Robert Smail's Printing Works
Robert Smail's Printing Works
A completely restored and working Victorian printing works with an office, press rooms, paper store, and water wheel. The Smail works remained essentially unchanged for more than a century, and offer a fascinating glimpse into the craft of letterpress printing and typesetting.
Robert Smail began printing in Innerleithen in 1856, focussing on selling stationery, books, and fishing gear. He purchased the current works building in 1867 for the grand total of 500 pounds and filled it with the latest print machinery. When Robert died in 1890 his three sons took over the family business. Robert Small, Jr, ran the business, while his brothers acted as salesmen.

Tragedy struck in 1930 when Adam Smail was struck by lightning and killed while fishing on the River Tweed. The third generation of Smail's took over in 1950, but when Cowan Smail decided to retire in 1986 he put the family business up for sale. By a lucky chance, the National Trust for Scotland was alerted to the sale, and purchased the entire works and all its contents, to preserve this historic business for future generations.

The original printing equipment is still used today for small print jobs and is used to print some of the Trust's own promotional literature. Modern visitors can experience what it was like to be a printer's apprentice, and learn how to set type and operate the presses.

The Works office is a delicious jumble of ledgers, newspapers, and dockets, for the Smail family never seemed to throw anything away! One of the prize exhibits in a collection of giant scrapbooks illustrating every single job the company printed over the course of almost a century in business on Innerleithen High Street. Each entry has a sample of the finished product, with the date and the number printed. The result is a fascinating piece of social history.

See the original water wheel which supplied power to the print machinery until the 1930s. You can try your hand at typesetting and see the output printed on a Columbia Eagle Press. Watch expert printers operate a foot-peddle driven platen press, with an output of 900 copies per hour. Imagine keeping that up throughout the 10 hour work day!

The printing works offer regular full day courses in the art of typesetting and operating a letterpress if you want to become an expert yourself!