His­tor­i­cal Arti­cle: An 1897 account of the Brem­n­er Machine Com­pa­ny — mak­ers of let­ter­press machines — in Otley, York­shire

When writ­ing of mat­ters apper­tain­ing to Otley it is quite ortho­dox to bring in some­thing about — now where’s our scrap-book? here you are — “the quaint­ly pic­turesque home of a stur­dy race charm­ing­ly nestling (that is the home, not the race) in an embow­ered nook of the fear­some and wild York­shire hills, the daz­zling rays from the gold­en orb of day shim­mer­ing o’er heather-capped pur­ple mo’or­land on to a cen­tre of hor­rid com­mer­cial­ism so woful­ly at vari­ance with its poet­i­cal envi­ron­ment,” and so on, and so on. Some­thing of the kind is pos­si­ble, first when the cli­mate is in order, and next when Otley’s engi­neers man­age to spare but a moment from the labours of for­tune hunt­ing to give us a nod or maybe a word — the shekels flow­ing in too quick­ly to waste any time. Under such des­per­ate con­di­tions of course the descrip­tive fac­ul­ty is called upon, and one can freely “pad” with the beau­ti­ful scenery sort of thing.

On a late vis­it, how­ev­er, we incau­tious­ly called on a typ­i­cal March day, the real unadul­ter­at­ed arti­cle, a per­fect hur­ri­cane of wind mate­ri­al­ly assist­ing to point out the beau­ties of the val­ley. Not that we would for a moment alarm the print­er intend­ing to take an order to the Otley machine shops, oh dear no, for all and sundry are solemn­ly assured the inhab­i­tants invari­ably set the weath­er in per­fect order for the man who arrives with a fat pock­et­ful of orders.

Borne by the gen­tle breeze we tra­versed the length of the town devot­ed to print­ing machin­ery, and whilst all hands held on to top ham­per, even­tu­al­ly reached the near out­skirts of this bois­ter­ous cor­ner of the West Rid­ing, and final­ly arrived in “full blow” — lit­er­al­ly — at the works of The Brem­n­er Machine Co. Ltd.

Ver­i­ta­ble “house­hold names” in the realms of print­ing, “Har­rild,” “Watkin­son,” and “Brem­n­er” indi­cate a make of machines and appli­ances to be found prob­a­bly through­out British prin­t­er­dom and in very many cen­tres abroad. The busi­ness of man­u­fac­tur­ing the machin­ery and plant var­i­ous­ly known by these dis­tinc­tive appel­la­tions is of no mush­room growth, but is long estab­lished, firm­ly set, and prob­a­bly at the present time even more pro­gres­sive than ever.

Believ­ing that print­ers gen­er­al­ly would be inter­est­ed in know­ing some­thing con­cern­ing the meth­ods of pro­duc­tion, and inci­den­tal­ly of the man­age­ment respon­si­ble for the class of machines just referred to, we approached the direc­tors, and even­tu­al­ly suc­ceed­ed in pen­e­trat­ing the reserve which right up to the present has absolute­ly for­bid­den this kind of pub­lic­i­ty being giv­en to the firm inter­est­ed. We are thus enabled to give the result of our glean­ings, gained by pok­ing here and there like the Ingolds­by dog in a fair, not to men­tion using the mark of inter­ro­ga­tion until we all but ran out of sorts.

In com­mon with the major­i­ty of engi­neer­ing estab­lish­ments, The Wharfedale Iron Works, as the Company’s premis­es are called, con­sist of a series of sin­gle-storey struc­tures, com­mu­ni­cat­ing one with anoth­er, only in this instance every­thing is on an exten­sive scale; enor­mous places — what are tech­ni­cal­ly called “shells,” for they are scarce­ly rooms — light­ed both from the roof and sides, and with­al sub­stan­tial con­ve­nient struc­tures, house the var­i­ous depart­ments going to make up the many-sided busi­ness under notice.

