Passionate About Print Since 1881
Let’s take a look back at the incredible 130-year history of Stones Ashford previously Headley Brothers.
From its humble beginnings in 1881 as a company printing paper bags, bill heads and circulars for local Ashford businesses; Headley Brothers’ founding brothers, Herbert and Burgess Headley, made a commitment to providing customers with personal and professional printing services.
By 1883, the business had expanded so much that they opened a stationery shop at 44 High S treet, Ashford. Herbert, along with a friend, later realised his ambition to produce a local newspaper. Installing a newspaper press in the basement, they launched The Kent Examiner and Ashford Chronicle, and later Headleys’ Guide to Ashford and Kent County Time Tables. The friend, Barham Boorman, later went on to produce the Kent Messenger; with the Kent Messenger Group today producing a number of regional titles.
Headleys mastered the art of book printing, and later, colour work. In 1892, a factory was built on the land behind 38 High Street, Ashford. Paper was brought in from the High Street using a small rail track through a passage to the factory. A book publishing business was also developed from an office in Bishopsgate, London.
The business expanded rapidly, and in 1900 the company relocated to a new factory built in Edinburgh Road, Ashford. Here were installed the linotype setting machines and a new invention for setting and casting individual letters, seen by Burgess Headley during a visit to America. Headley Brothers was the third company in Europe to install Monotype.
In 1906, however, tragedy struck when, early on 14th September, a disastrous fire broke out. Within a few hours, the whole works and offices had been completely destroyed, with no one being able to ascertain how the fire had started. The company re-built on a fresh site at Lower Queens Road, where the company still operates today.
In 1908, the partnership between the two brothers was dissolved. Herbert Headley carried on the London publishing side of the business, leaving Burgess Henry Headley in sole control of the printing business.
The valuable connections with the book trade and commercial customers requiring high-class catalogues enabled Headleys to grow and survive the difficult years of the First World War, during which troops en-route for Dover were encamped around the factory. Five employees of the company were killed during the war, and to these and eight others killed during the Second World War, a memorial tablet stands at the office entrance.
In those days the printing machines were mainly hand-fed Miehles and Furnivals powered by a large gas engine, which drove shafting onto which the machines were connected. During the 1930s the change was made to individual drives by electric motors.
In the 1950s after the war came a period of expansion to accommodate a large amount of export work for Oxford University Press; mainly involving educational books for the teaching of English to schools in Africa and Asia.
A machine department extension was also opened in 1960 and Miehle Perfectors and 2-colour machines were installed. A sprinkler system was installed throughout the factory to minimise the risk of fire.
In the late 1960s, a litho printing department was developed at Headley Brothers, and in 1968 photocomposition was introduced. This method of setting characters photographically by computer programmed equipment led to a complete change in composing room techniques, and entirely new skills had to be learned. A photo typositor was installed in 1968 and the Photon Pacesetter in 1972. Gradually all members of the composing department were re-trained in these new skills and by 1980 the process had completely taken the place of monotype and linotype.
In 1971, Leonard Pitt retired and was succeeded by his two sons, David and Christopher, as joint managing directors. Leonard Pitt passed away in 1978.
Headley Brothers’ litho printing department was equipped by larger presses including two-colour and four-colour Komori machines. Following a series of power cuts, a generator was installed in the factory in 1974 that was capable of keeping the machines running in the event of further power failures.
In 1976, a two-unit GMA heatset web litho machine was installed in a newly-built department; and this led to a further expansion of sales and the acquisition of further machining and binding equipment.
In 1980, an important step was taken through the installation of a five unit, two web Zirkon Mark III mini-web. This was capable of producing a sixteen page A4 section with full colour on eight pages at speeds of up to 30,000 copies per hour. It was the first Zirkon of its kind to be installed in the United Kingdom. The machine was able to produce four, eight and sixteen page A4 sections, as well as sheet work.
