Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Former Typo

Today we are familiar with the abbreviated word typo as referring to a keyboard error resulting from hasty typing, or maybe even hiding unfamiliar spelling.

However, an organisation we would today recognise as a trade union was launched in 1849.  It was the National Typographical Association, with roots in Sheffield.  Its fortunes were seemingly variable, with separate regional and local groups appearing and disappearing in several parts of the country.  Although there had been small local groups in Hertford and in London, St Albans Typographical Association (STA) was created in 1899.

St Albans was home to several printing establishments, and formation at this date would have been given weight by the print works which grew up in the Fleetville and Camp districts at this time: Orford Smith, established in 1895; T E Smith in 1897; and Salvation Army in 1901 (in the building vacated by the short-lived Orford Smith works).  Many other much smaller printing businesses survived if not thrived and enriched the St Albans printing scene.

In 1920 the STA celebrated what is described as its Coming of Age, and issued a commemorative booklet, the rather damaged cover of a surviving copy, being shown above.  Two timely observations come to mind from the contents of the brochure.  First, one page is devoted to a list of its members who had fallen in the Great War.  These announcements were widely publicised from 1919 onwards, and appeared on plaques, and later, on war memorials.  The members (shown below) are local people.  While not everyone might have been a resident of the city, most will have been.  And in case any of these men's names have not appeared in other forms during the recent Armistice commemorations, we are pleased to recognise their brave efforts here.

Second, the brochure lists the businesses which supported the 21st birthday of STA.  They were Campfield Press, Taylor & Co, Photochrom Co Ltd, Dangerfield Printing Co Ltd, Gibbs & Bamforth, and W Cartmel & Sons.

One major Fleetville firm missing is, of course T E Smith, Fleet Works.  As we have come to realise through unsuccessful research, no closure details have ever been been recorded, and although it is widely assumed to be 1918, its managers confirmed that no printing had taken place at the premises after 1916, even though the building remained continuously busy – but that's another story.

We assume that, had the Fleet Works survived the war in tact it too would have supported the STA birthday bash.  Its absence in the list, however, confirms its rocky end through lack of skilled men.  Perversely, although there would have been no guarantee of continued success under other circumstances,  the print unions (plural) did guarantee the firm's demise by their refusal to allow women to take on key roles, even though they might have learned the appropriate machine skills.

If any members had thought about it at the time, it might have added an edge to the STA's celebrations.

Note: the Typographical Association merged with the London Typographical Society in 1964, to form the National Graphical Association, which with later mergers became the extant Graphical Paper & Media Union.

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