The pro­pri­etors of the estab­lish­ment evi­dent­ly intend­ed not only to have room enough for cur­rent require­ments, but to allow for breath­ing space, light to any amount, and exten­sion when­ev­er nec­es­sary, with the result that even in a dis­trict where estab­lish­ments are almost invari­ably sit­u­at­ed away from close­ly pop­u­lat­ed res­i­den­tial cen­tres, and light and air are plen­ti­ful, the var­i­ous premis­es are notice­ably excel­lent­ly light­ed and ven­ti­lat­ed. The avail­able ground for enlarge­ment has also proved so use­ful as to amply jus­ti­fy the wis­dom of the far-see­ing pio­neers who bought a whole orchard and set of fields and dumped down— so to speak — their build­ings in the cen­tre. Such a prospect is cal­cu­lat­ed to turn the employ­er in crowd­ed-out pop­u­lous cen­tres pos­i­tive­ly green with envy. Dis­tinc­tion apart, this is mere­ly men­tioned as indi­cat­ing the favourable con­di­tions under which work is car­ried on — a con­sid­er­a­tion our friends will appre­ci­ate.

The present busi­ness was found­ed in 1863, and occu­pied premis­es in anoth­er part of Otley. In 1870 a removal was made, the present site being acquired, and the whole of the premis­es spe­cial­ly erect­ed with a view to the pro­duc­tion of print­ing machin­ery of the best class and plen­ty of it. A total area of one and a half acres of what is prac­ti­cal­ly free­hold land was pur­chased, and erec­tion fol­lowed erec­tion until the area of floor­age now actu­al­ly occu­pied amounts to the not incon­sid­er­able total of some 3,000 square yards, whilst so far as such a busi­ness can be main­tained in close com­pass, it is cer­tain­ly remark­ably com­pact, the floors being lit­er­al­ly filled with plant, grouped with the skill only obtained by long expe­ri­ence.

A Personally Conducted Tour

Even if it were desir­able it would be impos­si­ble in the space at our dis­pos­al to give full details of this fine estab­lish­ment, so that we must per­force be con­tent with a gen­er­al descrip­tive ref­er­ence to the facil­i­ties it pos­sess­es and which may be of most inter­est to print­ers. After a pre­lim­i­nary chat in the pri­vate office with two of the direc­tors and the sec­re­tary of the com­pa­ny, we armed for a tour con­duct­ed by Mr. Mus­grave, the youngest direc­tor, whose qual­i­fi­ca­tions for his respon­si­ble posi­tion with the com­pa­ny not only include a reg­u­lar appren­tice­ship and a thor­ough­ly prac­ti­cal train­ing at Otley, but a valu­able expe­ri­ence acquired in Amer­i­can estab­lish­ments. This lat­ter infor­ma­tion may inter­est print­ers not­ing the “Amer­i­can inva­sion” of new machin­ery into this coun­try.

Brass Foundry

Elect­ing to start at the begin­ning of things, the alpha of our progress was there­fore the com­pact Brass Foundry where the brass bear­ings and fit­tings so notice­able in the fin­ished prod­ucts of the firm are pri­mar­i­ly pro­duced. Here is seen the sunk fur­nace with flames at white heat, into the warm embrace of which the earth­en­ware cru­cibles con­tain­ing the con­stituents of the mould are sunk, and around are the acces­so­ry appli­ances for cast­ing and for treat­ing the met­al pre­pared. Leav­ing the brass foundry, a peep at the adja­cent boil­er house shews that a mag­nif­i­cent new boil­er has evi­dent­ly been recent­ly acquired, the whole house with its piled up coal reserves and gen­er­al Sat­ur­day after­noon appear­ance bespeak­ing the care one always appre­ci­ates in this pri­ma­ry source of the mov­ing pow­er of the works.

