Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

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Dawson, Payne and Elliott

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of Atlas Works, Otley, Yorkshire. Telephone: Otley 2275. Cables: "Wharfedale Otley". London Office: Dawson, Payne and Lockett, Saint Bride's House, Salisbury Square, EC4.

1856 The first Wharfedale Machine, which revolutionised the printing industry more than a hundred and fifty years ago, was built in 1856; thousands were built subsequently.

At the time of its invention, engineers throughout the world were seeking ways of modernising the printing press. Little progress had been made since Gutenberg printed his famous Bible on a wooden press in Germany in 1454.

The first major improvement came with the introduction of the cylinder which, when used in conjunction with a flat bed, offered many advantages over the traditional method of printing from two flat surfaces.

However, it was the inventive genius of David Payne, of Otley, that was responsible for the real breakthrough: a stop-cylinder machine with a travelling bed that could deliver print without having to be stopped. Payne had been taken on by another Otley man, William Dawson, in a little back-street joiner’s shop.

Soon afterwards, they collaborated in building the new Ulverstonian printing machine for its inventor, Mr Stephen Soulby.

There seems little doubt that it was during this project that Payne's fertile brain conceived the stop-cylinder principle that, within the next few years was to have such a shattering impact on the industry.

Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the machine may have been invented as early as 1851. The story being that, when the Payne family were moving house in that year, one of the Payne's sons was shown a drawing of what turned out to be the first Wharfedale. The drawing was done on the headboard of a bed which his father kept covered for fear that someone might discover his secret.

For a time, Dawson and Payne simply called their revolutionary new machine 'Our Own Kind' and made no effort to take out patents. Inevitably, this led to it being widely copied by other firms both in England and overseas.

Not content with copying the machine, a good many firms even went to the lengths of recruiting Dawson men to show them how to build it. At one time, it was estimated that half the firms making the Wharfedale employed men who, at some time or other had worked for Dawson in Otley.

For half a century, the Wharfedale dominated world markets and it continued to be manufactured right up to modern times.

1906 Private company - William Dawson and Sons

By 1921 the company was part of Dawson, Payne and Elliott

1947 Listed Exhibitor - British Industries Fair. Manufacturers of Automatic Feeders, Guillotines, Letterpress Machinery, Lithographic Machinery. (Olympia, Ground Floor, Stand No. B.1469) [1]

1961 Printers engineers. [2]

As recently as 1965, an order was placed with Dawson, Payne and Elliott for 28 of the machines to print the Holy Koran in Pakistan.

c.1960 Company acquired by Venesta[3]

1965 R. W. Crabtree and Sons acquired the letterpress business of Dawson, Payne and Elliott[4]

Dawson, Payne and Elliot went on to become part of Vickers Printing Machinery Group



An example of the Wharfedale Machine can be found in the Otley Museum. Invented and built in the mid-19th century by the company, it is installed in the museum of the Liberty of Otley.

The museum machine is one of the originals, dating back to 1862. It was presented by the late Mr. James Stott, former sales director of Dawson, Payne and Elliot, reassembled and restored to working order.

See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1947 British Industries Fair p80
  2. 1961 Dun and Bradstreet KBE
  3. The Times, May 03, 1962
  4. The Times, Aug 17, 1965
  • [1] Otley Museum