Visiting Linotype & Machinery

Touring the British Linotype factory to see what remains

Published: 25 Aug 2022

Topics: History, Linotype, Travel, Typography

TL;DR: I visited the revitalized manufacturing site of the British Linotype company and toured the buildings

The façade of the preserved L&M administration building in Altrincham, U.K.

A Pilgrimage 12 Years in the Making

While working on Linotype: The Film I chose to focus on the history of the Linotype company in the Unites States. This wasn’t due to lack of interest as there was plenty to cover; but adding the international aspect to our film was outside of our self-funded budget.

During my film research I learned that, in order to raise funds for building the Linotype factory in Brooklyn, the U.S. company sold off the U.K. manufacturing rights (along with the German and European rights) to other syndicates that wanted to make and sell the Linotype worldwide. This was very early on in the company and has its own interesting history.

Stained glass inside the stairway of the admin building that was thankfully preserved.

Because of this, I’ve known about the L&M building in the U.K. and have seen pictures of the amazing administration building, which made me want to visit. A few years ago, I learned that a development company had purchased the works and was planning to renovate the entire area—which made me a bit nervous that everything would be wiped away.

Recently, my family and I were visiting friends just 40 minutes away from Altrincham, U.K. (pronounced “All-tring-um” for us Americans) so I made a last-minute drive over to see if we could view what was left of the buildings.

Your author being embarrassingly happy in front of the L&M admin building. (photo by Hans Nyman)

Thankfully, (even though it was a Saturday) there was a leasing manager who graciously showed us around the preserved building and redeveloped property. I think she was quite surprised and amused that someone actually cared about the history of the buildings instead of inquiring about purchasing a new home in a growing suburb of Manchester with good schools.

History of the L&M Works

Linotype Works in 1901
Image of the building from 1901. Note the different lettering on the building than today. (image courtesy Trafford Local Studies Centre)

Situated outside of Manchester, the L&M Works were a conglomeration of administration and manufacturing buildings that built Linotype machines for the U.K. and its colonies. It was located at the Broadheath Industrial Park which claims to be the world’s first industrial park. The land was purchased in 1896 and the factory was officially opened by Lady Kelvin on July 14, 1899.

A preserved façade of one of the manufacturing buildings along the Bridgewater Canal, which was used for transporting goods and materials to and from the works site.

The manufacturing site was purpose-built along the Bridgewater Canal so coal and other industrial supplies could be brought directly to the factory before other shipping methods were possible. A large administration building was built at the front of the site and this is the building that still exists today.

An aerial photo from 1951 of the entire L&M Works. The red box highlights the admin building, which is all that survives today.

Redevelopment of the Works

The gate outside the admin building, now a part of a neighborhood known as “Egerton Park.”

As with many old manufacturing buildings from the late Victorian Era, these buildings were eventually shuttered in the 1970s and leased out as storage and offices; but fell into disrepair. In 2015 a redevelopment company came along, purchased the derelict site, and started plans to build new apartments and semi-detached homes on the grounds.

Brochure that the development company printed to promote the 11 apartments in the L&M admin building.

Because the administration building was (thankfully) listed as a “Grade II Listed” building, the development company was required to maintain the look and certain historical aspects of the buildings. Sadly, only the admin building and a few metal trusses on the factory grounds were preserved, but I’m happy to say that the development company did a great job preserving the building’s beautiful brick façade, leaded and stained-glass windows, clock tower, and exterior lettering.

Although I personally wish more of the original factory buildings would have been preserved, I’m also a realist and understand that if any more restrictions would have been placed on the developer, the buildings may have been left to deteriorate even further.

The brochure makes great use of the beautiful façade and windows full of light in the building.
The brochure showcases the details that make the building unique.
The brochure has a nice spread about the history of the building and the Linotype company. Psst: I won’t fault them for using a picture of hand-set type instead of a column of Linotype slugs locked up — hey, they tried!

Inside the Building

The central atrium with original staircase and beautiful wall of stained glass. What company today would build such an elaborate and ornate building?

Inside the administration building are several well-preserved original design elements and finishes: original tile floors, columns and moldings, stairway railings, stained glass, interior doors, and even an executive fireplace.

The entryway preserved the colorful tile floors, moldings, and doors with stained glass.
Decorative columns and leaded glass windows were updated and preserved.

The development company put effort into not only preserving the historic aspects of the building, but also chose to erect a monument honoring the workers who fought in both world wars outside the entrance as well as placing a plaque and small statue of Ottmar Mergenthaler on display.

I’m fairly sure the people that live in the building don’t have a clue why a man with a large, bushy beard is hanging on the wall, but I, for one, appreciate the gesture.

Looking up the stairwell to see the Mergenthaler plaque and glass dome.
A small statue of Ottmar Mergenthaler hangs out on a window sill.
A gold plaque above a door in the upper hallway honors Ottmar Mergenthaler.

There are 11 apartments inside the admin building, all with modern layouts and furnishings. As of this writing in August of 2022, all but one of the apartments are leased and we were able to view the remaining unit. Inside, you can see the large leaded windows that provide tons of amazing light no matter the typical cloudy northern English weather.

Of course as a show unit, this apartment was fully furnished and even had some of the original L&M typeface drawings up on the wall which was a nice touch. If I lived in the apartment, I’d negotiate to have those included in my lease.

The interior of the modern apartment showing off the light from the original windows.
Interior decoration of the apartment features original typeface drawings from the type drawing office at the factory.

Outside on the Grounds

These original, hand-riveted metal beams were required to be kept, so they were integrated into the garages and structure of the homes.

Outside, there are several sitting benches that have information about typefaces and what the Linotype company did. They also were required to keep metal trusses that were hand-riveted as part of the original “travel hall” for moving equipment and materials from the canal into the buildings. These have been integrated into the parking/garage areas of the new homes.

Detail view of the riveted beams.
Exterior benches have information about the company and typefaces integrated into their design.

Several of the roads around the area have been given typeface names such as “Baskerville Road” or “Corona Drive” as well as after Lady Kelvin whose husband (I believe) originally owned the land where the factory was built.

Several street signs around the works were named after important people and typefaces (!).

A Whole Lot of Photos

To wrap up this post, I will be sharing more pictures of the building and grounds than any human would want to see.

Will anyone look at all of these? I doubt it, but here they are anyway: I’m just happy to share what I saw and thankful for the opportunity to tour the building and grounds.

Exterior of the admin building that was built with a beautiful shade of brick.
Beautiful decorative motifs on the exterior of the building. They don’t make them like they used to, do they?
Closer look at the painted lettering on the façade and clock tower.
Close-up of the brick work and bay windows.
Original tile floors in the entryway of the admin building.
Original tile floors in the entryway of the admin building.
Original tile floors in the hallways of the admin building.
The interior decorative accents were lovingly preserved and restored.
Stained glass inside the hallways of the admin building.
Looking down the central staircase with the amazing stained glass.
Looking up from the staircase at the stained glass.
The cornerstone of the building.
The bottom of the original smoke stack that was part of the factory building complex and the new semi-detached homes that were built.
Roll of Honour memorial placed by the development company to celebrate the workers that served and died during the two World Wars.
Original printed Roll of Honour inside the building, which inspired the new monument outside.
Typeface history and information that isn’t quite correct, but again, they tried.

This drone video from 2017 shows the factory site in the middle of restoration. The admin building is under construction, while you can see the preserved façades being held up by scaffolding along with a smaller building which was demolished in July 2022.

Further Reading & Writing