The Foundry

Iron Foundry
Iron Foundry

Near by is an entrance to that impor­tant part of the engineer’s estab­lish­ment, The Foundry, a large, roomy, lofty build­ing of con­sid­er­able accom­mo­da­tion, light­ed on three sides. All over the floor­age are dot­ted “promis­cu­ous like” mould­ings of many kinds, with numer­ous dou­ble­fold “moul­ders” engaged in mak­ing up moulds, or care­ful­ly putting in the last half grain of dust to give a per­fect sur­face to the cast­ing. Only those who have had expe­ri­ence of a typ­i­cal foundry can prop­er­ly appre­ci­ate the charms of the dust to be found every­where. The floor is thick with the dry mould — it shades on the walls, comes in clouds from the rafters at every oppor­tu­ni­ty, coats every tool in the place, and insid­i­ous­ly works its way in and about every­thing and every­body in the place. The scope of the foundry may be under­stood when it is learnt that it occu­pies a floor­age of 5,880 square feet. No less than five pow­er­ful cranes are includ­ed in the com­plete equip­ment, and at var­i­ous posi­tions along the sides are placed the pow­er­ful and tru­ly labour-sav­ing mould­ing machines, the all-impor­tant fur­nace occu­py­ing a posi­tion near the cen­tre of the build­ing, as shewn in the illus­tra­tion. The lofty fur­nace is built into the wall, fed of course from out­side. As we were watch­ing the var­i­ous foundry oper­a­tions, a cast­ing of molten met­al was run off, the rush of air giv­ing quite a pyrotech­nic dis­play, sparks shoot­ing out right across the build­ing and falling in gold­en show­ers on all around. It is not every firm which gives a fire­work dis­play in our hon­our!

Near the foundry is the well-equipped smiths’ shop, to reach which we pass through the engine-room, where a fine Robey hor­i­zon­tal is at work. The smiths are at work on var­i­ous forg­ings, but espe­cial­ly is to be not­ed the use made of a pow­er­ful steam ham­mer, although here, as with all depart­ments, the adop­tion of mod­ern labour-sav­ing plant and all man­ner of use­ful appli­ances is appar­ent to even the casu­al observ­er.

Gear Cutting

A fea­ture of all the best class­es of print­ing machines is the use of cut gear­ing as opposed to cast. Here we find all gear­ing cut — in fact, a spe­cial depart­ment is run­ning reg­u­lar­ly on this very impor­tant work. Before enter­ing upon the fit­ting shops we were shewn into the room thus adapt­ed — a par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing depart­ment — and were soon keen­ly atten­tive to the work­ing of a series of tru­ly won­der­ful machines. The auto­mat­ic rack-cut­ting machines cut the teeth out of the sol­id; tests amply demon­strat­ing the extreme accu­ra­cy of the work. An auto­mat­ic screw-cut­ting machine pos­i­tive­ly fas­ci­nat­ed us in its almost human han­dling of the met­al. It is odd to see cold met­al grip, gauge, plane, cut, worm, and gen­er­al­ly fin­ish the nec­es­sary work of mak­ing a large screw whol­ly auto­mat­i­cal­ly and with­out any out­side atten­tion. These machines are here referred to as being tan­gi­ble proofs of the care of the firm to have every­thing of val­ue and impor­tance in the way of plant.

Turning Department

Enter­ing now upon the sec­tions con­cerned with the fit­ting of the machines and their erec­tion, we first cross the Turn­ing Depart­ment, where an almost unlim­it­ed num­ber of machines of var­i­ous sizes worked by shaft­ing car­ried from over­head, are ranged along the walls and in par­al­lel rows down the stone-paved floor. Here the var­i­ous parts of the com­ing machines are “turned” and oth­er­wise pre­pared, as for instance in one sec­tion, fly-wheels, ink-rollers, and brake-wheels, and step­ping amongst them, we find lath­es of many kinds, with shap­ing, slot­ting, and sur­fac­ing machin­ery. It is oppor­tune here to step into the fit­ters’ store-rooms com­mu­ni­cat­ing with the depart­ment we are in. Here is found gen­er­ous accom­mo­da­tion in the form of lofty shelves fur­nished with lock­ers run­ning in par­al­lel alleys, each num­bered, named, and filled with the nut, bolt, or oth­er of the mul­ti­far­i­ous parts going to make up the well-equipped print­ing machine. This is emi­nent­ly busi­ness-like in its arrange­ment, a com­men­da­tion we find our­selves fur­ther endors­ing on not­ing the check sys­tem applied to the giv­ing out of tools, ensur­ing a safe check upon all tools in use. Oth­er store accom­mo­da­tion con­tains the heav­ier parts, and as might be expect­ed in an estab­lish­ment of such dimen­sions, the wood­en mod­els or pat­terns claim con­sid­er­able space, some 2,625 square feet being occu­pied. So great is the work of pro­vid­ing such that a joiner’s shop of large extent is includ­ed on the premis­es.

