Since this journal post, Stuart has retired. We marked his retirement with a party here at the Old Trouser Factory on 11 April 2017.
Stuart Holland was Urban Cottage Industries’ seventh employee (we are now 27). He has worked part-time for UCI since October 2011 and recently turned 80 with no plans to retire. We’ve been wanting to feature Stuart since we started our blog in August 2013 and his 80th birthday seemed like the perfect opportunity.
Stuart has had a remarkable and full life and we can’t possibly do justice to him in a single blog post – he has more than a book’s worth of fascinating recollections. We asked Stuart some questions on a few aspects of his life – family, work, national service and newspapers.
Firstly Stuart, happy birthday. I understand you turned eighty a couple of weeks ago. How did you celebrate?
My son and his family joined us from Weymouth and my daughter is over from Australia. She has just climbed Kilimanjaro with my granddaughter. Cathy, my niece, was having a housewarming for family so we combined that with my 80th birthday.
You are one of the few Linotype operators left, what was it that first attracted you to print?
I left school at sixteen and needed a job. Mr Murgatroyd, the head of Oats Royd Mill where my auntie worked, knew the owner of the Halifax Evening Courier. Mr Murgatroyd put in a good word for me and I joined as an apprentice. I worked there for nine years.
Your National Service interrupted your work at the Courier?
I had some time out in 1952, age eighteen, to do my National Service. Those were a wonderful few years, I started of at RAF Wilmslow near Ringway airport – now Manchester airport. I saw one of the first flights of the new delta-wing Avro Vulcan bomber. As we watched it fly overhead part of the undercarriage fell off on the camp hospital (no-one was injured) and they had to close Ringway airport to let the Vulcan land. After postings to Wiltshire and Suffolk, I went to RAF Topcliffe in north Yorkshire. My job was working on the homing beacon which was located in a farmer’s field. I was a radio operator and sometimes took mayday calls from aircraft who wanted a bearing for our airfield. It was nerve-wracking but interesting. It was also a beautiful location and we had a great view of the airfield, so there was plenty to see. We kept a cat – Stinker – at the homing beacon to keep the rats and mice down. I remember the cat falling ill during my time there so we took it to the local vet who happened to be James Alfred Wight, the real name of the author James Herriot who wrote the All Creatures Great and Small books. This was of course before he became a world famous writer. The cat had to be injected, it cost half a crown (12.5p). I finished my National Service in 1954 and went back to the Courier.
Getting a position with a well known newspaper is very competitive these days. Was it considered tough when you were first starting out?
Well the Courier only took on one apprentice a year, so yes, I suppose it was quite competitive. It was an exciting place to be at that time, we all worked very hard. There was a Courier cricket team which suited me as I am passionate about cricket. I can remember the time when I left the Courier being touched by tragedy. The last cricket match I played was against the local Post Office team. Two prominent players there, Derek Barraclough and David Witson, were leaving after the match to set off for Scotland for a canoeing trip. A week later, one of the my first jobs at the Yorkshire Post was typesetting the article which reported that they were missing. Their bodies were later recovered – both had drowned.
How did you land a job at the Yorkshire Post? That must have been when it was at its peak. 120,000 copies were said to be sold a day during the fifties and sixties?
Yes, that’s right. In 1961 I joined a thriving team of skilled and focussed typesetters. A late shift position was offered to me so I bought a scooter and commuted to Leeds. I have some fond memories of that place and some not so good. An insurance company caught fire while I was on my way to do a late shift. I noticed some people on the third floor of the building so I told the policeman on site who informed the firemen. Unfortunately, the firemen said they would only take orders from their chief. The stranded people were not rescued and the people burnt to death. The cause of death was officially declared as accidental. It was a real tragedy. Another strong memory is 22 November 1968 when John F Kennedy was shot. I was part of the front page team at the time. It took us 11 minutes to typeset the story with only three mistakes.
Wow, so you’ve been part of printing some important historical events and it seems exciting. Did it seem this way at the time?
