Printing The Times at Hatchlands Park

A photograph of Francis Mathew

During the late 1950s and early 1960s Hatchlands was home to Francis Mathew, the manager of The Times newspaper. This was a period of print union strikes but, using Hatchlands as a base, Mr Mathew devised a plan to keep The Times in circulation.

The strikes

It was 1959 and print unions had become more militant. Each time a union called out their members it prevented a paper being published. Rival papers saw this as an opportunity to increase circulation. They often hired workers on strike from other papers, saving the unions from having to issue strike pay.
 
To stop this cycle the newspaper owners reached an agreement. If one newspaper was shut by strike action, their competitors would stop production until the strike ended.
 
 

The plan

As the unions successfully began to close down production, in accordance with the agreement, Mr Mathew agreed to close down Printing House Square. He was not, however, prepared to stop publication of The Times.
 
Mathew devised a mobile printing press and installed it in the courtyard. The unit comprised two 40 tonne trucks parked side-by-side. The sides of the trucks rested on jacks and a central floor joined the two together.
 
One lorry housed a Timpson printing press. On the other were linotype machines, metal printing plates, and two stones on which the metal slugs of type were locked into pages. A third lorry served as a workshop connected to two generators.
 
Additional linotype machines were installed in the building that’s now our shop, and a six month supply of ink and newsprint was kept in the stable. Accommodation was arranged for 26 non-union workers in the East Wing.
 
The music room was converted into a press room and lines were installed for phone and telex communications. News would be routed through the Paris office and sent on to Hatchlands. An eight page tabloid edition could now be taken from Hatchlands to distribution centres by helicopter, in case the unions discovered the plan and blocked the roads.
 
 

Striking out

Mr Mathew collected a pile of tabloid editions and headed to a meeting of the union negotiators and newspaper management teams. He placed them on the table, saying:
" I will be producing an emergency edition of The Times, and here is tomorrow’s with my compliments. I am now going to say good night as I intend to spend my weekend with my family."
- Francis Mathew

‘Gentlemen, I’m here to confirm that in accordance with the agreement, Printing House Square will close at 10pm tonight, and will remain closed until you all come to your senses. In the meantime I will be producing an emergency edition of The Times, and here is tomorrow’s with my compliments. I am now going to say good night as I intend to spend my weekend with my family.’
 
At 10pm that evening Francis received a call to tell him the strike was off. The Times was put to bed in Printing House Square just after midnight.