RHYL JOURNAL 150th Anniversary plus –
1866 – 2018
A Printer Remembers
By George Owen, employed as a compositor at the Rhyl Journal 1956-1969
In the early 1900s the seaside resort of Rhyl was expanding rapidly and Edward Pearce and Lewis Jones, the proprietors of the Rhyl Journal, saw the opportunity to expand the newspaper and together they invested in building impressive new premises on the site of some old cottages on Russell Road next to The Swan. From 1905 over the next 60 years this site was to become a bustling purpose-built newspaper and commercial printing hub right in the centre of Rhyl.
Lewis Jones’ part in this story had started in the 1870s when Lewis began work as a compositor at the Rhyl Journal under John Morris, then proprietor and editor. Lewis Jones was evidently an enterprising fellow as he later became a reporter, a partner and finally the proprietor.
Until 1905 printing and publishing had been located at 30 High Street on the site currently occupied by Costa Coffee. Photos show the new site on Russell Road in 1905 where an old cottage had just been demolished in preparation for the brand new building. Other archive photos show a bearded Lewis Jones and his printing staff.
Edward Pearce died in 1891, aged 35, and Lewis Jones then became the sole proprietor until after 50 years he finally retired in 1921. The newspaper was then taken over by Pugh and Rowlands who also owned the rival Rhyl Advertiser and the paper’s title became The Rhyl Journal and Advertiser. They also printed and published the Prestatyn Weekly and the Denbighshire Free Press.
Lewis Jones’ passing in 1932 generated much newsprint in praise of his proprietorship of the Journal which had a reputation for being the best local paper on the North Wales Coast. The phrase “Sunny Rhyl” had been coined by Lewis Jones’ wife Jennie and the phrase was regularly propagated in the pages of the Journal. Lewis Jones was a man of vision and the Journal was not only the pre-eminent newspaper in the area but it also flourished doing general printing for all manner of people, businesses and enterprises, as well as supplying stationary and book binding. Many leaflets and publications of the time are marked ‘Printed at the Journal Works Rhyl.
Until the 1950s the newspapers had been printed on two large Wharfedale quad-demy hand-fed presses powered by gas engines. A large single sheet of paper four times the size of one page was fed by hand into the press and then the process was repeated to print the other side. These large sheets then had to be cut in half on a guillotine and folded and collated by hand – a slow, laborious and time-consuming process.
Post WW2 expansion and a new law in Britain which said that everyone must have one week’s annual paid holiday meant people flocked to resorts such as Rhyl and production improvements were necessary to meet increasing demand for the newspapers. A modern reel-fed Cossar Press was installed at the Journal which could automatically print on both sides and produce the complete 12-page folded edition in one process. In the 1951 photo company director Mrs Gladys Pugh can be seen with a celebratory bouquet of flowers and all the staff gathered around her to mark the installation of the new press.
The Cossar, which soon proved to be a good investment, was a mighty beast weighing 10 tons and when the press rolled it made a rumbling noise that could be heard throughout the building and even outside on the footpath. A few years later the two old redundant Wharfedales were sold off for scrap but the removal men who dismantled them and took the old presses away on a large lorry managed to disappear without paying a sausage and were never seen again!
In 1969 Pugh and Rowlands, the owners of the North Wales Press Co Ltd as the company was known, sold the business to the rival North Wales Newspapers and the printing of the three papers was moved to their works in Oswestry and later Deeside. Until then for over 60 years the Rhyl Journal, along with the Prestatyn Weekly and the Denbighshire Free Press, had been printed locally at the Russell Road works in Rhyl.
The printing works covered two large floors 60 feet by 30 feet to the rear of the building: the printing press room was on the ground floor and the composing room with eight linotype hot-metal type casting machines was on the first floor. Office and editorial staff were located in offices at the front of the building. The number of staff employed, including printers, editorial and office staff, numbered around thirty-five people. I was employed in the composing room from the late-1950s until the closure in 1969. There were also offices on Vale Street, Denbigh and Kings Avenue, Prestatyn, which in pre-email days sent news articles and adverts daily by Crosville bus to the Rhyl HQ. The news articles were then edited by the journalists and given to the composing room to be type set and assembled by the compositors into the pages.
The reels of paper for the Cossar Press were supplied by Bowaters Paper Mill, Ellesmere Port. Every few weeks a big flat-back lorry would arrive loaded with about 30 reels of paper stacked two high. These reels were approximately 36 inches long and 30 inches high and were very heavy needing careful manoeuvring to unload them from the lorry and roll them into the press room and stack them up again. The lorry would be parked in the alley alongside the print works and the apprentices would carry out the unloading. I remember one occasion when a reel was being rolled down the two thick planks at the rear of the lorry and it escaped from our grasp and hurtled down the alley into Russell Road and across into Clwyd Street before we managed to stop it. At that time road traffic in Russell Road was two-way and it was a miracle that the heavy reel didn’t collide with a car.