Yes, it was quite exciting. The technological changes were interesting, especially when I worked at the Shropshire Star. The Star was one of very few newspapers to use an Intertype Fotosetter. The Fotosetter is similar in appearance and general operation to the standard Linotype or Intertype slug machine except that the hot metal pot is replaced by a camera which photographs each matrix character separately. There were only fourteen in the entire country so they were quite rare.
You’ve clearly had a colourful career and moved around a lot. How did your family cope with the adventure?
I am very lucky to have a wife as supportive and caring as Margaret. We will have been married for 56 years this year. We met in 1955 at a dance at the Princess Hall in Sowerby Bridge. We married in 1958 She’s always enjoyed the change of scenery and we’ve lived in some lovely places all over the country. Our first child, Karen, was born in Halifax, Andrew, in Shropshire and our youngest, Joanne, in Lincolnshire.
What were you doing in Lincolnshire?
I got offered a position at The Chronicle and stayed there for five years. They wanted to up-root us all to Boston though and I didn’t want to go. I started a little advertising newspaper company of my own in Nettleham, which we sent out for free. Unfortunately, the union did not approve and shut us down.
That must have been a challenging time. What was your next move?
I changed paths and became a salesman for a roofing company.
Another job that requires travel. Did you have many dramas in this field?
Oh yes. My heart will always be in printing but roofing was certainly an experience. We were commissioned for a job at The Gaiety Theatre, a magnificent building at Butlins in Skegness shortly after we started out. I met up with a workman, Mr Hazard, on arrival who told me to wait by the door while he went to switch on the lights. Well, I’d waited for some time until I decided to go in and see what had happened. I had to use a cigarette lighter to find my way, it was pitch black. There was a lot of shouting so I rushed towards the screams and found Mr Hazard had fallen off the stage. I pulled him up the stairs and put him in the car. He was very badly cut – I could clearly see his skull. I wrapped his head in towels and we raced him to Skegness hospital. he was in hospital for seven weeks.
So you saved his life?
Well the doctors told me I saved his life, but I only did what anyone would do. Butlins were very kind to me for helping Mr Hazard. They gave me free entry to Butlins at Skegness for me and my friends and family. I took thirteen of us, that was a day to remember.
I hear that wasn’t the first time you saved a life?
Well, no. I rescued a boy from the canal in 1941. A few of us were skating on the ice, it was particularly cold that winter. I was seven and my brother would have been nine. The ice suddenly cracked and my friend fell in so my brother and I had to pull him up by his hair. It was a horrible thing to have to do but it was the only way we could reach him. We held him upside down by his ankles and gave him a good shaking to bring him round. When we got home, our parents didn’t understand why we looked so shaken up, but we couldn’t explain because we’d been forbidden from going near the canal. A few days later, the boy’s uncle told mum and dad that my brother and I were heroes. We were taken in a car by our friend’s father to see a film at the cinema. Neither of us had been to the pictures before, it was a great treat.
Is it true you were involved in part re-roofing Doncaster Railway Station?
Yes. Funnily enough, that was my last job in the roofing business. It was a high note to finish on. I started selling dehumidifiers after that.
Did you enjoy that?
Yes, but it wasn’t long before I got a call from my sister-in-law informing me of a Linotype operator vacancy with a company called Airedale Print in Halifax. Of course, I jumped at the chance.
What was Airedale Print like?
It was a busy place. There were 120 employees at one point working four hours at a time. I loved it. Sometimes I’d work until 10 or 11 at night, especially over the Christmas period. If it went quiet, I’d go and deliver the products. There was a real united feel about the place, we all wanted to be there. It was a busy time in my social life too. Our children had gone off to University so we did a lot of visiting.
How long were you at Airedale Print?
I started in 1988 so must have been there for just over twenty years. Bill and Godfrey Platt were the owners. Bill was Godfrey’s father. They were both friendly men, and Bill worked almost until the day he died at ninety one and a half. David Evans then took over for the last four years I was there. You won’t meet a better bloke than David, he’s the genuine article – a good man, fair boss and dear friend.
You don’t see many people your age skipping into work and getting involved in the nitty gritty of production. What is it that still pulls you into the work place?
I like coming into see people, its an extra bit of money in my pocket and it keeps me out of trouble!