Bill Hughes: Obituary

Bill Hughes, typesetter, of Worcester, was the last of his kind. There is no one left who has either his skill or experience, and he must have been one of the very few men, or women, who had a working career of over 66 years in the same trade. He was apprenticed as a printer in Loughborough in 1928 and trained as a Monotype operator, a skill he practised until ill-health caused him to stop working some two years ago.

His father was a dentist but Bill did not want to follow him and on the advice of his headmaster he went into printing. After training at Leicester College of Art (where he took First Class honours in every subject) he moved around the country and in the Thirties settled in Worcester, where he remained for the rest of his life.

When he entered printing, the Monotype caster had more or less completed its takeover of the trade. For nearly 450 years after Gutenberg invented the technique of printing from movable type, every bit of printing, from Bibles to newspapers, was produced from type set by hand. That meant that every letter, every space, every bit of punctuation, was picked up from the case by an operator, arranged in lines, fastened together in a frame, was inked and had a sheet of paper pressed against it. And, after all that, every letter and so on had to be cleaned of ink and replaced in the correct compartment of the case.

In the last few years of the 19th century, mechanical typesetting was invented but did not have any impact on the trade until after the First World War. In the next decade Monotype machines took over all typesetting except for newspapers.

They were complicated affairs, in two parts: the keyboard which produced a roll of paper with holes punched in it, and the caster. The roll was fed into this and controlled the actual casting of molten metal into type, spaces, and punctuation which were then arranged into lines. The operator had to be a sort of cross between a competent typist, a highly skilled mechanic accustomed to working to micrometric tolerances, and a layout artist.

Such men rarely lacked work and Hughes found plenty in Worcester, which at that time had more printing firms than a city of its size warranted. When he retired in the early 1970s, as the computer revolution was beginning, he bought a couple of casters and a keyboard, and in 1973 set up in business for himself as Solotype. For over 20 years he cast type in his small workshop on the quayside at Upton-on-Severn, about eight miles from Worcester. Whenever the Severn flooded he had to sandbag his doors, and once or twice had to carry his electric motors up to his first-floor office.

For many years now type has all but disappeared from the printing trade. Bill Hughes made his living from the few small printers who continued using type - fewer and fewer as time went by. But the market in which he took most pride was the private presses, from the hobby-printer to those large presses which are run on commercial lines and produce magnificent volumes eagerly sought after by collectors.

His first customer was the late Dame Hildelith Cumming, who transformed the press at Stanbrook Abbey, outside Worcester, so that it became known throughout the world for its excellence. He set the type for most of her books and that fact alone is the best comment that can be made about Hughes's skill and workmanship. His later customers, including the Whittington, Fleece and Rocket Presses, regularly won printing awards with their books.

Bill Hughes was a delightful companion, whether gossiping in the local pub at Upton (there are three within 50 yards of his workshop) or in the shop itself, operating his machinery. He was so familiar with it that even when his eyes began to give him trouble towards the end of his life he was still able to keep up his standards.

Besides his widow, Nora, he leaves a son, Alan, and two grandsons; all three are printers.

William Hughes, printer: born Hammerwich, Staffordshire 20 September 1912; married 1937 Nora Lock (one son); died Worcester 21 May 1996.

News
The cartoon produced by Bruce MacKinnon for the Halifax Chronicle-Herald on Thursday, showing the bronze soldiers of the war memorial in Ottawa welcoming Corporal Cirillo into their midst
news
Voices
Funds raised from the sale of poppies help the members of the armed forces with financial difficulties
voicesLindsey German: The best way of protecting soldiers is to stop sending them into disastrous conflicts
Voices
Nigel Farage has backed DJ Mike Read's new Ukip song
voicesNigel Farage: Where is the Left’s outrage over the sexual abuse of girls in the North of England?
Property
One bedroom terraced house for sale, Richmond Avenue, Islington, London N1. On with Winkworths for £275,000.
property
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
News
i100
News
peopleFox presenter gives her less than favourable view of women in politics
News
Mario Balotelli has been accused of 'threateningly' telling a woman to stop photographing his Ferrari
peoplePolice investigate claim Balotelli acted 'threateningly' towards a woman photographing his Ferrari
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Voices
Don’t try this at home: DIY has now fallen out of favour
voicesNick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of it
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SSRS Report Developer - Urgent Contract - London - £300pd

£300 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: SSRS Report Developer – 3 Mon...

KS1 Teacher

£95 - £150 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: Key Stage 1 teacher require...

HR Business Partner - Essex - £39,000 plus benefits

£32000 - £39000 per annum + benefits + bonus: Ashdown Group: Generalist HR Man...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £30000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Do you feel like your sales role...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
The 10 best smartphone accessories

Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again