The Wharfedale is one of a special family of presses-the ‘stop cylinder’ presses. The forme moves backwards and forwards on a flat-bed, and the impression is made by a rotating cylinder. Paper is gripped on the cylinder. In common with proofing presses, the force of the impression is delivered in a thin strip (just where the cylinder hits the forme). This allows for a greater precision of impression.
The press has a long history: in 1830 William Dawson, a joiner from Otley in West Yorkshire, made a ‘ruling machine’ from wood. This exposure to printers led to more work supplying printers. Across the UK in Ulverston, Stephen Soulby patented a printing machine where the cylinder rolled over a stationary forme. He called the press the ‘Ulverstonian’ but had little success with it and was pointed in the direction of Dawson in Otley. I assume Dawson developed Soulby’s ideas with him. Nick Smith has provided the image below, showing a rare illustration of the Ulverstonian: it looks to show an ink cylinder (with riders) and impression cylinder.
In 1855 the first machine was sent from Otley-on the banks of the river Wharfe — at a cost of £60 and was capable of producing 500 impressions per hour. At that time twenty men were employed in this work.
By 1911 between two and three thousand men were engaged in building this type of press along the Wharfe at different works: Dawsons, Payne, Folds and so on. Wharfedales were claimed to deliver between two and three thousand impressions per hour, but those that have used them commercially tell me that 1,500 impressions per hour was a practical maximum.
The presses should give accurate registration and were used for magazine and newspaper work because of this and their vast printable area.
During the early part of 2007, Ken McWhan of Scarborough wound up his printing works where a Wharfedale had been used for over seventy years to produce posters. This was reported as the closure of one of the last exclusive letterpress printers in Yorkshire, if not the UK.
Mr Justin Knopp has re-homed an 1888 Demy Wharfedale press and recorded its movement on YouTube. You can follow Justin’s progress through his Typoretum Blog.