Level: Category
Business records
Level: Fonds
Admin History:
The Company which eventually became known as Spottiswoode Ballantyne was founded in 1739 in London by a Scotsman, William Strahan (1715-1785). Strahan forged for his business a national and even transatlantic reputation with a distinguished list of clients and correspondents. In 1755 the firm printed Dr Johnson's English Dictionary. Strahan's correspondents included the Wesley brothers and the American statesman, Benjamin Franklin. In 1770, with Charles Eyre, Strahan purchased the patent of King's Printer (subsequently renewed by his successors) to run for 30 years. This separate business was known as Eyre and Strahan, afterwards Eyre and Spottiswoode, well known for printing parliamentary publications such as the Statutes at Large series.

The Spottiswoodes, Andrew and Robert, nephews of Andrew Strahan, the son and successor of the founder William Strahan, entered the partnership in 1819 on their uncle's retirement. Trading as Spottiswoode & Co. (it was formed into a limited company in 1900) the firm expanded greatly in and around its London site in the 19th century. In 1900 it acquired the Eton College Press. In 1908 another printing works was opened in Hawkins Road, The Hythe, Colchester, where the company remained. In 1915 the Scottish Printers Ballantyne Hanson & Co. transferred their printing business to Spottiswoode & Co., and the new firm became known as the Ballantyne Press, Spottiswoode Ballantyne & Co. Ltd., London, Colchester and Eton. This added another dimension to the firm's history, its Scottish acquisition having been the printers of the children's books of R.M. Ballantyne and some of the works of Sir Walter Scott.

The firm's printing business was moved totally from London to Colchester in the 1930s. The association with the Eton College Press ended in 1946. In 1955 Spottiswoode Ballantyne was taken over by the McCorquodale Group and W.B. Clowes became managing director (William Clowes & Sons was the book printing division of the McCorquodale Group).
In 1984 all composition work was transferred to a new site at Severalls Lane, Colchester, and the new company, since sold to Ician Communications, was named SB Datagraphics. In 1987 the McCorquodale Group was taken over by Norton Opax PLC and in 1989 Spottiswoode Ballantyne was acquired by the Serif Cowell Group PLC.

A general history of the business is to be found in the Company's own publication, The Story of a Printing House ... being a short account of the Strahans and Spottiswoodes by R.A. Austen-Leigh (London, Spottiswoode & Co., 2nd edition, 1912). This work contains illustrations, pedigrees of the Strahans, Spottiswoodes and Austen-Leighs (related to the authoress Jane Austen), some imprints of the business, details as to premises occupied and when, and of partnership successions. The third edition of this work, produced by Spottiswoode Ballantyne in Colchester in 1989 to mark the 250th anniversary of the Company, contains an appendix bringing the history of the Company up-to-date. There is a copy in the library of the Essex Record Office.

The Company scrapbooks (D/F 182/9/1/1-7) throw interesting light on the world of the printing industry particularly for the period 1892-c.1950. A brief epitome of the major dates and events in the Company's history is given in the History of Spottiswoode & Comy. Ltd., 1739-1909 (D/F 182/10/2/1). For the recollections of Mr Henry Blogg, who began work as an apprentice compositor at the New Street Square works, London, in 1907 and worked his way up to become General Manager at the Hythe works in Colchester in 1946, retiring in 1957, see D/F 182/10/3/14.
Related Unit of Description:
The ledgers and other business records of William Strahan and his successors in the printing and publishing firm later known as Spottiswoode & Company covering the period 1739-1857 were deposited in the British Library in 1955 as Additional Mss. 48800-49818 and Additional Charters 75421-75427. The relevant papers, including a detailed schedule of company records made on site at 1 New Street Square, London, by Museum staff in 1955, are to be found in D/F 182/12/3/6.