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The Caslon Letter Foundry

October 14, 2015
by the gentle author

On the eve of publication of my account of Baddeley Brothers, (specialist printers in Moor Lane from 1885 until 1940) I present these photographs of their neighbours, the Caslon Letter Foundry, from St Bride Printing Library off Fleet St where the book launch is taking place tomorrow night. Click here to sign up for the party

22/23 Chiswell St with Caslon’s delivery van outside the foundry

William Caslon set up his type foundry in Chiswell St in 1737, where it operated without any significant change in the methods of production until 1937. These historic photographs 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.

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.

Woodwork Shop.

Brass Rule Shop, hand-planing the rules.

Caretaker’s cottage with caretaker’s wife and the factory cat.

Photographs courtesy St Bride Printing Library

You may also like to read about

William Caslon, Letter Founder

David Pearson, Designer

Roger Pertwee, Manufacturing Stationer

Gary Arber, Printer

Justin Knopp, Printer & Typographer

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Robert Green permalink
    October 14, 2015

    Lovely photos, the thing that strikes me most about all these images is the great numbers of people who were involved in the production of the products, clearly a lot of care and effort went into the manufacturing, unlike today when so much is produced by robots or by someone simply pushing a button, whenever I walk around this part of Hackney Wick I always try to imagine what it must have been like in the days when these photos were taken, looking at the area now it seems so hard to believe it was ever like this but luckily these lovely photos prove that it was, Good Luck with the launch.

  2. October 14, 2015

    Interesting about the gendered division of labour – and pleased the presence of the cat is acknowledged!

  3. Teresa Stokes permalink
    October 14, 2015

    I love the photos of Sydney Caslon Smith and Harold Arthur Caslon Smith in their offices. I see from Wikipedia that the business was bought by T W Smith and partners in 1873 so it appears from these men’s names that the Smith family married into the Caslon family. Have they descendants today?

  4. October 14, 2015

    Wonderful details in these crisp photographs. No one looking up at the camera, everyone diligently working in those huge rooms. Even the cat looks on guard!

    There must have been hundreds working for that company. (Wonder what the lunchroom and other facilities looked like!)

    Congratulations on your new book! Have fun at the launch and sign many copies!

  5. October 16, 2015

    It was terrific to be at the launch party last night, and to meet both the Gentle Author and some of the current staff at Baddeley Brothers. And, of course, I have a signed copy of the book, which I started reading on the train home: brilliantly designed and beautifully produced, as one would expect from this team of all the talents!

  6. January 11, 2019

    My great grandfather Percy B Tubbs FRIBA was credited in 1933 obituaries (Who was Who etc) with work for Caslon, Chiswell Street. I have no further documentation for this but it seems much more likely that the Hackney Wick works was his, as there do not seem to have been any 20th century developments at Chiswell Street. He was also credited with work on private property for Caslons at Fittleworth, Sussex but I have not found any trace of their residence there. I have the signatures of SH and Stella M Caslon on a 1922 family wedding menu so they were personal friends.
    I have been puzzled by the disappearance of the LCC Blue Plaque from the modern building on the site of 22-23 Chiswell Street which stated the foundry operated there until 1909. Chiswell St premises were totally destroyed in the Blitz, probably 29-30 December 1940. Almost every property on Rothbury Road was also damaged in the Blitz. The Blitz map shows that the caretaker’s cottage was damaged beyond repair. The front range was damaged but repairable. There was also another range at the back of the yard which was seriously damaged, probably beyond repair. There are no prewar buildings remaining on Rothbury Road.
    I would welcome any further information on any of the above.

  7. December 24, 2020

    I am from Sri Lanka I found about your company very old more than hundred years old I have some of the most letters of the your company some of the documents so if you need it let me know I can send it you 0094777644565 whatsapp

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