Wednesday was Press Day and sometimes the composing room staff worked until midnight on Tuesday to ensure that all the pages were ready for the large Cossar printing press to roll early on Wednesday morning. In order to keep our morale up on these late Tuesday night sessions the editor Haydn Williams, would sometimes take the compositors for a late break in The Swan which was conveniently located next door or order tea and ham sandwiches from the Russell Café opposite (now the Hair Studio).
Printing delays on Press Day had to be avoided at all costs as they would hold up deliveries of the newspaper on Crosville buses to the surrounding outlying area and risk the ire of the Rhyl newsagents who collected outside around lunchtime on Russell Road to collect their copies of the paper. The process was repeated on Thursday with the Denbighshire Free Press and on Friday with the Prestatyn Weekly.
For 150 years production of the paper has never failed to appear except once in the summer of 1959 when the National Graphical Association and the Newspaper Society failed to agree new pay and conditions and printers across the UK came out on a strike which lasted six weeks from early July to mid-August. The strike coincided with an unusually hot summer and some of the Rhyl Journal’s striking printers found summer jobs selling ice cream or worked on the fairground while the journalists went away on trips on full pay. Printers are normally a pale-faced bunch due to being indoors most of the time but that year they returned work with a good sun tan. The five Journal apprentices, although they were union members, didn’t have a vote and so they carried on working on full pay but, as it turned out, had little to do but play cards or read novels.
The Journal management had made plans to produce an emergency edition of the Journal using the five apprentices. However at the last minute they discovered to their frustration that the Factories Act prevented the apprentices from using the printing machinery without supervision by the printers and so the paper ceased production for the duration of the strike which continued for six weeks. As a result the apprentices had a pretty easy time and were slightly sorry when it was all over although as a result of the strike printers were the first workers in the UK to achieve a 40-hour working week.
The Christmas period was sometimes an issue that would affect production depending on which day of the week Christmas Day fell, especially if it was on a Wednesday. A bonus was that the printers often worked at double time rates on Boxing Day or weekends to ensure the papers appeared.
Over the years until 1969 as well as the Derbyshire Miners Club, Marsh Road, The Plough, St Asaph and the Morville Hotel, Rhyl Promenade, the Swan Pub next door was one of the venues where the annual Journal staff parties were held with a three course dinner, band and dancing.
In more recent years printing, editorial and office staff from those days have attended several reunions at The Swan and, as the photos show, along with many former printing colleagues such as Frank Garrett, Gwilym Roberts, Delwyn Owens, Len Crossley, Allan Christley, Marcus Owen, Eric Davies, Tony Hanmer and Ian Griffiths, we welcomed former reporters such as Denise Hodgkinson, BME (St Asaph Councillor, journalist and editor of the City Times, Elwyn Edwards, Journal deputy editor, Chris Segar (the Ferret on TV), John Euryn and Phil Hawkins.
At the closure in 1969 printer Phil Hawkins, who operated the Cossar Press, was the last Father of the Chapel (union shop steward) but in 1941, aged 14, he had started work at the Journal as an apprentice, or “printer’s devil” as they used to be known. A year or two later during WW2 he was delivering parcels of the newspaper on a handcart to Crosville Bus Station, then located on the High Street, when he was suddenly involved in an air raid! Fortunately this turned out to be a mock air raid carried out by the police who had suddenly appeared and exploded tear gas canisters on the High Street as a way of preparing the Rhyl townsfolk for the possibility of an actual raid – Liverpool docks was being heavily bombed nightly by the Nazi Luftwaffe.
Despite this painful shock Phil, with eyes streaming, showed true grit by continuing to the bus station thereby ensuring that the parcels of the Rhyl Journal got through to their various destinations. Phil later saw service in the RAF until the end of the war when he was demobbed and he returned to work at the Journal. In 1947 he was a founder member of the RAFA Club and in 2018 the former “printer’s devil” remains a very active 93 who on fine days regularly cycles along Rhyl Promenade from Splash Point to the Foryd Harbour Hub Cafe and back!
In 1969 with the closure of the printing works the redundant printing staff went their different ways. Some transferred to the Western Mail, Cardiff, some to Oswestry and thus the busy printing works on Russell Road fell silent forever and the building became a branch of the Halifax Building Society. All the printing machinery and equipment was auctioned off by local estate agents Jones and Beardmore and the mighty 1951 Cossar Press was bought by a firm in Dublin which hired Phil Hawkins for a few weeks to go to Dublin to show them how it was operated.
The closure signalled the end of an era of printing in the town. Hot metal printing was becoming old hat and the new IT technology soon took over. The editorial and office staff continued their local presence at offices in Kinmel Street but the journalists have now been transferred to the North Wales Newspaper Llandudno HQ.
Despite other contenders which have come and gone over the years, the Rhyl Journal has seen off the competition including the digital media revolution and continues, as it has for just over 150 years, to be the pre-eminent local weekly newspaper on the North Wales coast.
George Owen MBE
Copyright George Owen. Sources: Early archive photos and information on founders was provided by Michael Lewis Jones, Mostyn (great-grandson of Lewis Jones) and Phil Hawkins. Other photos George Owen.
Many thanks to George for submitting this interesting article and for sharing these splendid photographs with us.