Printing plays an important role in our daily lives. It is usually carried out on expensive digital printing machines, which more often than not are owned by large companies. A few decades ago, before the advent of large-scale digital printing, there was a considerable number of small printing firms that produced all of our daily needs. They used litho and letterpress printing machines which were operated by skilled printers who produced work of a high standard.

Wolverhampton had many small printing forms and several large concerns including Steens Limited, Alfred Hinde Limited, and Whitehead Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited.

The first member of the Whitehead family to go into printing was Jim Whitehead, who began an apprenticeship in 1872 at Barford and Newitt of Queen Street, a small local company. During his time there, he printed all kinds of stationery, bills of sale, letterheads, books, and even gilt-edged cards. He thoroughly learned all aspects of the printing trade and found that he also had a talent for business management, which would soon be put to good use.

Jim Whitehead.


Tom Whitehead.

In 1881, Jim and his brother Tom, bought a printing business that had been run by Tom Jones, a small jobbing printer, based at 32 King Street, Wolverhampton.

The King Street shop was a modest affair with only one hand-operated printing machine.

In 1896, they opened a second printing works in St. John’s Square and acquired the town’s first mechanical press, powered by a gas engine. Regular work included printing the "Postal Clerks Herald", the official journal of the Post Office Workers Union.

In 1902, they purchased the first linotype machine to be owned by a jobbing printer and had a lot of work, including printing the Wolverhampton Journal magazine, which was edited by G. Ernest Jeffries and printed on their new Miehle machine. The magazine was published monthly, had 30 pages and sold for one penny.

It appeared regularly until 1910 when publication ceased, because there was no editor or editorial staff left to continue it.

A Miehle printing machine.

   An advert from 1909.

Another advert from 1909.      

At one time, Whitehead Brothers also sold firearms, as can be seen from this advert from 1909.

Another firearms advert from 1909.   

By this time, Jim’s sons James and Archibald had joined the business. James, subsequently spent some years in Canada. On his return to Wolverhampton in 1919, he re-joined the business. Whitehead Brothers (Wolverhampton) Limited was incorporated on the 10th July, 1922. One of the firm’s notable orders in 1923 was for the printing of Westlake's History of Westminster Abbey, beautifully illustrated and printed on hand-made paper. In 1927, Whiteheads opened another printing works in Raglan Street, where wallpaper books were printed. In 1928, James' son Leonard took charge at Raglan Street and ran that side of the business until 1938.

Another member of the family who was involved in the business was Tom Whitehead’s daughter, Mrs. A. M. Piper who worked for the firm for over 40 years and became Company Secretary. Whitehead Brothers, Limited joined forces with Whitehead and Burton (formerly Higgitt and Burton) of Dudley Road, with whom they had been involved for around 20 years.

The firm decided to look for larger premises because of uncertainty about the future of the works at the south east corner of St. John’s Square, due to the council’s plans for the building of the ring road through that side of the square.

Whiteheads soon acquired a site on Snow Hill that had formerly been occupied by Snow Hill Congregational Church. The church itself had to be demolished in the early 1940s after part of the gable end collapsed. Behind the church, alongside Tempest Street was the old Sunday school building that had been used for services until 1951 when the church moved to Penn. The school building and the derelict land on which the church stood were purchased by Whiteheads and Whiteheads Building was built on the site of the church at 26A Snow Hill.

Snow Hill Congregational Church with the school building to the left. Courtesy of Steve Martin.

The old school building remained and was used by the company. When the new building opened, Col. E. Burton became a director of the company.

One of Whitehead Brothers' work rooms.

From the 1956 Wolverhampton Red Book.

The new building housed some of the most modern printing machinery in the town. The firm specialised in office and financial stationery and colour work. The three Directors were Mr. Leonard Whitehead, his cousin Mr. A. J. Whitehead and Col. E. