Mike and Diane Wilson -
Free Spirit Writers
As a lad of sixteen I was apprenticed for five years to the Bridlington Chronicle, one of two weekly newspapers published in the town at the time. The office was on Manor Street and the premises are now used by the motor parts shop.
I started work in September 1952 and recorded in my Eagle diary that I 'did the metal.' This involved melting the used type in a furnace, cleaning the dross from the top of the liquid metal, then allowing the clean metal to pour into moulds. Type metal was made up of lead, tin and antimony with a certain percentage of each metal. This allowed the metal to be hard, sharp and easily malleable. When cold, the ingots were fed into the Linotypes.
The lead made it heavy. Very heavy. And I expect my arms ached after that first day.
As junior apprentice, another daily task I had was to make tea for the compositors, machine men and Linotype operators. At home, my mother made the tea, so it was a task I'd never handled before. Somehow I managed but the tea-making area was - shall we say - a little squalid to say the least. There was only cold water in which to wash up, too.
Then there were the deliveries. On publication day, every Thursday, I had to trundle a newspaper-crammed sack barrow, with a tea chest tied to it, all the way to the Post Office. It rattled and clattered over the joints in the paving slabs and I am sure my mother could hear it. No-one bothered to tell me about the sorting office, so I tried pushing about one hundred rolled-up newspapers into the public post box outside the main building. I thought this couldn't possibly be right, and it turned out it wasn't. I was invited - not too gently either - to take the barrow round the side into the sorting office.
The Linotype operator and myself were the only ones at work on a Thursday morning. The other men had to stay late the previous evening to print, fold and pack the papers until the job was done. We never knew when the rest of the staff would arrive. The lady in the shop came through one Thursday and asked if we had any spare newspapers. This was a new request and Neil, the Lino op, had never heard of it. Anyway we managed to find a dozen decent copies near the folding machine and I took them round to the newsagent who had phoned.
When I arrived he was rubbing his hands with glee. "Aye up, lad. Thoo'll 'ave seen it then?" I'm afraid I had to say I hadn't because I didn't know what he meant. He turned the pages to the middle and then stuck his finger on a rather large line in an advertisement. And there, in all its obscenity, was the word "shits." The store was selling clothing and had made a reduction on "Boys' summer shirts," but unfortunately we had missed the letter 'r' out of the last word.
I don't know if anyone got into bother for that, but I still like telling the story.
Life was rather slow in those days and one afternoon a problem arose and we needed the advice of the foreman. Unfortunately no-one knew where he was. Eventually he arrived, puffing his way up the stairs to his desk. When we tried to impress the urgency of the matter on him, he said we'd not to bother him as he was puffed out. "I've been down watching t'watter," he said. The office was only a few dozen yards from the harbour. It was then I realised that rank had its privileges.
One of the compositors had an argument with a colleague and decided to play a prank on him. He loaded his friend's coat pockets with type. When the friend swung his coat off the peg, it immediately fell to the floor.
He suffered from repercussions however. The next day at going home time, he found his flat cap nailed to the random (a random was a flat inclined board on which large type was stored).
The Linotype operator enjoyed sea fishing. He used the molten lead from his machine to fashion plunders for his line. Bridlington Bay must have been littered with them, judging by the number he made.
By this time, I had been introduced to the Linotype. The original Linotype had been conceived by Ottmar Merganthaler before the turn of the century, and it revolutionised the newspaper industry. Instead of each character (letter, number, space or punctuation mark) being lifted by hand from a case, the operator could create lines of type (hence Linotype) very rapidly.
The keyboard layout differs from the qwertyuiop of the typewriter and computer. The Linotype keyboard had columns of keys rather than rows. The first column was e t a o i n, the second s h r d l u, third c m f w y p, then v b g k q j, finally x z. Under z were ligatures for fi, fl, ff and ffi. No-one bothers much with ligatures nowadays. But 'proper' typesetters such as me sometimes like to use them and wish they were easier to access.
The next block of five columns were the figures and punctuation, with another block of five columns for the capital letters. There were a total of 75 keys on a Linotype keyboard.
The layout of the keys followed the frequency of use of letters in the English language. The vowel 'e' is most commonly used, then the consonant 't,' followed by vowels 'a,' 'o,' 'i' then 'n.' This was because there was a limited storage space for the matrices, the small moulds for each letter. The magazine could hold only twenty matrices (I think). Therefore the 'e' had to travel through the process as quickly as possible.
I loved working the Linotype and became extremely adept at filling lines as fast as the machine could do it.
In the summer of 1952, Bridlington lifeboat was involved in a fatal accident at Flamborough. Our newspaper scooped the opposition and that week we printed more copies of the Bridlington Chronicle than ever before. When it came time to dismantle all the pages of type, the zinc blocks for the photographs were curved instead of flat, the cylinder having passed over them so many times.
The copy of the Coronation issue of the Chronicle used three colours - a labour-intensive job if ever there was one. Some pages went through the Wharfedale press three times, once for red, a second time for blue, and then the final black. And yet somehow I can't remember a thing. I do have a copy of that issue however (see left).
After a couple of years, some time in 1954, the newspaper was sold and all the equipment was discarded. We destroyed a beautiful Columbia press which must have been at least eighty years old. Nearly everything that was upstairs was thrown out of the window into Clarry Duck's yard alongside the building (Clarry mended bicycles). Where the discarded machinery went I have no idea. But the zinc printing blocks for the title of the paper, "Bridlington Chronicle," I still have (see photograph below).
I carried on my apprenticeship at the Driffield Times.
This is a very early model of a Linotype.
The cylinder of a Wharfedale printing machine. This machine was used for the newspaper and could print 900 sheets an hour. Each sheet had to be hand fed.
A look down the side of the press. The machine at the back was used to print posters, while there is a guillotine in the far left corner.
The composing room was upstairs. Work surfaces called stones are down the centre, with racks of type on the right hand wall. The date on the poster is 25th August 1954. Windows on the left looked out over Clarry Duck's yard.
The back of a Linotype. It was a very complex machine, with many parts machined to fine tolerances. It needed very little maintenance, apart from several day-to-day operations. At the bottom of the photograph is a pile of ingots of type metal.
Six matrices with moulds of individual letters. These matrices are quite thin, only 2mm or 3mm thick. The mould for the letters (in the bottom row) are on the left side of the matrix. The upper slot is for roman face, the lower one for italic. The V-shape with a serrated edge is for the distribution of the matrices into their respective slots in the magazines.
When I first saw the machine in operation, it seemed to work by magic. There were pulleys, cams, gears and motors, all busily whirring away and every few seconds a brand new line of type would appear. These were very hot to the touch, but handling them for many years means I can pick up hot plates at the carvery at Broadacres and not feel a thing.
Linotype machines have all but disappeared. Occasionally one will come onto the market. One I saw on the internet was in a barn in the middle of a field in the wilds of Ohio. It was free to the collector.