The Stone Sisters

  GONE FISHING: Bob Cummings on the banks of the Ribble with the one that didn’t get away

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By BOB CUMMINGS, former compositor and overseer on the Daily Express in Manchester

During my life as a paid up NGA member, there was never any sign of a female printer in any department. 

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There were rumours that the odd reprographics department of a university had a female operative who had been given a union card and even this was viewed with suspicion as ‘the thin end of the wedge’. 

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Maybe it was as well as there can be no doubt that the combination of heavy metals which formed the alloy used to produce type was pretty deadly stuff. 

I lost count of the number of comps and overseers at the Express in Ancoats who had brain tumours removed, sometimes successfully leading to a slight limp or a dubious personality change. The others were not so lucky. The subs didn’t always fare much better. I wonder if any analysis of life expectancy on the stone has ever been carried out.

The NUJ was either more enlightened regarding the employment of the fairer sex (that’s irony, get over it) or had a subtle sense of humour in allowing the first female subs to be subject to the rigours of daily life on the stone. 

The ones I remember were Lynne Schofield, very unkindly referred to as ‘Olive Oil’ due to her height and rather large feet, both of which gave her much in common with Jerry Hall, actually. She had a hardbitten, Eskimo Nell approach to the job which meant that she gained a great deal of respect (and she always got her round in). 

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The only other stone sister who I can remember was Eugena who was rumoured to be one of Bob Greaves’ five wives. She had much more in common with the feminista sisters of today and I can remember little about here except she had dark hair, glasses and not much of a sense of humour. Who could blame her? It was hard in them days!  

© 2005-2022 Alastair McIntyre