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At The Caslon Letter Foundry

July 29, 2022
by the gentle author

“In the flesh, The Gentle Author is an even better storyteller, a magician of social history, who not only brings the past alive but reanimates the present.” Thank you to Patrick Barkham for his wonderful review of my tour in the August issue of The Oldie.

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

For centuries, Caslon was the default typeface in the English language. 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

3 Responses leave one →
  1. Ms.J. Fearnley permalink
    July 29, 2022

    Picture 4. The woman is NOT sitting at a typewriter. It is either an adding machine or an early telephone extension machine.

  2. Heather Fenton permalink
    July 29, 2022

    This is brilliant! I know the typeface well as I was a typographic designer for a book publisher in the City (EC4) in the 1960s and often used Caslon.
    My grandfather was a Compositor working for Hazel Watson and Viney, who were printers then situated somewhere in ‘the Square Mile’! These pictures would be part of his world – so very different from now! I gather there were quite a lot of printing works in central London in the Victorian era, which is when Grandfather Washer was young (born around 1876).
    How about an article about some of these….?
    Meanwhile thanks again for this. Fascinating!
    Heather Fenton

  3. Cherub permalink
    July 29, 2022

    I have been fascinated by fonts and typefaces since I was able to read. I am lucky enough to live near the Basel Papermill Museum and a man there makes metal type fonts, it’s a very interesting skill to watch. The museum also has a room full of manual typewriters from different eras for visitors to try out.

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