Otley firm Sinclairs' long history is recorded in new book

Wharfedale Observer: Andrew Howard with the book Andrew Howard with the book

The rich history of a company that has been one of Otley’s biggest employers for 176 years is documented in a new book.

Sinclairs, producers of the red Silvine exercise books that have been used by millions of schoolchildren, has been manufacturing stationery since 1837.

Packed with historic photographs, The Sinclairs Story follows the fortunes of the company from the humble beginnings of its founder, William Sinclair, up to the 175th anniversary celebrations in 2012.

It has been written by recently retired chairman and managing director Andrew Howard.

In his introduction, he says: “I thought that it was time that some record was made of this long history, and this book attempts to do just that. The company remains very much a family business, now owned and managed by the fifth and sixth generations of the Sinclair family.

“It is, though, more than just a history of the Sinclair family, as many of the employees are part of families that have also worked for the business over several generations – parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins.”

The book gives insights into what life was like for William Sinclair in 1830 when, aged 15, he became an apprentice printer and bookbinder for William Walker at his printing works on Kirkgate, Otley.

His apprenticeship agreement forbade him from visiting pubs, gambling, getting married or lending “the goods of his master” – and also prohibited “fornication or adultery”.

In return, the young Mr Sinclair would receive instruction in “the trade, art, mystery and business of a printer and bookbinder”.

By 1837 he was running his own printing, bookbinding and stationery business in Wetherby.

He sold that enterprise in 1854 and moved back to Otley to begin working from Westgate – now the home of the Toymaster shop – and so began Sinclairs’ long association with the town.

Mr Howard said: “William Sinclair started his business in a very different world from today. Transport was by horse and cart and stationery was hand-made in a very traditional way.

“The Sinclairs of today is a modern factory with automated machinery producing millions of books and pads each year.”

The book describes the firm’s move to a new factory in the town in 1884, along with its more recent expansion, with warehousing at Bremner Works, and the serious fire that broke out in 1979.

It also details the effects of both World Wars, when trading restrictions were imposed and Sinclairs lost some of its workforce, along with its acquisition of the famous Silvine trade name in 1948 and its growing success in the export market.

The Sinclairs Story costs £9.99 and is on sale at Otley Museum (at Wellcroft House, Crow Lane), Just Books, Mounseys and Browse Time.

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