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From The Lives Of Commercial Stationers

October 4, 2015
by the gentle author

Today I present an extract from my new book BADDELEY BROTHERS published on 15th October

Observe all the diners looking snappy and quite resplendent in their finery at a fancy dinner in 1956 to celebrate the centenary of Baddeley Brothers. Envelope makers, die sinkers and engravers present themselves to the camera with dignity and poise. Some of these people had stayed with the company, supplying commercial stationery to the City of London throughout the war, while others had returned afterwards as veterans to make a new start.

Baddeley Brothers’ factory in Moor Lane was destroyed in the Blitz of 1940 but, by 1946, David Baddeley had acquired the lease to 92 & 94 Paul St in Shoreditch, permitting the print works to leave temporary premises in Bishopsgate, opposite Liverpool St Station, where they had operated during hostilities. Like others in the company, David Baddeley never spoke about his service career, yet he had commanded a squadron of North Sea minesweepers on the East Coast off Harwich. They were old steam trawlers run by skippers who were barely susceptible to naval discipline yet he had to lead them into mined waters.

Thus, returning to the world of wholesale commercial stationery, David Baddeley did not suffer fools gladly and expected his jobs to take priority in the works. A few years later when his nephews, David & Roger Pertwee, walked into this building, most of the working practices and the arrangement of the workplace still followed those established in the nineteenth century. Although we cannot go back in time to see it for ourselves, David & Roger were able to describe for me what they discovered inside.

On the top floor sat a row of seven or eight engravers working at their benches, each with an anglepoise light and a magnifying glass. These engravers each had different specialities – one did various forms of script, especially copperplate, another did the different range of lettering styles for titles, another worked the pantograph which scaled letters up and down from the designs onto the metal plate, another did ‘ordinary’ lettering for addresses and lists of directors, and there was an ‘artist’ who could do preliminary drawings and illuminations, graphic lettering and elaborate calligraphic styles. They all took great pride in their work.

Ken Roddis, the foreman engraver, was in his sixties then. He always wore a suit and tie, and had joined the company at fourteen in 1920. Ken organised who was to going to engrave which part of a complete design according to their best skills. Everyone was paid by piecework  – so much per letter – and Roger always understood from Ken that this was how they got through the Depression of the thirties, by being careful to share out the work fairly so that everyone got enough to live.

Below the engravers, on the third floor, they did edge-gilding for cards, interleaving them with fine tissue and packed them. On the second floor, there were die-stamping machines and a hand die-stamping press, as well as litho and copperplate printing, and, on the first floor, there were offices divided by glass partitions. This was where you found Stan Woolley, the office manager, who had served in the Navy with David Baddeley and been recruited to Baddelely Brothers at the end of the war.

On the same floor, Charlie Ewin ran the litho department for fifty years. “He lived at the top of Shoreditch High Street on the right hand side by the church,” David Pertwee remembered, “Charlie’d say to me, ‘Come and have a drink on Saturday night,’ and I’d say, ‘Alright Charlie!’ and I’d have a fantastic evening. On Monday, I’d ask him, ‘Did you have a good weekend, Charlie?’ and, ’Yes,’ he’d say, ‘I picked a fight with the wife because she wouldn’t go out with me, so I stayed out the whole time the pubs were open.” Then I’d see him hanging onto the railings by Shoreditch Church to find his way home.”

“He used to take all the high pressure jobs like menus and table plans,” Roger added, “and every so often it would get too much for him and the whole lot would go up in the air. He was a great friend actually. He was never ever late, and you’d never notice he’d been on the tonk.”

When David Pertwee first arrived in 1956, Bill Steer was the factory manager, running both premises. “He was a small man, a bit like a ferret and a little brow beaten by my uncle I think,” David admitted to me,”My uncle relied upon him but as he grew older, he grew less reliable and there were three pubs in between our Paul St and Tabernacle St factories. Even so, he was a very good long-standing employee.”

With the development of trade in the City of London, extra capacity was required for modern machines and more room for envelope-makers to work. Thus, another factory in Tabernacle St was acquired in 1952, less than five minutes walk away. Most significantly, it had a coke furnace in the basement where dies could be softened and hardened, which meant that this essential part of the work need no longer be sent out. One of Roger’s first jobs was to order the coke for the furnace which was fired up every Tuesday and Thursday. On those days, there was always a film of smoke and an acrid smell – the whiff of cyanide – which told Roger that the hardening of dies was in progress.

At first, a rubbing was taken of the die as it was when it was received. Engraved dies are hardened with cyanide but equally they can be softened by exposure to heat. Once this is done, the original design may be scraped out and re-engraved before hardening again, and this process can be repeated over and over as required until the die becomes too worn and needs replacing.

The dies to be hardened were put into steel boxes and the cyanide was heated in a steel pot. Then the dies would be dipped in it for a second and cooled in a bucket of water afterwards. This achieved a surface of hardened steel and they were known as ‘case-hardened.’

