life stories

Henry Lundy, 1807 – 1872

Henry Lundy may or may not have thought of himself as a Chartist. But as one of the compositors employed in Joshua Hobson’s print workshop in the late 1830s, he would have been as familiar with the contents of the Northern Star each week as the most ardent of Chartist activists.

Northern Star front page, 13 January 1838. Click for larger image.

Lundy’s connection to the workshop where, between its launch in 1837 and its relocation to London in 1844, the paper was put together and printed is known only from a passing reference in a later history of Leeds Typographical Society, of which he was secretary. It lists his address at the time as ‘the Star office’ in Market Street, Briggate.

See also:
Northern Star: the paper that made Chartism
Northern Star in numbers

The son of a bookkeeper, Lundy was born in 1807 at Malton, a small market town on the road from York to Scarborough, and married Ann Rawling in 1825. They moved to Leeds, where Lundy probably served his apprenticeship, and he became involved in the Leeds Typographical Society. Though founded in 1810, the society remained small, despite what was, by the time the Northern Star appeared, a booming local newspaper industry. In the year Lundy was listed as secretary, the society had just nineteen members, and even then it split, with William Hicks of the Leeds Times becoming secretary of the ‘old’ society, and Lundy serving the ‘new’ society. They would not reunite until 1842.

As a compositor, it was Lundy’s job to take the handwritten text written by the Star’s own editorial staff and its many external contributors, few of them experienced writers, and set it in type in a hand-held ‘stick’ containing a series of single lines of text. These lines were built up letter by letter, space by space, and transferred into the frame within which a whole page was eventually put together. The metal frame could then be loaded into Hobson’s steam-powered press and inked, ready for printing.

Lundy’s was a skilled and demanding job. Compositors typically had to make sense of semi-legible text, often correcting it on the fly where the paper’s sub-editors had missed errors. Joshua Hobson would have owned vast quantities of individual metal letters and other characters, sorted into cases (upper and lower, but also specialist cases for italics, small capitals and other variations), and Lundy would have stood with the cases before him, stick in one hand, picking the correct letters (all of which were reversed) to make up the line of text for the page.

Setting type by hand.

Many years later, when this labour-intensive process was falling out of use before the advance of machinery which enabled the compositor to sit at a keyboard and set whole lines at a single go, the old letterpress method of typesetting became a competitive sport of sorts. A man who could set 1,200 ems an hour (an em being a character of that width – twice an en) was thought to be making good speed. At that rate, and with a ten hour day, Lundy might have hoped to set 12,000 characters a day, maybe 1,500 words (9,000 a week), in a newspaper that typically ran to 90,000 words an issue. Lundy would have been one member of a fair-sized group of compositors working on the Northern Star.

We do not know how long Lundy remained with Hobson. In 1841, he is listed in the census, living in Leeds with his wife Ann and their 11-year-old son Francis. Ann must have died at some point in the 1840s, however, for on 9 August 1851, Lundy, now a widower, married Elizabeth Mason, the daughter of a Sheffield cutler at St Peter’s Church in Leeds. In 1861, with the Northern Star now a distant memory, Lundy, now living at 35 Templar Street, gave twin occupations: beerhouse keeper and printer-compositor.

Lundy died in Leeds on 26 October 1872. He is buried at Beckett Street Cemetery.

Sources and notes

Leeds Typographical Society Centenary 1810-1910: A Souvenir, compiled by R.M. Lancaster (1910).

Records of Leeds Typographical Association are held by the Working Class Movement Library. Index on ArchiveHub (accessed 23 December 2023)

The Letterpress Commons website has an excellent illustrated explanation of the process of setting type by hand. It can be found here (accessed 23 December 2023).

Speed contests of manual typesetters, 1887 on the History of Information website (accessed 23 December 2023).

Henry Lundy’s entry in the censuses of 1841-61, his marriage, death and probate records can be found on Ancestry and FindMyPast.