by the gentle author
Chiswell St is a canyon lined with glass and steel buildings leading from Moorgate to the Barbican today, yet once this was the centre of printing in the City of London. The foundry established by William Caslon in 1737, Britain’s most celebrated type designer, stood here until 1937. For more than two centuries, Caslon was the default typeface for printing in the English language and when the Americans wanted to make their Declaration of Independence and publish their Constitution, they imported type from the Caslon Foundry in Chiswell St to do it.
These historic photographs from St Bride Printing Library, taken in 1902 upon the occasion of the opening of the new Caslon factory in Hackney Wick, record both the final decades of the unchanged work of traditional type-founding, as well as the mechanisation of the process that would eventually lead to the industry being swept away by the end of the century.
22/23 Chiswell St with Caslon’s delivery van outside the foundry
The Directors’ Room with portraits of William Caslon and Elizabeth Caslon
Sydney Caslon Smith in his office
Clerks’ office, 15th November 1902. A woman sits at her typewriter in the centre of the office.
Type store with fonts being made up in packets by women and boys working by candlelight
Another view of the type store with women making up packets of fonts
Another view of the type store
Another part of the type store
In the type store
A boy makes up a packet of fonts in the type store
Room of printers’ supplies including type cases, forme trolleys and electro cabinets
Another view of the printers’ supplies store
Printing office on an upper floor with pages of type specimens being set and printed on Albion and Imperial handpresses.
Packing department with crates labelled GER, GWR, LNWR, CALCUTTA, BOMBAY, and SYDNEY
New Caslon Letter Foundry at Rothbury Rd, Hackney Wick, 1902
Harold Arthur Caslon Smith at his rolltop desk in Hackney Wick with type specimens from 1780 on the wall, Friday 7th November, 1902
Machine shop with plane, lathes and overhead belting
Gas engines and man with oil can
Lathes in the Machine Shop
Hand forging in the Machine Shop
Another view of lathes in the Machine Shop
Type store with fonts being made up into packets
Type matrix and mould store
Metal store with boy hauling pigs upon a trolley
Casting Shop, with women breaking off excess metal and rubbing the type at the window
Another view of the Casting Shop.
Another view of the Casting Shop
Founting Shop, with women breaking up the type and a man dressing the type
Casting metal furniture
Boys at work in the Brass Rule Shop
Boys making packets of fonts in the Despatch Shop, with delivery van waiting outside the door
Machine shop on the top floor with a fly-press in the bottom left
Brass Rule Shop, hand-planing the rules
Caretaker’s cottage with caretaker’s wife and the factory cat
Photographs courtesy St Bride Printing Library
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