George Rowles. Purpose and Audience – Writing Lives

George Rowles. Purpose and Audience
‘An Old Comp’

‘It has been said that geography is about maps, biography is about chaps, and typography is about caps. But somehow I have the feeling that typography is more about the chaps than the caps. What then, is the place of the chaps among all these caps?’ (Quote from Mr George Him, Chaps Among the Caps p.1).

George Rowles is clearly looking for an audience who share his passion and love for the now redundant trade of composition. He started to write his memoirs roughly around 1967 when he was eighty years of age. He was well aware that this particular trade was changing and perhaps coming to an end.

Interestingly it was a trade young George stumbled upon due to geography not typography:

‘I wanted to be a sailor and as the minimum age for joining the Navy was fourteen-and-a-half I became a telegraph messenger at Earls Court to fill in the time …’ (George Rowles, Chaps Among the Caps, p. 66).

If you have any interest in historical journalism, typography and the overall distribution of the printing trade then George Rowles’s autobiographical memoir, Chaps Among the Caps will make for a very interesting read. He shares insights about life within the press trade, relationships between colleagues, divisions within the trade, trade traditions and the jargon that was used on the ‘Chapel’ floor:

‘Working printers by long tradition have their own peculiar jargon or communication and their own system of representation.’ (p49)
The old Chapel

George opens the memoirs with a short introduction into the world of typography. The second chapter titled, ‘Background’, is a very short insight into George Rowles’s childhood which includes; post Boer war celebrations in the shape of a village fate which included dressing up in agricultural attire whilst memories of a carnival atmosphere can be recalled.

Other than chapter two, George Rowles very rarely delves outside of his working environment. He mentions only briefly his involvement in the Great War, despite the fact that he managed to lose both feet during the battle of the Somme:

After many adventures on the Somme I became a casualty early in 1917 and when I was discharged from the Army in 1919 (after two years of operations, riding about in wheel chairs and learning at Roehampton to walk on two artificial limbs) my discharge papers were endorsed “totally disabled” (p.44)

So many adventures across ‘No Man’s Land’ but George’s experiences remains vague.


Bibliography: Rowles, George. Chaps Among the Caps. Unpublished. Burnett Collection of Working-Class Autobiography, Special Collection, Brunel University Library, 1:600

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