The Planing Department

Large Planing Machine with Portion of Forge
Large Plan­ing Machine with Por­tion of Forge

Turn­ing now to The Plan­ing Depart­ment, or rather to the sec­tion where most of the plan­ing machines are grouped, for we seemed to meet enor­mous plan­ing machines in most parts of the works, here is found note­wor­thy evi­dence of the exac­ti­tude obtained in uni­for­mi­ty of sur­face in cast­ings. These machines are the giants of the print­ing machine engi­neer­ing plant, and have a spe­cial attrac­tion of their own. You see the long heavy table slow­ly bear the met­al against the short stub­by plan­ing tool, auto­mat­i­cal­ly stop at the end of its tra­verse, can­ter back, and again take up the slow grind, adjust­ing itself at each action. On some of these plan­ing machines, the shape of which may be gath­ered from one of the cuts, sin­gle sides and rails were being planed, and on oth­ers the whole frame­work of side and end cast­ings bolt­ed togeth­er was being planed as a whole, thus ensur­ing per­fect­ly true sur­faces. Along­side the large planes are machines for bor­ing and milling, and a series of the ver­ti­cal roller-mould bor­ers attract atten­tion.

Planing Department
Plan­ing Depart­ment

A detail noticed here is the par­tic­u­lar care giv­en to the grind­ing of the impres­sion cylin­ders — a fea­ture the print­er can appre­ci­ate.


Portion of the Fitting Shop
Por­tion of the Fit­ting Shop

Com­ing now to the cou­ple of large bays devot­ed to the Fit­ting, we find space allowed on the floor, between rows of bench­es bear­ing machines, for the final putting togeth­er or fit­ting of the print­ing machines, the whole com­mand­ed — as indeed are the rooms gen­er­al­ly — by exten­sive crane pow­er, enabling parts to be eas­i­ly moved into posi­tion.

When one has already seen the parts of the machines take shape from crude iron and assume a more or less tan­gi­ble form, it becomes dou­bly inter­est­ing to see these parts brought togeth­er and grad­u­al­ly made to form a homo­ge­neous whole in per­fect har­mo­ny the one with the oth­er.

Most print­ers have seen a machine in pieces, and can thus obtain some idea of the wilder­ness of parts pre­sent­ed by a row of Wharfedales dur­ing process of erec­tion. We were for­tu­nate in see­ing quite a vari­ety of machines being built up prepara­to­ry to fill­ing orders — var­i­ous sizes of let­ter­press cylin­ders, sev­er­al “Fleets,” guil­lotines, litho tin-print­ing machines, etc.


Dis­cussing the meth­ods adopt­ed of send­ing machines out, more espe­cial­ly to quar­ters where fit­ters are not sent, we were inter­est­ed in find­ing that besides the usu­al con­sec­u­tive num­ber­ing of parts, blue prints of the machine from var­i­ous points of view and in sep­a­rate parts are also sup­plied. This led to the dis­cov­ery that pho­tog­ra­phy was large­ly in evi­dence on the premis­es, neg­a­tives being reg­u­lar­ly tak­en as machines are erect­ed before send­ing out. If this sys­tem were uni­ver­sal­ly adopt­ed we should hear less of the trou­bles of the print­er­man abroad who has received a machine and has to fit it up as best he may.