The following year, 1981, Headley Brothers celebrated its centenary with a dinner and dance at the Royal Star Hotel in Maidstone. In November that year, a new four-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster was installed, and gradually the Komori presses were replaced by Heidelbergs. A large area of the composing room was cleared to make way for new typesetting and composing departments; Device Technology Keyboards and a Quadritek setting system were installed to work in conjunction with the existing Pacesetter photocomposition system.
An extractor system for clearing offcuts from the guillotines and the various three-knife trimmers was installed in January 1983, and a Muller Martini Monoblock was installed in the binding department to replace the Rotabinder. The typesetting system was completely replaced in September 1983 by a CCI system running a Linotron 202 typesetter. This renewed an association with Linotype; a company whose equipment had been used by Headley Brothers before the turn of the century.
In June 1984, a new Heidelberg four-colour 102V Speedmaster with 1/02 was installed. The CPC (Computer Print Control) system enabled all the ink ducts to be altered from a central console rather than the operator having to climb over the machine and alter ink keys individually.
In 1987, Ashley Batt retired after long service as Works Manager. Nigel Pitt took over this position, before leaving the company to follow a new career path in 1989.
In 1988 the GMA web was replaced by a brand new Heidelberg 16-page Web with CPC 3 and five printing units. The press was officially launched on 12 April and the button was ceremonially pressed by Mrs Agnes Salter, chairman of the National Federation of Women’s Institutes. NFWI is a company that Headley Brothers to this day enjoys a strong working relationship with, having printed WI Life for the company for over 100 years.
In May 1988, a Linotronic 300 was added to the typesetting department to provide support for the Linotron 202. And in November 1988, Stephen Pitt, son of David Pitt, and Roger Pitt, son of Christopher Pitt, were appointed directors of the firm. At that time, Derek Rigden was appointed as the first non-family director. He had been Headley Brothers’ sales manager for several years.
In December 1988 David Pitt retired, remaining in the role of company Chairman. Deborah Pitt, his daughter, became Company secretary in December 1989 taking over from Timothy Pitt, Christopher’s youngest son, who had left the company to gain experience abroad.
In March 1989, the company purchased as Autokon mono scanner to improve the quality of halftone illustrations. This was an extremely versatile machine able to output line work, a wide range of screens and also special effects such as mezzotint, posterisation and pen and ink.
In January 1990 the typesetting system was again altered. A new CCI system was installed with an NCR Unix computer and a second Linotronic 300 with special postscript founts to replace the Linotron 202. The Autokon was put online and two champion work stations were added, enabling complete magazine pages with illustrations to be prepared on screen. The new system opened the possibility of customers supplying type-set material on their own disks, keeping the firm in line with the new printing revolution, Desk-Top Publishing.
In February 1990, Tony Smith was appointed the second non-family director, after some years a General Manager. And in October that year, the web-offset and binding departments were put onto a permanent night shift, offering our customers a 24-hour service and increasing the capacity of the plant.
1990 saw the production of the very first Hedley Brothers newsletter, later christened ‘HeadLine’, which is still produced today. The reception area was moved to its current situation, and the old Columbian proofing press, which had been damaged in the 1906 fire, was restored and placed as a feature in reception.
In 1991, a new Opticopy System was introduced, enabling the improved efficiency of the planning and platemaking departments. By 1992, the company had installed its second 16-page Heidelberg Web. The company also invested in a new computer-based data collection system, enabling the efficient monitoring of production, improved stock handling, cost control, and the improved accuracy of estimates. In 1992, Steven Pitt left the company after 17 years; with Jon Pitt joining the company as commercial director the same year.
1994 saw Headleys’ installation of an Itek four colour scanning equipment to further bolster the company’s pre-media offerings. That same year, the company installed its first 8-unit Heidelberg Speedmaster 102 (only the third to have been installed in the UK); closely followed by a second machine in 1995, and a third in 1998.
