Gale and Polden
Gale and Polden was a British printer and publisher, specialising in Military publications and stationery. Founded in Brompton, Kent in 1868, the business subsequently moved to Aldershot, where they were based until closure in November 1981 after the company had been bought by media mogul Robert Maxwell.
It is no coincidence that a printing firm that went on to become the principal supplier of Military stationary was founded close to Brompton Barracks and Chatham Barracks. James Gale opened his bookshop at No. 1 High Street, Old Brompton in 1868, a business formerly owned by Albermarle Tracey, a well known local businessman, and High Constable of Gillingham in 1823-4.
Before long, James Gale began to increase the scope of his business and acquired his first printing press, which he set up in a wooden shed in the garden at the rear of his house. Through his contacts with the Headquarters of the Chatham Military District Gale obtained a printing contract for the printing of the Garrison Directory.
In 1873 Gale printed and published his first book, Campaign of 1870-1: The Operations of the Corps of General V. Werder by Ludwig Lohlein, late Captain 1st Baden Bodyguard Grenadier Regiment. At this time Gale’s “printing works” was very small, and had just three hand presses and only enough metal type to print sixteen pages at a time. Gale’s staff was made up of three compositors, a bookbinder, a die stamper and three boys. His wife managed the shop’s book and stationery sales, assisted by one of the boys.
On the 29 September 1875 James Gale took on his first apprentice, a boy of fourteen, born and educated in Chatham, named William T. Nash. Nash went on to serve the Company for sixty-eight years, eventually becoming Composing Room Overseer - a post he held for nearly forty years, until his death at the age of eighty-two in 1943. A little later in 1875 he was joined by Thomas Ernest Polden, “a tall, active youth of sixteen.”
By 1880 the bookselling side of the business was still flourishing and in publicising this service Mr Gale announced: “A selection of several hundreds of most modern and popular books will always be found in stock and, having made arrangements for receiving parcels from the principal London Houses daily, the book that should not happen to be in stock could be obtained immediately.” In fact, the business was so successful that in the early 1880s James Gale extended his premises, and took over No. 3 High Street, formerly occupied by Ed. Barnes, a Dispensing Chemist & Photographer.
Gale described himself, in his advertisements, as “Printer, Bookseller, Stationer and Engraver.” In one advertisement, printed on the inside cover of one of his own publications he “begged to announce that he was prepared to execute all kinds of Printing and Dispatch.” Many of these developments were due to Thomas Ernest Polden, who had started by serving in the bookshop, but moved into working in the printing works where he gained an extensive knowledge of different printing processes by practical experience. He soon graduated from apprentice to a partner in the business.
Polden went out visiting units in the garrison and ships in the Dockyard, and bringing back the orders. Soon he was travelling away from Chatham to the garrisons or dockyards at Gravesend, Dover, Canterbury and further afield, publicising the name Gale and Polden “before every Army Unit and Naval Establishment.” At that time there were few official Army publications and units did not receive official forms, account books or records. Most official military forms, such as Parade States, Ration Returns, Crime and Sick Reports, etc, were written out in longhand by orderlies, and Polden saw an opportunity to extend the firm’s business by printing standardised forms. He had samples of these suggested standardised forms printed and marketed to meet Army requirements. The production of these printed forms met with universal approval from the Military, and large orders resulted.
This increased demand for their services led to pressure on the small production unit and the wooden shed at the rear of No. 1 High Street became the scene of much activity. The increasing business drove Mr & Mrs Gale to vacate their living accommodation above the shop, and they moved to Rochester. Their rooms were used to accommodate the Stamping, Binding and Ruling Departments, thus giving more room in the garden shed for additional plant.
Soon, even with part of the printing business moved into the former living area, the shed proved to small and, by the late 1880s, a new printing works was opened at 12 Westcourt Street, Brompton, just around the corner from the High Street shop. The new print works seems to have been known as the “Victoria Works” and still stands today, although now it is a bespoke shirt factory. The company continued to use the original High Street premises as a shop and offices.
As the Commercial printing side of the business developed, Mr Ernest Polden, who had by now become the dominant partner in the business, decided to establish a London Office. “A Company of our standing and associations must have its centre in the hub of the Empire!” he declared. The business was increasing to such an extent that Mr Gale and Mr Polden were already examining the advisability of forming Gale & Polden into a limited liability Company, “and,” said Mr Ernest “it must be registered in London!”
In the late nineteenth century the area around Fleet Street, St Paul’s Churchyard and Paternoster Row was the hub of the publishing world. It was in this area, bustling with horse-drawn traffic, that Ernest Polden searched for a London Office for the growing Company. He soon found it, and, early in 1892, a brass plate bearing the inscription ‘GALE & POLDEN’, Printers, Publishers and Stationers was affixed to the wall at the office entrance to No. 2, Amen Corner.
