Britain's last artisan printer in plea for apprentice and heir to carry on monotype tradition

Yohannes Lowe
Stanley Lane photographed at his printing press in Stone House, Gloucestershire - TMG John Lawrence

Britain's last artisan printer is seeking an heir to inherit his business in an effort to revive the fortunes of the letterpress printing trade after his children decided to pursue different careers.

Stanley Lane has worked as a ‘monotype’ hand printer for over 60 years, producing meticulously crafted books from Gloucester Typesetting workshop in Stroud to a select group of publishers.

The grandfather, who has four adult children quickly approaching retirement themselves, has begun the search for an apprentice as he moves closer towards his 81st birthday.

Developed in the late 19th century, monotype revolutionised the printing press by allowing whole pages to be produced using individually cast letters instead of compositors having to hand set a few lines each.

Mr Lane uses a special machine to produce small metal pieces with individual letters on them, which are then printed in the order of the text, applied with ink and pressed into a sheet of paper.

Stanley Lane photographed at his printing press in Stone House, Gloucestershire Credit: John Lawrence

As a former letter typesetting trainee himself, he hopes to pass on his knowledge but fears that technology has dulled many young people’s creativity and made heritage crafts less appealing.

Mr Lane told the Telegraph: “Young people are always on their phones- they are not involved in the world if they are on their screens. There is a negativity about that as they are not broadening their horizons. I think schools should spend more time teaching children to be more tactile through appreciating colours and letter formation, because at the moment they just push a button and a computer does it for them.

“I would want a mature apprentice to show them exactly what they need to do and I would stay with them until they understood the system. The only reason why I am still around working is that I am dedicated to getting it right- I try desperately hard to do that.

Stanley Lane photographed at his printing press in Stone House, Gloucestershire Credit: John Lawrence

“I work five days a week, so to find someone who would want to carry on from me would be great. If this doesn’t happen this craft could be lost forever- there would be no way back to regenerate all the equipment I have here.”

The accomplished craftsman has worked for the likes of Penguin Random House, Oxford Printing Press and the Book Collector- a journal that was set up James Bond author Ian Fleming.

He has also printed limited edition Shakespearean texts for the Folio Society- a renowned publisher that  produces illustrated hardback editions of classic books.

Stanley Lane has printed limited edition Shakespearean texts for the Folio Society Credit: John Lawrence

Christine Grant, from The Folio Society, said: “When we decided to print Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets by hot metal letterpress, Stan Lane was the ideal compositor for our team of dedicated craftsmen brought together from across Europe for this exceptional demonstration of the art of fine book making.

“Letterpress printing has a long and illustrious history, it represents an attention to detail and a love of the printed word. It gives a distinctive clarity and intensity of line and colour impossible to achieve through other means.”

Stanley Lane photographed at his printing press in Stone House, Gloucestershire Credit: John Lawrence

Mr Lane did not recommend a career in printing to his four children in the 1980s, who were leaving school when traditional firms were closing down amid a surge in new production technologies.

With his children now settled in their 50s and 60s, the 80-year-old has begun working with students at York University explaining the wonders of his craft at their print studio workshops.

It comes after the Heritage Crafts Association revealed that training an apprentice for just one day can reduce a craft person's income by 20 per cent.

New apprenticeships in trades such as clog-making and leather-working have been launched in a bid to protect Britain’s endangered heritage crafts from dying out.