To soften the dies again, they were put into a steel box known as a ‘saggar’, packed with layers of charcoal and sealed with fine clay, before being left in the furnace overnight. Thus the hardening of dies always came first and the softening was done at the end of the day.

The basement was also used for envelope-cutting, for guillotining and as a paper warehouse. The paper was delivered down a chute. The men would open up the cellar door and reams of paper would be thrown down from the lorry and stacked away. Roger remembers how, in the sixties, the men would stand under the trapdoor and watch the young women going by in their miniskirts. “Hackney girls started off working in overalls,” Roger confided to me, “but once they got the chance they started dressing up, as factory spaces around Old St were converted to offices and clerical work replaced manufacturing.”

On the ground and first floors were the new automatic die-stamping machines with five or six men minding them on each floor. Yet in spite of this new mechanisation, there was still Charlie Davis, an experience hand die-stamper who had been with Baddeley Brothers for his whole working life. If a crest consisted of five or six colours that had to be in register, his skill was such that, if you wanted two hundred and fifty copies, it was quicker for him to do it than a machine.

The second floor and third floors were a female preserve ruled by Mary Brandon who ran the department, as successor to the legendary Mrs Carter, with five or six women devoted to envelope-making and hand-folding. Mary Brandon came from another envelope-maker in Croydon who went out of business and was an expert at making any sort of envelope asked of her, whether a tissue-lined or gusseted or any other style.

Violet Rogers, who worked at Baddeley Brothers into her seventies and eventually retired in 1993, still talked about the bomb in December 1940. “We all turned up to work the next day but we could only get to the end of Moor Lane,” she remembered, “and they told us we couldn’t get any further.”

As the photographs of Baddeley Brothers’ dinners reveal, the opportunity for regular celebration was not neglected as the age of austerity passed away. “David Baddeley may have been a blunt Victorian,” Roger confessed to me,”but he was good at talking and mixing with people and, every year or so, he’d say, ’It’s time we had a firm’s dinner’ and we’d have it in one of the large eateries in Copthall Avenue in the City.”

Held on a Friday night, these dinners were formal affairs done in style with engraved invitations, at which employees dressed up and brought their husbands and wives, all the pensioners came back for a reunion, and speeches and votes of thanks were made. “It was a bit stilted to start with, but then after a couple of drinks people relaxed and had fun,” Roger recalled fondly, “I think everyone thoroughly enjoyed themselves and there was a free bar which was open afterwards until either it was getting out of hand or people went home.”

The responsibility fell upon David & Roger to stay to the end of these parties. “There would be a bit of a sing song, and there was always one or two who went the extra mile, but no fighting, we all behaved ourselves,” David assured me.

“As a junior director, I was essentially an errand boy,” Roger concluded, “but it was apparent to me that the company was getting going in the sixties and had regained the momentum it lost in the war.”

Charlie Davis, hand die-stamping

David Bates working a proofing press

Graham Donaldson, engraver

Graham Donaldson scrutinises his work

Mary Brandon folding envelopes by hand

Alan Reeves, envelope maker

Baddeley Brothers at IPEX (International Print Exhibition) 1960

BADDELEY BROTHERS will be launched at St Bride Printing Library, Fleet St, on Thursday October 15th at 7pm

You may also like to read about

Upon the Origins of Baddeley Brothers

JJ Baddeley, Die Sinker & Lord Mayor

7 Responses leave one →
  1. October 4, 2015

    Fascinating, I’ve just pre-ordered a copy. T ‘ would be nice if it were signed

  2. the gentle author permalink*
    October 4, 2015

    It will be my pleasure to sign it for you, John

  3. October 4, 2015

    Good luck with the launch of the book, it will surely be very fascinating. Valerie

  4. October 4, 2015

    Many thanks, pity I’m too far away to attend. Hope it goes well for you

  5. Mike Stamper permalink
    October 4, 2015

    Your above pictures reminded me of a family story – It appears that one of my ancestors had a shop in the East End making umbrella frames. The relative was Sheridan Knowles Stamper.

    I’ve tried to find information with no luck —– and ideas where I could look?


  6. Sharon permalink
    October 5, 2015

    My husband read this with a mixture of interest, nostalgia and sadness, having spent most of his working life in ‘the print’ and he remembers ordering specially-made envelopes from Baddeleys, amongst other things.. Could you give me details of how to purchase a copy of the book once it’s published? Thanks.

  7. Vicky permalink
    October 5, 2015

    Mike Stamper – I was in the Bishopsgate Institute where they have all the PO London Directories. Sheridan Stamper is listed from c1910 to 1918 as an umbrella maker. The listing refers you to Evans, Stamper & Co – umbrella manufacturers at 11 Falcon Ave, EC, Tel 5767 Central (Falcon Ave is in Aldersgate) along with four other business at that address – look up Falcon Ave in the street index.

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