At first the Company only occupied two rooms on the third floor but this was soon increased to four and gradually they acquired more and more of the property until by 1892 the entire building was taken over. A retail and shop and trade counter, and a Reception Office came into being. The rather sombre yellow and brown walls of the shop were enlivened by framed copies of the brightly coloured wall sheets depicting the badges and crests, medals, colours and standards then recently published, whilst the shelves were filled with rows and rows of bright red cloth bound books of the Gale & Polden Military series.
Early in 1892, Ernest Polden’s younger brother, Russell Polden, who was then the General Manager of the North London Steam Tramways, joined the company. “I need your help”, said Mr Ernest, “this Company is growing, growing fast”, “and what” asked Mr Russell “do you want me to do?” His elder brother looked at him - “Do?” his voice was raised, “go out and bring back orders!” “I see,” replied Russell Polden, and out he went.
By now the Company were supplying more than 400 Canteens, 100 Officers’ Messes, 200 Sergeants’ Messes, and 250 Libraries, Recreation Rooms and Regimental Institutes throughout the services, and in addition had built up first-rate Commercial connections. The well-known Gale & Polden Military Series and other educational works were in use by Military Educational Department and by the London and other School Boards, and in the Colonial forces.
On 10 November 1892 the company was incorporated as Gale & Polden Ltd, with a share capital of £30,000 in £5 shares. Unusually, the shares were offered to ordinary soldiers.
One of the first most vital and urgent matters to come before the Board of the newly incorporated company was the proposal made by Ernest Polden to purchase land at Aldershot, by now the headquarters of the British Army, and build a new factory there, and then close the Brompton Works! The company had already acquired a small bookshop in Wellington Street, Aldershot but the decision to move the printing works to Aldershot was a momentous one. The choice of a suitable site in Aldershot for the building of the new factory did not present any difficulty, for T Ernest Polden had already seen a plot of land of sufficient size, and, in an ideal position near to the railway station.
The site he selected was but yards from the main station entrance, at that time a small market garden noted for its strawberry and watercress beds; with a small pond near the roadway used for watering the garden produce. The Grove - then known as The Grove Road - was one of large private houses. A row of plane trees had been planted on the west side, whilst the east side was open grassland leading down to the railway sidings. Station Road was built up, and so was the north side of Birchett Road, but in the main these were small dwelling houses. The site offered a commanding position, which would dominate the route from the station into the Town. Work proceeded quickly as Ernest Polden was impatient to see the factory in operation. It was planned to complete one wing at a time, and it was intended to eventually have a four-sided building with a central courtyard, but first, the Grove wing was to be completed, then the Birchett Road wing, next the South wing and finally the Cavendish Road wing.
By September 1893 the Grove wing was complete, and two high-powered gas engines with electrical generating plant were installed at the South End making it ready for its occupation. The larger machines were kept running at the Brompton Works right up to the last minute.
Speed was essential in order that the move could be effectively carried out with the least possible delay to production. At last all was ready. The machines at Brompton were stripped down, loaded into the Pickford’s containers on horse-drawn drays, taken down to the Goods Siding at Chatham Station and sent through direct to Aldershot in special trucks. The machines were unloaded in Aldershot Goods Siding and then moved across to The Grove, where they were lifted off the drays on gantries, and through the large windows and placed straight into position on the machine floor. The letterpress machines were in operation before the second floor was completed. As soon as each floor was ready for occupation it was immediately equipped with machinery and materials moved from Chatham. The Wellington Street shop was closed, and the business transferred to the new building.
By the start of 1894 the Victoria Works in Westcourt Street had been sold to Messrs. Lowe, Fletcher & Hulme, Printers, Publishers and Bookbinders, whilst the High Street shop had been sold to Edward Crawley, House Agent. This marked the end of the Company’s commercial presence in Brompton and Medway, although over the years that followed they produced many postcards of the various Military and Naval establishments of the area.
In 1916 Gale & Polden were granted a Royal Warrant for producing Queen Mary’s Christmas card. In 1918 a fire at the firm’s Wellington Works destroyed one of the building’s four wings, which temporarily halted printing. As a result of the fire, the company decided to maintain its own volunteer fire crew at the Works. In 1956 Gale & Polden acquired a number of smaller printing firms including Know Publications, producers of the Woking Opinion newspaper; Paines of Worthing and John Drew Ltd, an Aldershot-based rival. In 1963 Gale & Polden was taken over by the Purnell Group, and in 1964 Purnells merged with another printing company, Hazel Sun, to form the new British Printing Corporation (BPC), the largest printing company in Europe.
In 1971 The Aldershot News was acquired by the Surrey Advertiser Group, which later became part of the Guardian Group of newspapers. Robert Maxwell gained control of BPC and Gale & Polden with it in 1981, and named his new Company Maxwell Communications. In November 1981 Gale & Polden finally closed, with the Wellington Works site being demolished in 1987. Robert Maxwell died in 1991 and in 1992 Maxwell Communications collapsed, leaving many retired Gale and Polden employees without a pension.