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Allen Lithographic

Kirkcaldy's heritage is replete with companies whose longevity makes them bywords for the town's industrial and commercial history.


One such is Allen Litho, whose shortened form is spoken of with affection and familiarity by many Langtonians, not all of whom will have been part of the print company's sizeable workforce.

Road to Allen Lithographic.jpg

Like so many local  enterprises, Allen Lithographic prospered by innovating and developing links with other industries and our story teases out some fascinating connections with businesses large and small.


The story of Allen Lithographic contains many layers and shades and reflects on some very interesting individuals. As a family business and something of a specialist one, it has nonetheless had a great impact worthy of our attention.

Allen Lithographic
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All roads Lead To Allen Lithographic


It had always been the intention of the project to feature a long standing Kirkcaldy name involved in a niche market. The choice fell on Allen Lithographic for several reasons – firstly, its longevity in the town coupled with the fact it was a major employer. Secondly, although the name Allen Lithographic did not appear until 1900 – the firm consider 1867 as their starting date which is borne out by the fact the firm celebrated their centenary in 1967. This led to fascinating research to help understand where this 33 year difference sprang from – especially as the firm's true founder was still at school in 1867! It is also a family story of three generations of the Allen family being involved in the business which adds lustre to the story and what transpired when the family control evaporated.


As always with Kirkcaldy it is all about connections and as the story unfolds we will see major figures appearing from time to time influencing the firm's history. With the aforementioned 33 year disparity there could only be one title for this object and that is -”All Roads Lead to Allen Lithographic”.


Although 33 years, 1867 and 1900 have been mentioned the start of this Object predates both those dates.


Lithography was invented in the closing years of the 18th century by a German artist and engraver names, Alois Senefelder. In reality he fell into this by accident when trying to find a less expensive method of printing handbills and scripts – as he was an actor and playwright by profession. He discovered that by drawing on a smooth slab of calcareous stone with a greasy ink he could take prints from his artwork. This was far less laborious and cumbersome than engraving, where the artist had to etch his work onto a copper plate and then take the prints from there. The process was refined and was soon in use all over Europe. It is believed that the first lithographer to appear in Scotland was in 1820 and was a Mr Robertson operating in Edinburgh.


It was a full 31 years later when the process came to Kirkcaldy in 1851 – when an Andrew Drummond set up as an engraver and a lithographer. As our main story details, Drummond had gathered extensive experience in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee before commencing business in Kirkcaldy. It would seem that despite all his previous experience it was only on arriving in Kirkcaldy that he became self-employed. Drummond did not stay overlong in the town leaving in 1857. When he left Kirkcaldy the founder of Allen Lithographic was 2 years old!


It was a John Crawford a native of Kinross who purchased Drummond's business in 1857. Crawford had moved to Kirkcaldy in 1836 as a bookseller and stationer but was happy to take on lithography as another string to his bow. Without shadow of doubt it seems that he had already embraced printing as early as 1851. He published much of his own material after that date but there is clear evidence that prior to 1851 other printers were printing material on his behalf. Crawford is an interesting character with a wide range of ideas including attempting to publish his own newspaper and he also toyed with a free advertising sheet which he had delivered throughout Kirkcaldy. The theory was the advertisers would pay him a fee thereby allowing the free issue of the material. He continued in business until his retiral in 1881. It is however Crawford who is credited  with sowing the seeds of The Allen Lithographic Company by doing nothing more than taking on an Archibald Beveridge as an apprentice in 1858.


Beveridge seems to have had an outstanding gift for Lithography which was allied to vision and energy. He moved to Edinburgh to gain more experience but returned to Kirkcaldy to answer a call from the Fifeshire Advertiser newspaper. The paper wished to add lithography to its current print offering but had no experience. Enter Archibald Beveridge in 1867 as a partner to operate and manage the new lithography department. It was not be be a long lived partnership as Beveridge also set up his own business, The Kirkcaldy Printing Works, close by. Whether this was seen as a conflict of interest or for some other reason the partnership was dissolved in 1869. Working on his own Beveridge soon built up a substantial business also harnessing steam to operate the presses which until then had been dependent on hand power.


It was now that Beveridge's skill played its part. Kirkcaldy was fast developing its linoleum activity and what was called out for was an enterprising lithographer to produce pattern books for the manufacturers illustrating their intricate designs. The man who answered that call was Archibald Beveridge firstly with Michael Nairn but then with most of the other linoleum manufacturers throughout the country,


The manufacturers had not been slow in recognising the merits of providing a lithographic facsimile of their designs to their sales forces. Beveridge had almost captured the market in this field and new substantial premises were now required. It was in 1877 that Beveridge purchased the first portion of the ground between Townsend Place and Church Lane to build his new print-works. In this he was aided financially by local businessmen including Michael Nairn.


