printing trade

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At least until recently, the printing trade has had many of the characteristics which encourage the development of occupational lore and customs, being a particularly well-organized, long-standing trade where skilled workers and trainees are employed in close co-operative conditions. As with other trades, most customs were associated with key events in an individual's domestic or work life: birthday, wedding, birth of first child, first day at work, completion of training, promotion, retirement, and so on. The custom of ‘banging out’ workers at the end of their apprenticeship is still carried out, and it usually involves covering the victim in anything sticky and messy (printing ink, flour, feathers, and so on), tying him up and leaving him thus in a public place. The custom gets its name from another part of the custom, in which the whole workforce mark the event by making a tremendous noise: ‘each seized one of the heavy metal frames in which the type is arranged and a small bar of iron. They hammered on the frames with such force that it was as if a dozen blacksmiths had gone suddenly crazy’ (Drake-Carnell, 1938: 111–12).

In previous times the trade had also many other customs to mark key points in the worker's life. Charles Manby Smith describes a mock wedding custom at the firm of Hansard's, about 1836, to celebrate a colleague's forthcoming marriage. First of all his workstation was decorated with branches, ribbons, and so on. The workers then commenced making the fearful banging noise, and then came a procession around the workshop with a man dressed as the bride, a surrogate groom (the real one being a little frail), elaborately attired master of ceremonies, fiddler, and others. A none-too-decent oration was delivered and the whole party decamped to the pub (Charles Manby Smith, The Working Man's Way in the World (1853). This is all a far cry from the elaborate and dignified May Day ceremonies at Stationers' Hall, described by Hone in 1827 (Every-Day Book, ii. 314–15).


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