William Clowes Ltd

Reference: MS 5330Date: 1880-1972Extent: c.88 volumes

William Clowes Ltd. is a British printing company founded in London in the Nineteenth Century.

William Clowes (1 January 1779 – 26 January 1847) was a printer who developed the use of steam-powered printing presses in the industry. Clowes established his firm on 21 October 1803 at 2 Villiers Street. The company was small in the beginning, having only one printing press. The company expanded in 1823 with the purchase of Northumberland Court and the installation of its first steam-powered presses. However, the new noisy presses disturbed the Duke of Northumberland, whose palace was nearby, and he ordered the company to cease operation. When Clowes refused, the case was tried in court in June 1824, where the printer, Clowes, agreed to move the presses though in exchange for a sum paid by the Duke.
In 1826, the company purchased and moved to premises on Duke Street that had previously been occupied by Applegath and Cowper. The firm, which was renamed as William Clowes and Sons in 1839, grew rapidly, and by 1843 was one of the largest printing companies in the world: it operated 24 presses and had its own type and stereotype foundries, 2500 tonnes of stereotyped plates (at the time worth at least 500,000 pounds sterling), and a collection of 80,000 woodcuts. (Source: Smiles. S (1884) ‘William Clowes: introducer of book-printing by steam’ in Men of invention and industry, available online at Project Gutenberg. Retrieved 2011-06-25)
In 1847, Clowes died, and three of his sons, William Clowes the younger (1807–1883), Winchester, and George, took over running the company. In 1851, the company secured a large contract to print half a million catalogues for the Great Exhibition.
In 1873, William Clowes the younger’s eldest son, William Archibald Clowes (1843–1904), and his nephew William Charles Knight Clowes (1838–1917) entered into a partnership with William Moore, who operated the Caxton Press in Beccles, Suffolk. Although Moore suddenly disappeared, leaving a considerable debt, the firm survived and was re-established as Clowes and Clowes. It grew from operating four presses to 15 in just three years. In 1880, Clowes and Clowes merged with William Clowes & Sons to form William Clowes Ltd.
The company continued operating into the 20th century, but suffered a setback during World War II, when the Blitz destroyed its Duke Street offices. Following the war, the firm decided to concentrate on expanding its presses in Beccles. The company sold its old Beccles premises in 2003 and moved to a new, custom-built factory at Ellough on the outskirts of Beccles in 2004.
It is one of the UK’s largest manufacturers of directories and reference books and continues to operate out of its large printing factory at Ellough as part of the CPI UK group.

This collection consists of business records including minute books; financial records; labour records and records relating to customers; stock records; shares and records about property leased by the business.

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