Amongst the chief lines of the Brem­n­er Print­ing Machines may be men­tioned first the “Fine Art” cylin­der machine, con­struct­ed for pro­duc­ing high-class cut work at a high speed. The mas­sive foun­da­tion frame is notice­able, and the machine has all the advan­tages of cut gear­ing and the acme of accu­rate plan­ing. A nov­el cylin­dri­cal ink­ing appa­ra­tus, mov­able for access to forme, is one of its most impor­tant fea­tures. Oth­er Wharfedale types —sin­gle and two-colour — made by the firm are all classed as of “Brem­n­er” make, amongst the fea­tures of which may be men­tioned the strength of frame, cross rail under cylin­der, three bowl rails in larg­er sizes, dou­ble-dri­ving and tra­verse wheels, an auto­mat­ic cylin­der check stop­ping- feed-board, fly­ers, grip­pers, points, and push-bar at one and the same time. Every­body has of course heard of the “Fleet” machines, the “New Fleet” being- a devel­op­ment of the deserved­ly pop­u­lar high speed machine. This machine is built for a high rate of speed, 2,500 per hour, close reg­is­ter being guar­an­teed, with slop­ing board and auto­mat­ic side lays, and pos­sess­es a pop­u­lar­i­ty of its own. The “Fleet” has all the char­ac­ter­is­tics of the “Brem­n­er” as regards strength and fit­ting. Anoth­er impor­tant “Brem­n­er” is the chro­mo-lith­o­graph­ic machine, which is in all respects exceed­ing­ly well equipped for best work. In build these machines are mas­sive, very strong, and mount­ed on a cast-iron bed­plate, to which shafts, racks, run­ners, spur wheels, etc., are fit­ted, there­by secur­ing strength and rigid­i­ty, whilst dou­ble-dri­ving wheels, dou­ble-tra­verse wheels, dou­ble-ink­ing motion, and arrange­ment for con­tin­u­ous or inter­mit­tent ink­ing are amongst its fur­ther fea­tures.

This vari­ety of machines indi­cates that the Brem­n­er Com­pa­ny is not con­fined to a sin­gle spe­cial­ty, but has a some­what wide range of pro­duc­tion. Oth­er direc­tions of the firm’s    indus­try are rep­re­sent­ed by the man­u­fac­ture of a spe­cial line of guil­lotines, paper cut­ters, card cut­ters, rolling machines, press­es, impos­ing sur­faces, and large quan­ti­ties of cast-iron chas­es.

In going; through one of the fit­ting shops we noticed a cou­ple of fine tin-print­ing machines, which on enquiry turned out to be a repeat order for a well-known house. As they stood part­ly erect­ed, the mas­sive build, the “direct process” idea, and cer­tain nov­el fea­tures of attach­ments were notice­able.  By the way, print­ers out of this class of work have in all prob­a­bil­i­ty very lit­tle idea of the extent to which tin-print­ing is becom­ing; pop­u­lar. Chro­mo-lith­o­graphed tins are now adopt­ed for all man­ner of trades,and some most excel­lent results are obtained.

The Management

It is per­haps an open secret, but the firm offi­cial­ly known as the “Brem­n­er” Machine Co., Ltd., is a pri­vate com­pa­ny con­sist­ing prac­ti­cal­ly of the two hous­es so well known in the trade — the Har­rilds and the Watkin­sons. The con­nec­tion between the Brem­n­er Co.. and Messrs. Har­rild & Sons, of the “Fleet” Works, Lon­don, is as close now as before the incor­po­ra­tion of the Com­pa­ny, Messrs. Har­rild & Sons being chiefly respon­si­ble for sales of the “Brem­n­er” prod­ucts. The Com­pa­ny is con­trolled by the four direc­tors, Mr. Richard Watkin­son, Mr. Hor­ton Har­rild, Mr. Fredk. Har­rild, and Mr. Fredk. W. Mus­grave, with Mr. W. Watkin­son as sec­re­tary. All these gen­tle­men are prac­ti­cal in all sens­es of the word, and it is to their skill and indus­try that the busi­ness under notice owes its impor­tance, growth and pros­per­i­ty.