Robert Smail’s Printing Works

In 2017 and 2018 I secured postgraduate research funding from The Crowther Fund to carry out a research project and participate in letterpress workshops at Robert Smail’s Printing Works, Innerleithen, Scottish Borders. The archive at Smail’s holds a number of Guard Books containing examples of every commission undertaken by the printing works since their opening in the mid nineteenth century. These, together with copies of the local newspaper, were made available to me for my research.

The Guard Books provide a vital legacy for the social history of Innerleithen and the surrounding areas that may have been lost – they were found in a skip after the last owner, Cowan Smail, retired, and the works closed. Every part of the social life of the town is included – soirees, tea parties, talks – in addition to details of the many publications that abounded and societies that gathered over the latter half of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Part of the project was a piece of letterpress art that I submitted as an entry to the “Remembrance 100” exhibition at the Cumbria Museum of Military Life, Carlisle. My work was accepted and was displayed as part of the exhibition from May to September 2018. The main part of the work was a poem about a child in the Second World War being told stories about the First World War.

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