Robert Smail’s Printing Works

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Visiting the Scottish borders? Then don't miss Robert Smail's Printing Works, the most amazing National Trust for Scotland property that I've been to. OK, I admit, as someone who started off as a 'cub' reporter in the 1970s on a Scottish newspaper, it did bring back memories of my Wednesday night proof-reading and hearing the rattle of our stories being typeset next door, but by the reaction of My Other Half and the other people on our tour, I think there is something of interest for everyone here. The story of how this traditional printers came to be saved and preserved is fascinating. After being passed down through the family and remaining unchanged for about a hundred years, the business was about to be sold when some of the old guard books, showing work done over the years were spotted in a skip and the NTS was alerted to the sale. They bought the place and it's now not just a museum, but a working printers and even has an apprentice learning the trade. You enter through the shop which is full of all sorts of stationery, some of it printed there. Then it's into the ground-floor office and a chance to see samples of some of the things that were produced there as well as present-day orders. The talk is done by various members of staff and is so interesting. My favourite part was the case room where we had a chance to set type and create bookmarks to take home with us. Not as easy as it sounds when you're trying to do it back to front and upside down, but we did succeed! The last place visited is the actual print room where we saw several of the machines in action, giving an indication of the development of printing over the years. The staff were so enthusiastic and there is so much to see that the couple of hours just whizzed by. If you've ever wondered the origins of sayings such as 'mind your ps and qs', 'becoming a cropper' and 'out of sorts' – or why we have upper and lower case type – then this is the place to come to! After the tour, you leave by the shop, which is a great place for buying a few souvenirs – we didn't leave empty-handed. It's an old building and while most of the tour is on the ground floor, there are stairs to the caseroom. We parked free in a nearby street. I think there is a time restriction on parking outside the printers, so best to check. Also, confirm the opening times on the website before visiting. With it being a working printers, it's not open full days. We used our National Trust membership cards to get in free so that was a bonus. The website is very interesting and worth checking out. Smail's was also a shipping agent and some of the records are now available online, with plans to add more material in the future. Well done National Trust for Scotland for saving such a wonderful business and for keeping it as a going concern – and thanks to all the staff for bringing the place to life for us.

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