THE FIRST MASTER PRINTER in Britain was William Caxton who set up his printing press at Westminster in 1476. He brought with him the technique of casting individual metal letters from a single mould which Gutenburg invented around 1430. The letters produced could be assembled into words to be printed and then used again and again. Previously pages had been printed from a hand-carved wood block which required a great deal of time to produce. His first printed book in English was Recuyell of the Historyes of Troye (around 1474).

Scotland’s first printing press was established by the Edinburgh merchant WalterChepman and by Androw Myllar who was a bookseller. They were granted a royal licence by King James IV in 1507  and set up their printing works at Southgait (Cowgate) at the foot of Blackfriars Wynd in Edinburgh.  Nine items and two other related books make up the volume known as 'the Chepman and Myllar prints' and together they form the first Scottish books.


The 500th Anniversary of Printing in Scotland,[1] about the spread of printing presses in Scotland from 1508, referred in its records to a book Janus A Character published in 1770(?) having an imprint indicating it had been printed at Peebles.   This is arguable as there is no record of a printing press in the town before 1814. The book was a rather bawdy poem about a corrupt and libidous minister or priest with personal names abbreviated, so it seems likely 'Printed at Peebles' was used to divert attention away from where it was actually printed and published.[2]

Drop-head title Page 16

There is clear evidence that the first printing press in Peebles was set up in 1814 by Alexander Elder in his stationers and booksellers shop on the south side of the High Street.  He printed and published a small pamphlet The Concise History of the Origin and Progress of the Art of Printing also the Articles and Regulations of the Friendly Society of Masons of the Old Lodge of Peebles, No. XXI (1817).


Columbian  printing press

The second press established in Peebles was a Columbian iron constructed printing press invented in America in 1830 by George Clymer to replace the traditional wooden printing press.  When he moved to England his presses were manufactured in Edinburgh.

Smithsonian Institution

In 1853c the Peebles press was purchased from Mr T. Long, Paul's Works, Edinburgh, at a cost of thirty pounds. Mr William Chambers is believed to have assisted Robert Stirling, who had succeeded as proprietor of Peeblesshire Monthly Advertiser (established in 1845), to install the Columbian press in Peebles so that the newspaper could be printed locally rather than in Edinburgh.  The photograph illustrates a similar type of Columbian press with an 'Eagle' as a counterweight which usually sits on the top lever. Some Columbians have the counterweight in another form (a simple ornament, a lamp, urn, or simple knob).[3]

The poster on the right was printed by William Clark on the Columbian press on 24th October 1857 for the Peebles Town Council seeking to attract industry into the Burgh.[4] A larger scale reproduction of the poster on page 8.

The newly-acquired printing press was described by Robert Stirling as an 'engine for good' that was 'capable of throwing off a newspaper sheet'. It was made of iron and stood some seven feet in height, having a type-table that wound below the printing platen to produce a print impression of the type when power was applied by hand using a large wooden lever.  The Columbian printing press passed into the ownership of William Clark who contracted to print the Monthly Advertiser and also the opposition newspaper Peebles County Newspaper and General Advertiser. The latter publication was only published for a short time, from July 1858 to January 1860, and then both newspapers merged to form a weekly publication Peeblesshire Advertiser and County Advertiser.

Allan Smyth, born in 1856 in the Parish of Kettle, Fife, the son of Alexander Smyth a handloom linen weaver as was his grandfather, came to Peebles and set up as a general printer in the High Street. His premises adjoined the Chambers Institution where William Clark had operated as a printer, and Allan Smyth quickly made his mark on the local scene when he began publishing The Peeblesshire Herald in 1878. He was to become the sole proprietor of the Peeblesshire Advertiser in 1899 and Master Printer of The Neidpath Press until his death in 1936.

James Alexander Kerr also set up a printing press in Peebles. He had been foreman printer with the Peeblesshire Advertiser, but had left in 1887 to set up in premises also in the Eastgate to print and publish The Peebles Commercial News. It was a free weekly publication, quarto size (10 by 8 ins; 25.4 by 20.3 cms), mainly advertisements with a few paragraphs of local news. It was a very successful venture that developed into the Peeblesshire News which continues to be published today, although the ownership has changed several times during its long existence and since the mid-1930s been printed in Galashiels. It its first editorial offices were 55 Northgate with the newspaper printing works at School Brae.

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