The local print economy in 19th century Scotland

Helen Williams
Edinburgh Napier University

The nineteenth century saw a massive expansion of print in all forms
in Scotland as it did throughout the United Kingdom. While large firms
in major centres, employing emerging technologies and production
techniques, were able to specialise in book printing or other segments
of the market, there was also an expansion in the numbers of regional
and local printing firms. Outside the major print centres of
Edinburgh, Glasgow and Aberdeen, the local printing industry was often
centred on the production of local newspapers, often produced weekly.
This meant that the local or newspaper and periodical press was a
significant element in the print culture and economy of many Scottish
towns. However, periodical production was only one element of the work
of such printing firms, with jobbing printing for local business and
some book production work all taking place under one roof, and using
the same machinery and undertaken by the same staff. These local
newspaper houses were usually also the centre of the union branches
which emerged in the middle of the century, and thus played a
significant part in the development of the communication networks of
print trade workers. The societies which regulated the benefits paid
to print workers ‘tramping’ in search of work formed the basis of
early trade unions, which in Scotland coalesced into the Scottish
Typographical Association from 1853 onwards. Some branch records for
smaller regional centres have survived from this formative period.
These indicate patterns of mobility within the trade, as well as
offering insights into the lives and motivations of both mobile and
static workers in the print trade, and illuminate social and working
conditions of the time.

This paper is a preliminary investigation of the networks of mobility
and information flow in Scotland’s printing trade, focusing
specifically on two significant regional centres: Dumfries, a
‘gateway’ town on the border between Scotland and England; and Perth,
an administrative hub for the local area, and a transit point on
routes north and east of the main centres of population and industry
in Scotland’s ‘central belt’. The local minutes and membership
records, supported by evidence from trade journals and other local
material, offer insights into the lives and work practices of print
production workers.

This research is part of a larger project entitled Printers on the
move which has been in progress for some time within the SAPPHIRE
initiative (Scottish Archive of Printing and Publishing History and
Records and draws on original research in Scottish
regional archives as well as on the database of nineteenth-century
Scottish and Irish print workers developed for that project.

Newspapers and Periodicals in Britain and Ireland from 1800 to 1900