groups coming form both St Ronan's and Walkerburn Schools; four sessions in total.  We'll let you know how these go.

Davie the yardman needed a better pair of boots and I've just got back from Coldstream with a pair of British Army Ammunition Boots thus fulfilling a frustrated childhood wish to be allowed a pair of tackety boots.  These weigh a ton and are enormous and I'll need a thick foam insole and two pairs of socks to keep them on - walking any distance is quite out of the question.  Perhaps they're a bit shiny as well.

There was a piece in Monday's Times about attitudes to independence in the Scottish Borders with a number of interviews from Coldstream, including one from one of the owners of Walk This Way.  They sell all sorts of millitaria and have a re-creation of a WWII bunker in their basement not the sort of shop I'd have expected in Coldstream High Street.  Very helpful and a fruitful trip to Coldstream.

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Training Days

I've just got back from the second of two one-day workshops run by the Trust that I've been on.  Last week Ailsa and I went to Hill of Tarvit for one of the regular Collection Care courses.  There are three of these each year with an annual theme so it's possible to attend regularly and learn something new each year.  This year the theme was light and the damage it can do.  Most of the instruction is done in small groups and I was lucky to start with the session on light.  The opening 10 minutes on light and electro-magnetic radiation was a reprise of high school physics and stuff I was used to from my past life.  However the practical session with light metres was quite illuminating (I had to get that in).  A clear demonstration of the beneficial effect of simply drawing blinds and moving away from the window.  The other sessions were on the recognising the effects of light on wood and paper and effective preventative measures as another theme of the day was that prevention was much more effective than cure.  The fourth session was concerned with mitigating the impact light-fingered (the speaker's words this time) on the Trust's collection.  A worthwhile day with bits that definitely apply to Smail's.


Today Gen, Rachel and I were in Falkland for a workshop on Costumed Interpretation - or a Dressing-up Course as I irreverently put it.  We discussed what was meant by costumed interpretation and the role of costumes and props.  (Props we realised are things that we use all the time at Smail's with or without costumes).  We learnt the difference between First Person (you become the person and stay in role the whole time - difficult to sustain for non-actors) and Third Person (you wear a costume and represent some real or imagined historical person but interact with visitors as a 21st century guide).  Finally we had a go using basic costumes and a few props.   Another good day which will have an impact on we do our Living History days.


Unfortunately we had no chance to visit the properties.  Hill of Tarvit is an Edwardian Country House set in some rather nice grounds near Ceres in Fife.  Here at least the workshop was in the property.  At Falkland we were in the old Town Hall which the Trust owns and the room we were in was nondescript - I hope the Council Chamber is grander.  We saw no more of Falkland Palace than you'd see driving past which was a little disappointing.

Monday, 6 February 2012

The Friends of Robert Smails

I'm sorry that I didn't manage to post this before I went away last week.  A small group -Robin, Eric, Gen,  Debbie,  Ian, Tony, David & Carol - Rachel couldn't be there as she was on a course with the National Trust in Norfolk (more of that later hope) - met at the end of January to talk about establishing a Friends group for Robert Smail's.  The draft objectives of the proposed Group are:
(a)  preserve the status of Smail’s as a working letterpress printers, open to the public.
(b)  conserve and make accessible the property and its collections
(c)   promote and develop Smail’s as a centre of excellence for the craft of letterpress printing and the education thereon.  
Tony Niepold and Debbie Horne agreed to act as convenor and secretary until the Friends can be formally established.  The next task is to establish how much interest there is in a group like this.


If you would be interested in joining the Friends of Robert Smail's please add a comment to this post.