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
people
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvDownton Abbey review: It's six months since we last caught up with the Crawley clan
Sport
Frank Lampard and his non-celebration
premier leagueManchester City vs Chelsea match report from the Etihad Stadium
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
techNew app offers 'PG alternative' to dating services like Tinder
News
Jacqueline Bisset has claimed that young women today are obsessed with being 'hot', rather than 'charming', 'romantic' or 'beautiful'
people
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Sport
premier league
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave crime series
Sport
Mario Balotelli celebrates his first Liverpool goal
premier leagueLiverpool striker expressed his opinion about the 5-3 thriller with Leicester - then this happened
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says
tvSpoiler warning: Star of George RR Martin's hit series says viewers have 'not seen the last' of him/her
News
i100
News
i100
Sport
Plenty to ponder: Amir Khan has had repeated problems with US immigration because of his Muslim faith and now American television may shun him
boxing
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

Head of Marketing and Communications - London - up to £80,000

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Group Head of Marketing and Communic...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery Nurse required for ...

Nursery Nurse

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: L3 Nursery Nurses urgently required...

SEN Teaching Assistant

Negotiable: Randstad Education Manchester: We have a number of schools based S...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments