TO MY INDEX PAGE
AT HARRISON & SONS LTD. 1956 to 1966
2. HISTORICAL NOTES
3. THE HIGH WYCOMBE
3.1 The Original factory
First years of Production
4. LIFE AS AN APPRENTICE
I am writing this not only to record
this part of my life, but also to provide a record of the High
Wycombe factory at the time 1956 to 1966.
There does not seem to be a record like this as far as I can
find on the Internet, so I bear this in mind as I try to
remember the facts as I knew them.
The main printing process at the factory was Rotary
Photogravure, called Rotogravure in USA or simply "Gravure".
Existing records mostly concentrate on the postage stamp
printing work of Harrisons using the gravure process, but the
Wycombe factory expanded the commercial printing side at this
General gravure catalogue and magazine printing was expanded
as well as specialist printing of art reproductions for the
National Gallery and also laminate printing of "Formica" type
wood grain surfaces. There was also some limited Letterpress
All this made High Wycombe an extremely versatile gravure
printing works, capable of undertaking any variation of the
process. This was particularly important when the first
British colour pictorial postage stamps were printed.
It incidentally provided me with a superb apprenticeship to
the process which stood me in great stead through my career
including R&D and eventually Lecturing.
I hope I can do justice to this wonderful family firm which
deserves a special place in the history of printing and the
Rotary Photogravure process.
I recently received an email from Daniel Mark
Harrison as follows;
to reach out to you personally and thank you for putting online
your autobiography, particularly the wonderful things you said
about Harrison & Sons.
It was with profound pleasure and interest that
I happened to come across your autobiography online the other day
while searching for information about Harrison & Sons to show
when I was telling her about the firm that used
to belong to my family.I am Daniel Mark Harrison, 34
years old, and born on 1st
July 1980, I am as such the oldest of the
9th. generation of Harrisons, son of Mark
Ernest Harrison, who is
son of the late Ernest Handyside Harrison, with whom personally
and/or his generation you will have worked. Ernest was the
youngest of his brothers, the oldest of whom was Nigel.
am not sure to what extent you have kept in touch with any of
the family, but I wanted to extend my personal gratitude to you
for the enjoyment I experienced in reading about the perspective
of someone who was not from the family but
who had rather trained and worked there. In return I thought it
would be nice if I sent you a history of the family in the years
after the firm lest you do not know what happened - if only to
what might be a mild curiosity".................................
A full transcript of this email is reproduced, with his
permission, in my Autobiography
I am very grateful to Daniel for allowing me to do this as it
adds valuable information and authenticity to my account and
brings it up to date with the Harrison family history.
BACK TO CONTENTS
2. HISTORICAL NOTES
The firm of Harrisons can be traced back to 1750 and Thomas
Harrison b. 1723, d. 1791.
I have this information from a book "Harrison. A Family
Imprint" published to commemorate the bicentenary in 1950.
I can't remember exactly how I came to have this book. Whether
we were all given copies after I started in 1956, or perhaps
my Uncle Jack Barcock gave me a copy as he was in it.
In either case I treasure my copy now as it has pictures of
most of the journeymen printers who taught me the trade.
Now I also find that I enjoy reading the history of the firm
as I can appreciate the unique place it occupied in printing
and the history of London itself.
Most of my knowledge of the firm before I joined comes from
that book and my Uncle Jack. I will explain his great
contribution to the firm in the coming chapters.
The very first Harrison known to be a printer was Richard who
was listed in the 94 freemen in the Charter of the Stationers'
Company of 1537.
On a visit some years ago to Stationers Hall I saw that
Harrisons were past Masters of the Stationers Company on the
wall plaque of past Masters.
The Harrisons certainly have their place in London's history.
Two of the company Chairmen have been knighted:
Sir Cecil Reeves Harrison in 1918 and Sir Guy Harrison in 1951.
Both served as Masters of the Stationers Company.
I recently found reference to the connection with the Stationers
Company in an old Harrisons house magazine, 'Review' of June 1961.
An article entitled "A Family Name", apparently an extract from a
a Stationers Company article, contains this section;
"Many well known and notable names in the Printing trade are
recorded on the Livery Roll of the Company and over many years
one name appears rather often, the Family name of Harrison, a
family that can justifiably take pride in the knowledge that
since the year 1750-the year of foundation of the present firm
of Harrison and Sons Limited-seven members bearing the name
Harrison have been elected as Master. Their names and the year
of office are set out as below;
1784 THOMAS HARRISON 1828 JAMES
HARRISON 1900 JAMES W.
HARRISON 1928 CECIL R.
HARRISON 1930 EDGAR E.
HARRISON 1947 VICTOR B. HARRISON
1948 BERNARD GUY HARRISON."
The article then goes on to name a further 9 family members
who are Liverymen of the Company. It continues;
"Apropos of numbers it was stated by the late Ralph D.
Blumenfeld (Deputy Master) at the Livery Dinner of 1934
that if a new Livery Company were created it should be called
"The Worshipful Company of Harrisons," a delightful tribute to
the family of that name."
Following the first Richard, Thomas Harrison, born in Reading,
really started the printing dynasty after serving his
apprenticeship with the "Confidential Government Printer" Office
He was followed by his brother James in 1743, both serving 7 year
apprenticeships. I realise now why I was privileged to also enter
the trade as an apprentice with Harrisons and why they treated
their apprentices so well. That connection with the Government in
positions of trust no doubt secured Harrisons future as Government
It is ironic that the last Harrison in print was also Richard who
departed the firm when it was taken over by Lonrho in 1979. In
1997 it was taken over by De La Rue International Ltd., and the
High Wycombe factory eventually closed down. It was tragic to see
it become derelict and for years I drove by the side entrance I
used to go in by in Hughenden Avenue where the main entrance had
the "By Appointment" Royal Coat of Arms. Now the site has been
razed to the ground and it it just a heap of rubble to become
housing I expect.
But the name of Harrison as printers lives on in documents such as
this and The National Archive.
We are all come to dust eventually and all we can hope is that, in
the words of Longfellow " ... leave behind us footprints on the
sands of time". Perhaps what follows might qualify as one
3. THE HIGH
WYCOMBE FACTORY HISTORY.
Original factory Buildings
I have found it difficult to find a photograph of the
Wycombe factory before it was abandoned but I discovered this
aerial view in the Wycombe Library Archive. It appears in the
"SWOP" website of WDC and I am grateful for their permission to
include it here;
right top next to Hughenden Park where the trees and stream can be
The main factory in the view is Broom & Wade, later
BroomWade, who built air compressors but most famous for
building tanks in the WW2. These were tested on the
steep slopes above the factory. Harrisons was just the section
above where the road divides the factories, Hughenden Avenue.
Not a very clear view, but enough to give an idea of the
pleasant location near the Park.
It is stunning to reflect here on the fact that some 2000
workers were employed at BroomWade and around 750 at Harrisons,
and now there is nothing left of the factories.
They were protected from bombing by the climate during WW2 as the
Valley was often covered in mist. I see that now from my house in
Green Hill overlooking the Valley, but not so often now there is
no factory smoke. At the bottom of Green Hill a farm, Asperey's,
had a farmhouse built over the site of a German or returning RAF
bomber crash. Fred Asperey lived on top of an incendiary bomb
which was discovered when the farmhouse was demolished! We used to
take our kids to see the hens and pigs in the farmyard. They had
cows which supplied local dairies.
As a result of searching for these pictures I made contact with
Peter Tozer who in retirement has been researching Broom and Wades
history and gave me information about the firm and the following
fascinating views of the original factories which I include here
with his permission.
These I understand from
Peter Tozer and some research I have done were the sheds used by
the "Wycombe Aircraft Constructors" company. These date from at
least 1917 when the company was set up to manufacture parts for
aircraft, particularly in WW1, by George Holt Thomas of Wycombe.
He set up a company called Airco in Hendon in 1912 and employed
the famous Geoffrey de Havilland as chief designer.
I found this information in the High Wycombe Society Newsletter
of Summer 2012 in an article by David Scott.
Aircraft manufacture then being of wooden construction could make
use of the woodworking skills of the furniture makers. I have
discovered that the factory at Wycombe probably never went into
production and the sheds were obtained by Broom and Wade.
This photograph shows the sheds eventually obtained by Harrisons
at the right hand end. They are the white triangular shaped sheds.
The road between them and the Broom and Wade sheds is Hughenden
The houses in the foreground are Hughenden Road and Conningsby
I look over this view from my house and see the fields and the
Disraeli Monument on the far hill in the top centre.
Geoffrey de Havilland was actually born on 27 July 1882 at Magdala
House, Terriers, High Wycombe, nearby to where I live.
3.2 The First
years of Production
The earliest reference I have to the factory at High Wycombe is
from the book "Harrison. A Family Imprint" mentioned above. This
was as follows;
" The Company's development of photogravure was so successful that
in the year 1933 the Post Office decided to adopt this very modern
process for the manufacture of all the British postage
Stamps up to the 1s. denomination"........"A vacant building was
secured at High Wycombe and a new industry was established in this
ancient borough of chair-making fame".
So Harrisons took over the vacant sheds in the picture above in
1933 and developed them for photogravure printing. My Uncle Jack
was there at the beginning because he had joined Harrisons at the
Hayes factory and helped set up the photogravure process he
learned from his time at Clarke and Sherwells of Northampton. He
did most of the process stages but settled eventually as the
foreman of the planning department where glass page photos were
planned into pages. This was a key job as it had to use schemes to
suit the particular printing machines.
This is a drawing of the factory in the 1950s. taken from the
family Imprint book;
This drawing shows the factory almost as I
first knew it when I joined in 1956.
It shows the original sheds of the Wycombe
Aircraft Constructors and the later added front office block.
The front entrance with the Royal Crest, which
appears in the group picture below, is not yet there.
High Wycombe turned out to be a good choice of location as the war
years loomed up, being out of London and safe from the
bombing. My Uncle escaped conscription to the forces as his job in
postage stamp production was deemed a reserved occupation,
although he was perhaps too old at the start anyway. I
remember in addition to the Stamp printing they must have printed
some comics because he brought me some when he came to visit us in
Northampton. He had moved to a house in Hazlemere, near Wycombe
called Ash Cottage. This was a wonderful house with a large
garden. We used to have holidays there in the War as there was
nowhere else to go, but it was wonderful for me with the garden to
play in and most of all Uncle Jacks Austin 7, laid up in the
garage on blocks for the War duration. I spent hours sitting at
the drivers wheel pretending to drive it. I remember just
everything about it in graphic detail and can still smell
the leather of the seats.
Here is a group Photo from the House Magazine, "Review" of 1958
showing some of the Staff who were with the firm at the start in
1933, outside the front of the factory;
These included most of the men I knew
and worked with when I started in 1956 and who taught me my trade
craft as a photogravure engraver.
There is no-one who I can ask permission to use this picture, but
I am sure no-one would object.
Referring here to the men I knew in the left to right order;
L.(Daisy) Thornton, foreman photographic retoucher.
John Chalmers, Snr., Chief Machine minder I believe.
Fred Hailey, Stamp Dept. manager.
Tom Brownless, a dept. manager.
Charles (Charlie) Cannon. Engineering manager.
George Harrington, Camera Operator, Labour Councillor and
George Bastable, Copper Depositing manager.
Harold Cooper, Engraving Foreman, went to NGS School with my
J. (Ted) Colclough, Etching Foreman.
Arthur Porter, Camera Foreman.
Stan Pountney, a dept. manager.
Jack Froy, Machine Minder.
John Wiffen, Planner. I stayed with him and his family when my
Uncle was on holiday.
E (Pat) O'Conner, Carbon Printing foreman and the Union "Father of
John King, Engraver and my
journeyman for a time. A countryman who went shooting.
Jack Barcock, my wonderful
R (Tom) Cornish, Etcher
John King Snr. Machine
Minder, seen as always in his working overalls.
