Innerleithen community time line

Robert Smail's InnerleithenInnerleithen community time line – Crossing the threshold at Robert Smail’s Printing Works in Innerleithen is literally to take a step back in time.

Were the first customers and workers at Smail and Son, which opened in 1866, to return today they would be quite familiar with the office reception and the layout of the printing presses.

Contained in the papers and documents that are neatly filed is a detailed and unique record of the day-to-day coming and goings of life in the Scottish Borders; a magnificent time capsule that now has the National Trust of Scotland as its guardian.

If ever a business could be said to have its finger on the pulse of the local community then Smail’s is it. In addition to individual printing jobs the business also doubled as producer and printer of the local newspaper.

In the front office, job dockets, invoices, wages books and ledgers remain stacked on shelves, an archive that includes 52 original guardbooks with copies of every job printed there for over 100 years.

It’s an archive that the national Trust’s Gen Harrison, property manager and Rachel Hay, property assistant, are painstakingly working their way through – and both believe there are plenty of secrets yet to be discovered.

The business also had a sideline, acting as a Shipping Agency for the leading names such as American Line, the Cunard Steamship Company, Canadian Pacific Steamship Company, the Orient Line and the White Star Line.

“We have records of over 1,000 passages booked here by those looking to start a new life in Australia and New Zealand, South Africa and North America. And although we did deal with the White Star Line thankfully there was none to sail on the Titanic. We get regular enquiries from people tracing family histories,” said Gen.

The printing works is also fantastically well preserved and presses including the Arab Platen and the Wharfdale  Reliance (bought in the late 1800s – left) are still put through their paces. The old belt and pulley system is a throw back to when the operation ran on water power.

That is now long gone but Smail and Sons continues to carry out print work for the community including wedding invitations, raffle tickets, syllabuses and St Ronan’s calendar.

In the print rooms racks of type lies waiting to be set and visitors are encouraged to try handsetting, something that is particularly popular with children who visit.
Robert Smail’s Printing Works in High Street Innerleithen is open to the public from April 1 until October 31, Thursday to Monday from noon to 5pm. On Sunday the centre is open from 1pm to 5pm.

It is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. The guided visit takes up to 90 mins to complete and includes hands-on activity.

More information on 0844 493 2259 and at

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