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Robert Smail's Printing Works

Visitor Attraction

Robert Smail's Printing Works
7/9 High Street
The Scottish Borders
EH44 6HA
Telephone (01896) 830206
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A Cabinet of Inky Curiosities

Innerleithen, six miles to the south of Peebles, grew to the extent it was called ‘boom town’ in the press through the latter half of the 1800s. It was already popular for health tourism with people travelling to take the waters at the local St. Ronan’s Wells. The extension of the railway to Galashiels in 1866 and the growth of the woollen trade, saw population and associated businesses increase.
Robert Smail had started by selling boots and books in the town. On 2 March 1866 he signed the deeds for the High Street premises and established his jobbing printing works seeing the opportunity to take advantage of this expansion in trade and tourism. His business ran for 120 years, through three generations, until acquired by the National Trust for Scotland in 1986.
During that time, Smail’s carried out a wide variety print jobs for the whole community. Copies of these can be seen in the property’s extensive archives, most significantly in the 52 guardbooks documenting printing jobs from 14 August 1876 until 22 May 1956. Robert Cowan Smail, who became Senior Partner after Robert’s death in 1890, oversaw the printing (from 1893), and then took on the publishing (from 1896), of the weekly newspaper, The St. Ronan’s Standard and Effective Advertiser until it stopped in 1916. He also ran a shipping agency from the premises. Cowan, his son, continued the family business until 1986 but also assiduously never threw anything away and so has left us a legacy of the town’s history through social and political change via an unrivalled archive of print and business records.
Now after 30 years in the care of the National Trust for Scotland, Smail’s remains very much part of the town of Innerleithen. It is a unique survival… still producing printing work, using the original Victorian letterpress techniques and machinery. There is now nowhere else like Smail’s in the UK.
On 25 March Smail’s opens its doors to its 150th year with guided tours, workshops and events. Come and share with us this very special place!


Shop: Come in to collect your apprentice card before exploring the works and finding out which area of the business you would be best suited to.

Office: Guides will tell the story of the works aided by replica guardbooks, newspapers and shipping tickets from the collection before taking you to ‘the dirty work behind’…

Caseroom: Here everything was punctiliously set by hand – and still is! Have a go at setting type and the Compositor will proof these efforts to see who has (or hasn’t) passed their apprenticeship!

Machine Room: Meet the Printer and Apprentice and see the treadle-operated Arab Platen, the much larger Wharfedale Reliance and the Heidelberg Platen in action.

Return to the Shop, where successful apprentices will have their cards stamped, and view our range of exclusive letterpress printed, bespoke and NTS goods. This includes our incredibly popular ‘rubbish’ notepads. Using printer’s waste sheets and off cuts, the cover is printed on the hand fed, treadle operated Arab platen by our Apprentice!

Visit Robert Smail's Printing Works

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Innerleithen is on the A72, 30 miles from Edinburgh, 6 miles from Peebles and 14 miles from Galashiels. We are accessible by First Bus Route No. 62 and are on National Cycle Route 1.

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