Harold Lancashire, Chief
The others I remember but
can't recall their jobs.
4. LIFE AS AN
4.2. THE FIRST YEAR
4.3. THE TALE
OF THE CHRISTMAS LOAN CLUB
(BILL) JEANS, "THE GENERAL"
My life as an apprentice started at the moment I signed my
Indentures. My father came to High Wycombe to do this with me. As
an indentured apprentice I would be answerable to my Master so in
a sense my father was handing responsibility for me to him. This
was the nature of apprenticeships in the historical trades and I'm
pleased I have my Indentures as an historical document and record,
but not significant in any other sense now. A copy of the
Indenture document is in my Autobiography Documents
page. I treasure it because it links me to a past tradition of the
The first thing I learned was humility. An apprentice must be
humble and respectful to the journeymen who must be addressed as
"Mr". This might be difficult for a 16 year old who typically
knows everything but fortunately I was not bothered by all this
and had an inbuilt respect for authority from my Grammar School
education and love of Sport which I think teaches respect the
So when I was greeted by one of the great journeyman characters,
"Mac" with the words "So you are the bloody, effing, sodding boy!"
I did not wince at all. The colourful language of print became
part of my vocabulary and is I think a harmless way of dealing
with the disasters of life.
There was an expression for everything, usually profane but
descriptive and sometimes the only satisfactory way to explain the
thing in question. For example, we worked to very fine limits,
tenths of a thou, being ten-thousandth's of an inch, so when
a small difference needed to be made it would be " A gnats cock"
or "Just a fart" being better than "A gnats whisker" or "Just a
sniff". If something like an error in the print stood out it would
be "Like a dogs bollock" or "you've made a right dog's bollock of
that!". The f-word was part of ordinary conversation., such as
"Well f-me" and "That's f-ed it!" The Chief Engineer prefaced
everything with the work "Faarking", a drawn out form of the
adjective! Faarking this and faarking that. The firm put on an
exhibition in the Parish Church one time and the engineers set it
up. One asked "Where shall I put this Chief", to which he replied,
his voice echoing through the Church "Put it by the faarking
No disrespect was meant, but it was funny to relate because the
f-word was never used in general conversation outside of the print
environment. Nowadays it is not so shocking and consequently the
humour is somewhat lost. Anyway, I shall not include most of the
profanities in my account, not wishing to cause the reader
4.2.THE FIRST YEAR
In the first year of my apprenticeship I spent time in each of the
sections of the "process" department. Each section requires
separate skills and I would have to choose my preference and hope
this was accepted. The section operations and skills need some
explanation. I include this brief technical explanation for the
historical interest some may have in the Gravure printing process.
I will try to avoid using the jargon of the trade as much as
possible. Please skip the detail of this part 2.1 it if it proves
2.1 The Sections , in order of the stages of the process,
were as follows:
1. Camera Operating. This had "Gallery" cameras of various
sizes and their associated dark rooms for photographic
developing. The cameras ran on rails to enable the original
pictures to be mounted on a copyboard and brought into focus by
rolling the camera on the rails. I don't want to spend a long time
explaining this, except to say the cameras were complex and each
camera operater stuck mainly to his own camera. The largest camera
could take an original 2 or 3 feet square and was heavy to
operate. There were also "Vertical" cameras which saved space. The
product of the camera operating was a glass photographic positive
and then later films, as these eventually replaced glass, with the
correct size picture for the final print.
2. Retouching & Scanning. This was originally an
artistic operation, using hand paintbrushing with dyes to enhance
the appearance or repair or repair faults in the photographic
positives. Then, as the technology advanced they used "masking" by
overlaying the positives with negatives to correct the colour
balance in colour printing. Later still, electronic scanners were
introduced which carried out this "colour correction"
electronically. This complex operation made the retouchers the
most highly paid craftsmen.
