Robert Smail’s Printing Works teacher information

Robert Smail’s Printing Works is a working time capsule, comprising a complete printing works which was established and run by the Smail family for 120 years. It offers an insight into the Victorian period of industrial, educational and technological change and is one of the few remaining letterpress printers in the UK.

In the caseroom, visitors can experience the almost-forgotten craft of hand typesetting. Printing machinery, unchanged since Victorian times, is demonstrated in the noisy machine room. Other features include the restored waterwheel that powered the printing machines before the introduction of gas. The office contains stacks of business records and facsimile copies of archival material, including shipping records, wages books and samples from the 50 ‘guardbooks’ – these contain a copy of almost every printed item produced in the printing works over a period of nearly 100 years. These unique primary sources provide evidence of life in the local community over the last century and a half.

The school programme at Smail’s offers pupils a tour of the office, the caseroom and the machine room. Handling objects are available to help your pupils learn about life in a Victorian printing works. Please discuss your school’s requirements when making a booking – we’re happy to tailor tours to your requirements.

A special feature of this historic site is that pupils can receive ‘hands-on’ typesetting and printing experience. From time to time, special workshops for pupils are offered, complete with dressing up in Victorian costume and printing a souvenir to take back to school (past examples have included a bookplate and bookmark).

The school programme offers many opportunities for cross-curricular work and engaging with the Curriculum for Excellence:

  • Pupils will tour a historic site that’s still fully working.
  • There are many primary sources that’ll bring history alive for your pupils.
  • There are opportunities to handle objects and discuss primary sources.
  • On occasion, special hands-on workshops are offered to schools.

Possible themes

  • Art and design
  • Victorians
  • Scottish industry

Resources for schools

  • A teaching pack, with information about printing and the printing works, and activities for pupils, is available when you book a visit.
  • There’s an illustrated guidebook, featuring elements of both digital and letterpress printing. This is available for sale in the gift shop or by contacting us.

Planning your class visit

  • To book: please contact Smail’s by telephoning 01896 830206.
  • Book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
  • Maximum class size: 35, with a ratio of 1 teacher/adult to 10 pupils
  • School visits are available from 1 April–31 October (Monday, Thursday or Friday) or 1 November–31 March (Monday–Friday).
  • We can design a visit to suit the age group and level of your pupils. Secondary schools are welcome – please phone us to discuss your requirements.
  • Access: All areas except the Caseroom (upstairs) are fully accessible. We have hearing equipment for two people. We want to ensure that everyone gets the most from their visit – please contact us to discuss your requirements. We’ll do our utmost to accommodate you.
  • Toilets: There’s a toilet at the property but we regret that it’s not fully accessible.
  • Refreshments: Pupils are welcome to bring their own snacks or packed lunches.
  • The site has been risk assessed. Teachers are expected to prepare their own risk assessment for the visit.
  • Further information about planning your class visit can be found on our School visits page.


  • For the latest charges, please contact the property.
  • Class teachers are encouraged to make a free preparatory visit.

During your class visit

  • On arrival: please come to the front door of the printing works and knock.
  • Trust staff will lead the school programme.
  • School visits are designed to fit each school’s needs but tours usually last 1½–2 hours.
  • For the programme, your class will be split into a number of groups, depending on the class size.
  • Teachers are responsible for their pupils and their behaviour.
  • Pupils don’t need to bring any materials for the school programme.
  • You’re welcome to take photographs here.
  • Coats and bags can be left in the shop before the tour.
  • Shop: pupils are welcome to visit the shop, in small groups and with supervision from an adult from the school.