Allan Smyth, Master Printer

The year 1899 was an important one for Allan Smyth: he became sole proprietor of the business which he was to own for 37 years. Ten years before that he married Annie Williamson, the daughter of Robert Williamson the clothier and tailor of Tweed Green Cottage. His first wife Jane Duncan whom he had married in Dundee in 1885 had sadly died in Peebles the year before.  The marriage register showed he resided at Willow’s Bank in the Station Road and declared his occupation to be printer and publisher; the certificate also showed his father's occupation as editor. His father Alexander Smyth edited the newspaper until his death in 1914, whilst Allan Smyth managed the business and developed the newspaper and commercial printing.

As Master Printer of The Neidpath Press he supervised and controlled all print matter that was produced so that the high quality associated with his imprint was assured. In addition to the weekly printing and publishing of the Peeblesshire Advertiser, he produced each year the Valuation Roll and the Abstract of Accounts for Peebles Town Council, plus an extensive array of commercial printing for businesses and private individuals, and in addition during his 37 years as owner he printed and published twenty-one books: fifteen for Dr Clement B. Gunn [List Page 5]; three for Robert Renwick [List Page 5]; and three other books which included Peeblesshire and its Outland Boundaries by James Watson (1903), Reminiscences with occasional essays by Mr D. Brown Anderson (457pp, 1906) and The Ethics of International Trade; with Special Reference to the Policy of Britain after the War by Mr W. Stables Smith (25pp, 1911). Seven years after his death his imprint was being used to print the Broughton Free Kirk and thereabouts, 1843-1943 by David M. Forrester (1943).

I remember him as a dignified, kindly and gentle man, and like those who worked in the business at that time I was in awe of his long lifetime as a formidable servant of the printed word in Peebles. His influence extended throughout the composing room and the pressroom until he died in July 1936. It was my good fortune to have known him and to have worked under his tuition and even though it was only for a short time it inspired me with his dedication to the art of printing.

One occasion I have always remembered when our proof reading was delayed, he asked me to follow him though the front office and down the stairs leading to the front door. He then asked if I has swept the stairs that morning and when I assured him I had, he tried to pull the door open but it would only move so far as it stuck half-way. I witnessed this eighty-year-old man getting down on his knees and with an open penkife began to prod under the door and in quick time dislodged a piece of grit. He looked up at his fifteen-year-old apprentice and said 'There is always a reason'. After the Second World War when I was a manager and faced with problems raised by the printing chapels or by managers about difficulties they were encountering in their departments, I mentally prodded to try find the 'piece of grit' and to try and identify the 'real reason', often not the one being put forward.

When he died on the 29th June 1936, William Kerr who was then the Editor of the Peeblesshire News, said that 'nothing second-rate ever passed his hand.'

After the end of the Second World War and managing the composing room of The Scotsman Publications in Edinburgh, I was concerned with replacing the Excelsior typeface used for the text of our newspapers and supported by the proprietor Roy Thomson (later, Lord Thomson) and the Editor of The Scotsman Alastair Dunnett (later, Sir Alastair) I installed the typeface 'Scotsman Royal'. It was an adaptation of an American typeface 'Royal' but was concerned it contained a number of characters that needed to be re-designed to withstand the heavy moulding pressure the type page had to endure when processed to produced the matrix for creating the metal cyclindrical plates to go on the rotary printing presses. Intertype in the United Kingdom readily accepted the changes I proposed and their typographer Casper Mitchell redesigned these letters.

I had chosen Scotsman Royal as it had elegance and strength of design so when letters were assembled to compose words they were readily readable, making the typeface eminently suitable for The Scotsman. Alastair Dunnett in referring to me as the prime mover for the installation of the Scotsman Royal, wrote I was "a Borderer and had the feel of type . . . and knew to my very hackles" what The Scotsman needed. This could have been said of Allan Smyth: that it was said about his last apprentice greatly reflects on the Master Printer of The Neidpath Press at whose side I once stood and was inspired by his gifted craftsmanship and skill in the production of the printed word.

He would have been pleased that The National Library of Scotland in tribute to Scotsman Royal held an exhibition of pages of The Scotsman, claiming the new typeface had the qualities of legibility and readability associated with 'Scots Roman', an old typeface once produced by the Edinburgh typefounders Miller & Richard. It had been used for the text of primary school text books during the early part of the twentieth century. The Scotsman had the distinction of winning the Newspaper design Award in 1959 and Sir Miles Thomas who was one of the judges comment that the legibility of Scotsman Royal was first class.

Allan Smyth took an interest in the wider aspect of publishing and was an original member of the Scottish National Newspaper Proprietors Association and a Past-President. In due course I was to follow his example by being the President of the Newspaper Society [Provincial Morning, Evening and Weekly Press of Great Britain and Ireland] and took an interest in the dissemination of news throughout Great Britain as a director of the Press Association and as a director of Reuters.

His long and distinguished service to Peeblesshire as a newspaper publisher was widely acclaimed when he handed over the ownership of The Neidpath Press to Messrs Parmley and Mitchell in 1931. The then Lord-Lieutenant Mr M. G. Thorburn (later, Sir Michael) said that it had been a healthy and well-conducted newspaper; Provost Anderson of the Royal Burgh added the Peeblesshire Advertiser had a long and honoured history behind it; and J. Walter Buchan, Town-Clerk of Peebles, said the newspaper from the beginning had a beneficial effect, supporting schemes of progress. It is not only as a publisher of newspapers that Allan Smyth should be remembered but his work with Robert Renwick and Dr Gunn -- they formed a most worthy partnership -- contributing an unique collection of important books about Peeblesshire's ancient burgal system and the history of Peeblesshire and its Churches.

 

 
   

Allan Smyth

Master Printer, Peebles

 

Newspapers or books: 'nothing second-rate ever passed his hand'.

 

A epitath for a worthy Peeblean

whose life was dedicated to the printed word.

 

It is timely to pay tribute to him when today's generation are using the digital medium with its access not only to real time data but volumes of the printed word. At least three of Allan Smyth's books printed and published by him at The Neidpath Press a hundred years ago are available to be read on the internet by a world wide audience. Key in www.archive.org, select 'texts' and turn over the pages of Dr Clement B. Gunn's The Book of the Cross Kirk, Peebles, AD1560-1690 Presbyterianism versus Episcopacy; also, The Book of the Croce Kirk, Peebles, AD1690-1784 Secular Presbyterianism; and D. Brown Anderson's Reminiscences with Occasional Essays; also key in www.historyofpeebles.com to read the History of Peebles: 1850-1990.

 

 
 

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