3. Planning. This section assembles the photo. positives
into page format and then assembles the pages according to an
imposition scheme to print in correct position for the printing
machine and folder. This fundamental operation of page assembly
according to the printing machine to be used was complicated by
the the large number of different machines, folding methods and
the particular job requirements. My Uncle Jack was planning
foreman and highly respected for his knowledge of the firm's
capabilities and his planning skills. These included glass cutting
when glass positives were used, and the extreme accuracy required
for the "registration" of the four printing colour assemblies in
4. Carbon Printing. In this operation the photographic
images of the page assemblies are transferred to the copper
printing surface, either a copper plate or cylinder. This was done
by exposure in contact with "carbon tissue" using Ultra Violet
"UV" light. The light source was a carbon arc lamp. This would not
be allowed nowadays without shielding, but there was none of that
and the Carbon Printers all had healthy looking tans! They were
actually very unhealthy. The carbon tissue was a gelatin coated
paper sensitised by soaking in potassium dichromate solution
Another very unhealthy operation although heavy rubber gloves were
worn. The sensitised carbon tissue was dried and glazed on glass
plates and cut to the size of the page assemblies for exposure.
The exposed tissue was then transferred to the copper printing
surface using a "laying machine". All this was done in orange
safelight. as the sensitised tissue was only sensitive to UV
light. However, it was also very sensitive to changes in relative
humidity, rh, so the whole are had to be air conditioned to
variation of only + or - 1% rh and 1degree F. An expensive
5. Etching. The copper plates or cylinders were etched,
through the carbon tissue using ferric chloride solutions. The
carbon tissue image had been developed in hot water, the exposure
to the photo positives having hardened it to different
thicknesses. The thinnest parts would be the dark images areas and
the thicker parts the lighter areas. the difference in thickness
being only a few ten-thousand's of an inch, microns in metric
measurement. The rate of etching was controlled by the etcher
using a range of different density ferric chloride solutions, a
highly skilled operation.
The result would be an etched recessed, or intaglio, image that
would hold ink in the printing process.
6. Engraving & Fine Etching. This is the final operation after the
initial proofing of the etched cylinders or plates. It is the
section I joined by choice. Hand engraving appealed to me as
both artistic and uniquely skilful. The fine etching was
interesting too, being the correction of tones in general
printing and balancing the variations across the printed sheet
in the postage stamp printing. The foreman was Harold Cooper, who
my father knew from his schooldays at Northampton Grammar School
for Boys. There were some very skilled hand engravers, some had been banknote
7. Copper Depositing, Polishing and Chrome Plating. This
ancillary section to the main process involved the preparation of
the copper cylinders for the Carbon Printers, and the finishing of
the cylinders by chromium plating to increase the wearing
resistance. This involved electro-deposition of copper on a steel
base, polishing the copper surface to a perfectly smooth finish.
Then, after etching, chromium plating by electro-deposition.
All these operations required great skill and knowledge of the
Gravure process and I still wonder at how these skills were
developed and how they have mostly disappeared now after existing
for so many years.
TALE OF THE CHRISTMAS LOAN CLUB
Perhaps my first realisation of the nature of the firm I was
working for came from a remarkable series of events
involving the Christmas Loan Club. Loan clubs were a popular way
of saving money and getting small loans when needed. You have to
remember there were no such things as credit cards, let alone Pay
Day loan companies. It was a way of saving for Christmas usually
which involved putting in a regular amount, and if a loan was
taken out, paying it back with interest. At Christmas, the
interest was shared out among the members with the money they had
saved depending on how much they had paid in. Money paid in was by
buying shares using a 'paying in' book.
Variations on this were organised by clubs and pubs as well as
employees of firms. There were often examples of the treasurers of
pubs and clubs being overcome by temptation, debt or gambling,
losing the loan clubs money and finishing up in gaol! This
happened to Diane's parents when the landlord of the pub Christmas
loan club they were in lost them their money.
On hearing this I boldly told them I would take some shares out
for them with Harrisons loan club for the next Christmas, which
would be as safe as houses.
