The Typographic Hub

Salvation printing

18th December 2011

Every Saturday, a woman dressed in a bonnet and dark blue uniform rattles a collection box and distributes newspapers in my local shopping precinct. At Christmas she is joined by a brass band in rousing the festive spirit amongst busy shoppers. They are all members of the Salvation Army, an institution that has been a part of British life for more than 130 years.

Founded by William and Catherine Booth in London’s East End, the Salvation Army held its first meeting in 1865. Initially known as the East London Christian Mission, its work gradually spread throughout the country and in 1878 the Mission changed its name to the Salvation Army. Today it is an international Christian church that operates in 109 countries; is one of the largest providers of social welfare in the world; and a voracious producer and consumer of print.

Even in the late 19th century, the Salvation Army was a vast organisation; and the only way it could effectively communicate with all its members and promote its mission to the general public was through the printed word. Booth was determined that all Army literature should be produced on Army presses and in 1879 he set-up a small printing office in Fieldgate Street, behind the Salvation Army’s headquarters in Whitechapel, London. The printing office was established specifically to produce the War Cry – the Army’s newspaper – but it also printed other material such as posters announcing meetings, hymn sheets and all sorts of ephemera. Equipped with some ancient presses and a miscellaneous selection of type, William Stephenson Crow was its first pressroom manager and James Barker headed-up the composing room. Baker had worked at the Oxford University Press, and was joined at Fieldgate Street by a number of other ex-OUP compositors. In 1880, thanks to the generous donations of Army benefactors, the printing office re-equipped itself with new presses capable of 15,000 impressions per hour. 

The continued expansion of Army work meant that larger premises were required, and in 1901 the Press moved out of London to St Albans where it traded as the Campfield Press, letterpress and lithographic printers and binders. In its heyday the Campfield Press employed in excess of 350 people working on the production of all the Army newspapers – the War Cry, Young Soldier, and Musician – as well as devotional literature such as Bibles, prayer books and hymnbooks. In addition to printing material for the Salvation Army the Campfield Press also took on work for outside organisations, so long as the material conformed to Army principles and carried no advertisements for either tobacco or alcohol: the Royal Navy and HMSO were both clients. Print Week reader, Mike Prior – now of Bath Midway Litho Limited – was an apprentice compositor at the Campfield Press in the 1960s and spent much of his time working on the newspapers’ ‘Promoted to Glory’ (obituary) columns. Prior recalls: ‘The Army gave us a sound training; you didn’t need to be a Salvationist to work there, in fact few of the men were Salvationists, but whilst you were on the premises you had to conform to Army principles of no drinking, no smoking and no pin-ups on the press; and we all had to attend a weekly service.’

The Campfield Press ceased trading in 1991, and the Salvation Army moved its design and print facility back to London were it now operates a small in-plant print unit run by five staff that are all employed for their print knowledge – only one is a Salvationist. The unit produces stationery, leaflets, brochures and short run manuals for the Army’s UK and International HQ, its training colleges, and all the corps and divisions. It also prints various items of ephemera for the Army trading companies, including the Salvation Army General Insurance Corporation Ltd and the Publications and Supplies Service. Much of the work is done on a 2-colour SRA3 press whilst a Xerox DC12 is used for small-format, short-run colour jobs and a Docutek 65 produces short-run monochrome manuals. The unit also has all the necessary finishing equipment —folding, creasing, wire binding and guillotining — and its design section is wholly Mac-based.  

Whilst the in-plant unit handles all the short-run and small-format work, larger jobs such as hardback and paperback books; magazines and newspapers; sheet music and songbooks; published devotional, scriptural, and Christian resource material; and appeal envelopes are all subcontracted out to UK printers. Print-runs of Salvation Army material can be vast; its total number of annual appeal envelopes, for example, exceeds 10 million. Various external printers are used, but Benham Goodhead of Bicester prints all the Salvation Army’s newspapers. The Army’s most famous publication, the War Cry, sells more than any other religious newspaper in the UK with an average weekly circulation of 66,000. It has a wide readership and is sold in the pubs, clubs and street corners across the country. Kids Alive is a children’s comic paper with 33,000 copies distributed weekly; and in-house news is carried in the weekly publication, the Salvationist, which has a circulation of 21,000. Whilst Benham Goodhead print the Army newspapers, all the editorial and design processes are completed in-house up to PDF. 

The Salvation Army is as critical and demanding as any other customer, and high on its list of requirements is distribution, as Mike Barnes from the Army design and print unit explains. ‘It is important that our external printers have an efficient delivery system and the ability to pack and dispatch to over 900 destinations each week in the UK – mainly to Salvation Army corps – as well as additional destinations overseas in order to fulfill subscription requests’. 

Today, printing in the Salvation Army is as up-to-date as printing in any other company or organisation. The Army has a wholly contemporary attitude to its editorial direction, a 21st century approach to its design and production techniques, and it utilizes all the current technology available. Its magazines and newspapers can now be found on-line in an abridged form, and the Army is increasingly using the Internet to retail its goods and to spread its mission. However, alongside embracing all that is good and useful in 21st century print production, the Army still holds firm to the principles laid down by its founder in the 19th century and although there are few dictates, staff employed by the Salvation Army still to adhere to its principles during working hours and drinking and smoking are both strictly prohibited. Printing in the Salvation Army is a curious mixture of past and present, and it is certainly not quite like printing anywhere else.

FOOTNOTE
The UK’s biggest-selling weekly Christian newspaper is celebrating 125 years of continuous production. The War Cry has been sold on the street of Britain since 27 December 1879 and it has not missed an issue since. Although the design and vocabulary have certainly changed over the years, the purpose behind the War Cry remains unaltered – to reach as many people as possible with the Christian gospel. But whilst the earlier editions reported Salvation Army exploits using militaristic language, today’s War Cry relates the gospel through current events and topical issues, including sporting occasions, celebrity news and films. It is also often in the forefront of social and political comment, and during the run-up to the 2001 General Election, the War Cry carried exclusive interviews with the main party leaders. But the main reason for its success is its sellers’ says Nigel Bovey, editor: ‘They make the paper available in pubs, clubs, prisons and on the street; they are a part of their local communities, and they help build relationships with our readers’.
However, the first issue of the War Cry nearly failed to reach the streets as unreliable machinery and difficulties with distribution conspired against its circulation, as Major George Phippen, the papers’ first editor recorded: ‘About midnight I went with General Booth to see the first two pages cast. After several attempts the appliances at command failed, and before the casts of these pages were actually made, some of them went to “pi”. When at last the “formes” were all in form, and the great work was to begin, while the expectant staff stood waiting for the first War Cry sheets, the machine that was to have printed them hopelessly broke down!’ Only 200 readable copies were printed on the first day, but mechanics and pressmen succeeded in getting the machine to work well enough the following day for 1,400 copies per hour to be issued from the press. Once printed, fog threatened the distribution from the printing office in London’s Fieldgate Street to the main-line railway stations, and only the last-minute recruitment of some hansom cab drivers ensured all copies were placed on trains and distributed all over the UK. Packed with progress reports about the Salvation Army’s work around the country, 17,000 copies of the first issue were printed and priced at one halfpenny for 4 pages.