Working Lives

Printing in Fakenham (1952-2002)

Location: Fakenham

Patrick recalls working in the printing industry in Fakenham from the 1950s to 2002.

Starting as an apprentice

When I left school I applied for jobs on the railway and at an electricians but, due to their circumstances, I didn’t get them. So, in February 1952, at the age of 16, I began work at Wyman & Sons Ltd, a printing works on the west side of White Horse Street. I was living at Whissonsett, a five mile bicycle ride to Fakenham, not excessive at the time. It was not so good having to bike to work in all weathers, summer and winter. We worked from 8am to 5pm most of the time. It was a job and we were all glad of a job at the time.

I was apprenticed for five years as a hand compositor. Discipline was such that apprentices were required to address the tradesmen as ‘Mr’ and not to use first names. Smoking was prohibited so some of the men took snuff. When I tried it I found it most unpleasant. It tended to get all over the place, on the equipment, and many of the gentlemen’s aprons and duster coats were stiff due to wiping their fingers after taking it.

My starting wage was 30 shillings a week. It would be difficult to describe my work as there are many terms in print that would not be clear to laymen. Suffice to say it involved preparing hot-metal type for printing. A visit to a printing museum would make this clear.

Takeovers and redundancy

In the 1960s my department moved to a new building, on the opposite side of the road and at about this time the firm was taken over by the Thomas Tilling Group and its name changed to Cox & Wyman. In the 1970s the firm was again taken over, this time by Richard Clay of Bungay, an old established printing firm. As new techniques for photo setting and lithographic printing were now well established it was decided to phase out hot metal, meaning redundancies and retraining. I retrained as a reader which involved checking that work was correct before printing. Then, in 1982, the works in Fakenham closed and we were all made redundant which was a bitter blow.

A new company looking to the future

Six of my colleagues and I bought up all the photo setting equipment and started our own firm, Fakenham Photosetting Ltd. Of course techniques have continually changed over the years but we have always been able to keep up with new technology. Nowadays a disc with the authors’ words and spaces goes in one end and a disc containing a complete book goes out the other, to the printer.

I retired in 2000 but I still remain a Director and occasionally do reading at busy times. What I enjoyed about my working life was actually seeing the finished product, the book on the bookshelves. In my time off I played football and cricket for the village, or watched Norwich City or Peterborough United.

Patrick Brown (1936-2o18) talking to WISEArchive in Fakenham on 6th September 2006.

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