Of course, the inevitable happened, as follows;
The loan club issued savings cards with Harrison & Sons Loan
Club on the front as records of members contributions, but the
club was entirely run by by its members having appointed officials
to administer the records and bank the monies. I think
contributions could be stopped from members wages or paid in cash
and the accounts were kept by the appointed Secretary who I
believe was an accountant in the wages office. ( I may have some
details incorrect here, but the story in essence is not affected
When the end of year accounts were completed a couple of officials
who were I think Ted Colclough, the Etching department foreman,
accompanied by the aforementioned Mac, who was ex Royal Artillery
Captain, acting as bodyguard, went to collect the cash from the
bank on Frogmore Square in High Wycombe. Mac sat in the car ready
for all eventualities except the one Ted brought back to him from
the bank. This was the the money had all been drawn out a few days
earlier by the Secretary!
When they returned to confront the Secretary they discovered he
was not at work and also was not at home either. Eventually his
bicycle and clothes were found abandoned by the Thames at Marlow
and everyone feared the worst. People's reactions were a mixture
of anger and concern for him and his family. I myself realised I
would have to tell Diane's parents their Christmas savings were
lost again Something I did not relish doing.
A meeting was called in the works canteen of all loan
club shareholders and we all made our way to there after work. It
was a very noisy, somewhat bad tempered and worried congregation.
The loan club officials and some members of the management
including Hugh Harrison appeared on the stage. One of the
officials confirmed that the money had gone and was lost, but Mr.
Hugh had something to say. Hughie, as he was affectionately
called, explained, (in his rather high, almost falsetto voice)
that, although the name of Harrisons appeared on the shareholders
card, the company had no legal responsibility for the losses. This
produced a very disgruntled murmur, but he continued ( I
paraphrase) "However we feel a moral responsibility and will
refund all the lost monies". Wow! A stunned silence seemed to last
ages before a cheer and clapping broke out.
I breathed a sigh of relief myself as I now had good news for my
The secretary was discovered in Ireland to everyone's relief and
brought back to Wycombe to stand trial. Harrisons gave evidence of
his previous good character and I believe he was released and
later re-employed by the Company. Just like the return of the
Prodigal Son to the family. What a wonderful happy ending due
indeed to the special nature of the firm.
(BILL) JEANS, "THE GENERAL"
General Jeans was my designated Journeyman for a time which
meant that I worked with him to learn his special part in the
engraving and revision process.
He was a great character with an almost unbelievable background
and when he passed away I visited his wife who gave me his
engraver's toolbox which I still have with some of his tools.
He always referred to his wife as "Mrs. Jeans" which explains his
character exactly. I never knew her first name. He got the
nickname "General" because he had been in the South African Police
at one time, not a General, but had some rank of authority. he
showed us pictures of him in uniform and with his native servants.
What he was doing in the South African Police I'm not
sure, but he had a rather roguish nature and I think he
may have used it to escape being called up for the
He was an ideal target for the jokers who liked to get a reaction
from him. One of these who was expert in winding him up had a
photo in a magazine we were printing to show him. It was of a
group of native Africans. He said "Mr. Jeans, you were in South
Africa weren't you?"
The General answered rather proudly, "That is correct, I spent
some years in the South African Police".
"Then, do you recognise any of these chaps?" showing him the
picture. He took the picture, looked at it, and exploded "You
bloody fool, there were millions of them!"
He also lived in Paris for a while, probably working
as an engraver somewhere, and spoke fluent French. He came in
one day and said " I fooled a caller yesterday who came to the
house selling something. I leaned out of the upstairs window
and addressed him in French, then went down and opened the
door and asked him what he wanted. He looked at me and said",
"Where is that French gentleman I just spoke to?" He was
absolutely amazed when I said "I am he!".
Cue for the Joker to say "Mr. Jeans, is it true you once lived
As expected he replied "That is correct, I lived there some
"Then, do you remember a street called the "Rue de Postcard?".
The General mused for a few seconds repeating "Rue de
Postcard" Then exploded "You bloody fool..... etc. etc."
This formula was repeated over and over with the same result
His main task was fine etching the stamp cylinders. This was
to balance up variations in the strength of the printed image
across the sheet of 2 x 240 stamps.