The Bremner Machine Company

An 1897 account of the Brem­ner Machine Works, Otley with illus­tra­tions of the depart­ments involved in mak­ing print­ing presses

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.