A new, 6,000 sq ft Despatch Hall was completed in 1996, enabling the transfer of the two existing Sitma mailing lines and a new Muller Martini 335 six-station stitching line with covering unit; boosting the company’s finishing capacity; a requirement as a result of the extra work generated by the installation of the 8-unit Speedmasters. In September of the same year, Christopher Pitt retired as MD, taking the position of Chairman; and Roger Pitt was promoted to the position of MD.
1997 saw the installation of an Eskofot 2024 flatbed colour scanner within the Prepress department. A Muller Martini StarPlus became Headleys’ second perfect binding line in 1999; an important expansion to its output capacity. The investment further bolstered the company’s ‘two of everything’ business continuity policy, to ensure seamless and continued production in the event of a machine breakdown.
In year 2000, a substantial new factory extension was developed; which when completed provided the company with almost 5,000 square metres of space. A crucial part of the new development involved the construction of the additional Mace Lane access road, improving traffic flow. The installation of the aptly-named Sunday 2000 24-page Web press followed; enabling the printing of 55,000 copies per hour, and the more efficient paginating of web-printed magazines.
By 2004, a few additions had been made to the Pre-press line-up, including a Luscher XPose 160 platesetter, enabling increased ctp productivity to the Sunday 2000 web press; and an Epson 10000 wide-format inkjet printer to increase proofing capacity. A fourth, Primaplus stitching line was installed.
Headley Brothers Digital was formed; offering revolutionary digital printing with variable data printing capabilities – enabling the company to be one of the few UK printing companies to offer sheetfed, web and digital printing services under the one roof.
Headley Brothers Digital experienced significant growth, and just three years after formation was crowned the PPA ‘Digital Magazine Printer of the Year’.
An exciting new development in workflow occurred at this time, with the launch of the HeadStart online file delivery and approval system. Putting Headley Brothers’ primary pre-press workflow on the desktop of the client through a web-browser interface, HeadStart provided, and continues to provide, maximum efficiency, productivity and accuracy in the pre-media process.
In 2005, Headley Brothers was awarded the prestigious ISO 14001 environmental standard; any accreditation that the company continues to hold today. This was followed by FSC Chain of Custody certification in 2007, enabling the company to provide FSC-certified stocks from sustainable sources.
2008 saw the installation of the company’s second 10-colour long perfecting printing press, bringing the company’s sheetfed printing arsenal to an impressive 50 units. The number one printing press of its kind on the market; the press enabled work to be printed in four-colour process, with additional units available for additional spot colour printing or sealing, inline. The additional ‘Cutstar’ facility enabled the use of paper reels as an alternative to sheets of paper, enabling the press to run lower paper grammages and to cut the paper reel to exact sheet size required, reducing unnecessary waste. A third 10-unit press with CutStar followed in August 2009.
2008 saw further investment in a Domino Bitjet+ inkjet printhead, enabled the printing of addresses, “D barcodes and bitmap graphics onto magazines on a finishing line. Headleys announced its investment in a Muller Martini BravoPlus AMRYS Saddle Stitcher; its fifth stitching line and the world’s first fully automatic machine in its performance class.
The company went on to win the Quality in Print ‘Magazine Print Award’, together with the PPA ‘Magazine Printer of the Year’ 2008.
In 2009, Headley Brothers announced its launch of HeadTurner page-turning technology, enabling its publishing clients to produce a digital version of a magazine alongside its printed counterpart as a vehicle to reaching a wider audience. That same year, Headley Brothers took delivery of a new IO control board for the Sitma 950 mailing line, enabling the selective inserting of different combinations of inserts into magazines.
By 2010, Headley Brothers Digital was a well-established company, which re-invested in a KODAK NEXPRESS SE2500 Digital Production Colour Press with Fifth Imaging Unit and new KODAK Dimensional Printing Technology to expand their digital product portfolio. The fifth unit allowed for the printing of dimensional (or 3D) inks; while an accompanying NexGlosser enabled the application of a high-gloss finish.
Headley Brothers Digital continued its growth with the installation of a high volume, high quality Xerox 4127 digital mono printer, extending its range of available printing capabilities and offering cost-effective versatile printing options for all forms of mono work.