Page 18 - March 2014
P. 18

Tales from a (letterpress) Machine Room

IN MY previous arƟcle, ‘Tales from a              was stored. Fortunately, the proprietors had
Composing Room’, I indicated that having          fiƩed the then new-fangled fluourescent
been officially apprenƟced for seven years as       tubes. By the outside of the building was a
a compositor, the terms were extended (with       steeply-sloping path leading from the street
the Union’s permission) to include working        down to the double doors of the machine
in the machine room! Indeed, in my first           room. From Ɵme to Ɵme, paraffin was
week I was introduced to poster prinƟng on        delivered in large, 50-gallon drums. These had
a huge quad crown (20” x 30”) Wharfedale.         to be man-handled down this steep incline
There were only four leƩerpress machines:         – not easy if the drum ran away! Paraffin
two Wharfedales, the smaller taking a demy        was used for cleaning type formes and for
sheet and daƟng from c.1870, both of which        removing ink off rollers and ink slabs. It was
were hand-fed but with flyer deliveries; a         applied to type formes by a scrubbing brush
1930-vintage Heidelberg automaƟc platen;          on a sloping wooden board which drained
and a foolscap folio ‘Victoria’ fixed-bed treadle  into a stone sink. AŌer cleaning the ink off
platen (not to be confused with the heavy art     the type, the formes had then to be scrubbed
platen). There was a huge Furnival guilloƟne,     with water unƟl sparkling clean, and were
with a rather primiƟve safety guard that          then leŌ to drain.
knocked you over if you got too near!

Being on the lower floor, all type formes had      Every week of my apprenƟceship, I not only
to be carried down a flight of steep wooden        set but also printed cinema posters on the
steps from the composing room which was           quad crown Wharfedale. There were two
at street level. As the works was built into a    cinemas, both owned by the same company,
hillside, the natural lighƟng in the basement     and each had quad-crown posters and crown
machine room came from two large windows          folio window bills, printed in blue and red (or
on the lower side, but much of the room was       green and red at Christmas). In addiƟon, there
always dark, especially the racks where paper     were two-sided cards known as ‘car cards’

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