The business went from strength to strength until in 1892, at the young age of 47, Archibald Beveridge died. He had been in ill health for a period and it was his foreman – one J. Henry Allen who had been running the business for a number of months.. At last an Allen had entered the story and this one had joined Beveridge as an apprentice in 1868 and had worked his way up to become foreman. He knew the technical side but was not familiar with management requirements or office operations. It was Michael Nairn, anxious not to lose his pattern printers, who hit on a solution by introducing Allen to a Glasgow businessman Roderick Couper. They struck up a successful partnership as Couper & Allan with their separate skill sets combining well. However a second disaster was not far away when, only 8 years after Beveridge's death, a major fire destroyed the site in 1900.


This brought about the parting of the ways with Couper leaving the partnership and J. Henry Allan carrying on under his own name initially from a disused factory in what is now the Olympia Arcade. This was a short term move until the Church Lane premises were rebuilt. At this stage The Allen Lithographic Company came into being with the Board consisting of Henry Allan and also members of an Edinburgh family by the name of Morrison. Allen had an aversion to borrowing from banks and the issue of shares was his preferred route to raise capital – hence the Morrison involvement. This led to Charles Morrison being the first Chairman – not Henry Allen. He had to settle for an appointment as a Joint Managing Director along with Morrison's son Robert.


Almost from the start the company set about purchasing, piece by piece, the land bounded by Townend Place – Oswald's Wynd and Church Lane to extend the factory. It was only in 1938 that the final purchase was made and the final boundaries of the site were achieved.


The full narrative covers the story of the company's expansion and how various family members played their part in the success of Allen Lithographic.  As already alluded to there were certainly three generations of the Allen family who were heavily involved with the firm. The first generation was J. Henry Allen himself with two of his sons forming the second generation. These were George C. Allen and Alexander B. Allen. George's son Harry became the third generation as none of Alexander's children entered the business. It would be an exaggeration to claim that  Harry's daughter, Marjorie, formed a 4th generation – her connection was too short lived.


Difficult periods such as the problems suffered during the Great War are also highlighted. When the linoleum manufacturers had to turn their skills to the production of armaments – there was a huge fall off in the staple business of the firm.  The firm recovered when the war ended and there were significant extensions to the site in both 1927 and 1938. The Second World War saw upheaval once again primarily caused by the downturn in linoleum production and government restrictions on the use of paper.


It was a particularly difficult period for the company and some help came from significant orders from the Polish forces stationed in the area and also by diversification, including the use of off-cut paper to manufacture envelopes – anything to keep the company going!


When the war ended the Company was back in profit after only two years but changes to production methods plus heavy industry giving way to electronics brought even more changes. However in a bold move the Markinch Printing Company was purchased and this opened the doors for considerable work from whisky distillers, John Haig, and also the Fife Paper Mills – the latter becoming one of the biggest customers in the 1980s but, in reality, little could be done to safeguard the loss of work from the declining linoleum industry.


The firm were not slow in embracing the new demand for office equipment and stationery with the original house in Townsend Place purchased back in 1877, by Archibald Beveridge, becoming the prime retail outlet in Kirkcaldy for the sale of such items from 1958 onwards. These were long before the days of High Street names such as Ryman's and Allen Lithographic captured the local market.


However, these are also the declining years of the linoleum industry and when in 1963 Barry Ostlere & Shepherd closed their doors a significant part of the staple work went in one fell swoop.


Electronics, microchips, word processors and computers all started to have an effect. By using these items it became possible to load words and designs directly onto lithographic plates with little or no effort – the world was changing and printing method with it.


More diversification followed in some unusual and unexpected ways. Amongst these were the sale of gift stationery – work was obtained from the Pitlochry Festival Theatre – also from the Pitlochry Tourist Association – cheque book printing for the National Commercial Bank of Scotland was undertaken – work on behalf of knitwear companies in the Scottish Borders became more significant - another innovation was the firm's work on non carbon paper (older readers will well remember the use of carbon paper to produce copies) and above all the firm were able to break into the market for book printing. All these activities helped offset the loss of traditional business.


But the clouds were gathering and came to a head in 1988 when in rapid succession both the Managing Director and the firm's Accountant retired. Harry Allen by this time was out of touch with the day to day work and his daughter Marjorie who had joined the board in 1987 had other commitments which prevented her taking on a more responsible role.


As a short term measure, non-executive director Inglis McAulay, who had his own printing business stepped in to help Harry in the basic running of the business. By definition that had to be a short term measure and fairly soon the Board decided that the way forward was to seek a buyer. There was some interest but it was Inglis McAuley who made an offer. After negotiations it was agreed that his company, Inglis Paul, would take over control of Allen Lithographic.


Only Bill MacIntosh and Harry Allan found a place on the new Board. For two years the two companies continued to trade under their respective names but then, in 1990, everything was merged as Inglis Allen.  In 1996, J. Harry Allen retired from the Board bringing to an end the Allen dynasty. The eventual resultant issues regarding the new firm are not examined here – the concentration was and always was intended to be on the 120 year  connection from 1868 – 1988 of the Allen family.


The full story which can be reached from the icon on this page gives far greater detail and is augmented by newspaper items and also many sketches  covering the firm's history. Now like so many of Kirkcaldy's great industrial and commercial sites The Allen Lithographic complex is now flats – albeit much of the original facade remains in place – that at least is a positive.

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