|© Granville Davies|
I was fortunate to have met Rowley a few times at the start of my career in the paper/printing industry and I enjoyed our meetings and still have a letter he wrote me (about "bottom liners" ... he derided printers that sold too cheaply)
Many of you reading this may be wondering why I am writing about this person who many of you will never of heard of. Quite simply, he was one of the most important people in printing, design and typography in the last sixty years.
Rowley Atterbury served in the RAF in WWII and after a short stint at publisher Faber & Faber, he set up the Westerham Press in 1950. I remember him telling me that he set up in the building that had been the old sergeants mess at Biggin Hill aerodrome (but I may have got that wrong).
|Beatrice Ward 1932|
In those far off days of the 1950's, Letterpress printing was virtually the only print processes and the way in which all books, newspapers or any other kind of print could be put together. The transition to electronic type generation was complicated and, at the outset, very difficult. It came about not least because of Rowley Atterbury's pioneering attitude.
In 1965 Westerham Press moved into a state of the art, purpose-built factory in Westerham. There's a chapter in Rowley's book "A good idea at the time?" about the design of the factory being formulated around three core requirements:
- An office to organise and control the output of the factory
- An air-conditioned unit in which computers, cameras, scanners and filmsetting devices could operation in suitable conditions
- A large open-plan machine shop, tall enough for a web offset press with a gas dryer, for the process of printing on paper and finishing the work with various binding production lines. This area to be air-conditioned and humidity-controlled.
It was not until the late 1960s, when the price of lead became very high, that letterpress printing became obsolescent and Westerham Press invested heavily in offset litho ( ...in a factory designed for letterpress printing but with the versatility to change over to Litho)
He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts (RSA) and in 1984 he was awarded the Bicentenary Medal, which over the years has also been awarded to such luminaries as Terence Conran, Wally Olins, Deyan Sudjic, Christopher Frayling, John Sorrell et al. This alone gives some indication as to just how important to our industry he was. He was also a member and one-time president of the Double Crown club and was involved in a huge number of bodies and organisations in the design and printing industry. He wrote Ruari McLean's obituary that appeared in The Guardian in 2006.
Westerham Press was acquired by the financial printing group Burrups in the 1980's (I think?) and subsequently absorbed into the St Ives group and still exists as it's own entity within the group. Rowley Atterbury stayed active in print in the 1990's with the Letterpress equipment that he kept along with his son Francis Atterbury. Francis continues the family tradition, running the Hurtwood Press who are consultants in fine art printing.
He was a goliath in our once great printing industry. He will be sadly missed.