A gem of printing history and a working letterpress printers
Try your hand at being an apprentice Compositor in the Caseroom.
See how newspapers, tickets, posters and letterheads were printed before the computer age.
Explore Robert Smail’s office, scarcely altered since 1866.
Admire the waterwheel that once powered the printing works.
In the heart of Innerleithen lies this gem of printing history. Robert Smail’s Printing Works is an operational letterpress printers, and an important part of Scotland’s industrial heritage.
Between 1866 and 1986, newspapers, business cards, stationery for local traders and letterheads all passed through the inky presses of this thriving business. The National Trust for Scotland purchased the printing works in 1986 and have kept it as a genuine working printers.
The printing presses, some of which date back to the Victorian era, can be seen in action; shelves of type line the walls, revealing the changing fashions for typefaces; and 52 giant guardbooks showcase almost every item printed by the family firm.
During your tour, you will visit the original Office with its brown paper parcels of letters, pens, inkwells and rubber stamps. You can see copies of the newspaper and tickets for ocean liners sold by Smail's. In the Caseroom, you’ll learn about the meticulous process of setting type by hand, inking and proofing – before having a go yourself. Then watch the Printers operating presses with foot treadles, see belts and pulleys whirr into life and hear the thunderous clank of the automated printing presses.
Smail’s wage books and ledgers provide an eye-opening look at how a Victorian small business was run.
Discover the origins of everyday sayings such as ‘mind your Ps and Qs’ – and the painful truth of ‘coming a cropper’ in the print room!
Fancy finding out more about letterpress or typesetting? Learn how to make your own posters at our one-day letterpress and typography workshop.
The shop is the sole outlet for the St Ronan’s Calendar, based on an original design from the Smail’s archive.
Pay a special visit to the Christmas shop in November and December to purchase Smail’s-printed cards and decorations.
Free, unrestricted parking is available in the car parks on Leithen Road and Hall Street, both approximately 5 minutes' walk from the Printing Works.
Robert Smail’s Printing Works is a hands-on museum, with expert staff leading the tours and providing demonstrations of a skilled trade which has all but vanished.
You should allow 1.5 hours to tour the printworks (and be put to work!).
School visits are welcome and can be tailored to suit requirements. Please contact the property for further details or access our online school resource pack here: http://www.nts.org.uk/Learn/schools_resource_packs/Working-Places
Group visits must be booked in advance (maximum capacity 45). Special interest tours, workshops and activities are available, although these may incur an extra charge.
Coaches can drop off and collect passengers directly outside the Printing Works. Coach parking is available at the Leithen Road car park, which is approximately 5 minutes' walk from the Printing Works.
The Shop, Office, Paper Store and Machine Room are all accessible. Unfortunately, our Caseroom is not suitable for disabled access.
A large-print version of the guidebook is available.
Robert Smail's Printing Works is on High Street, Innerleithen. We are on the First Bus 62/X62 route from Edinburgh or Galashiels.
Ordnance Survey Ref: NT332367
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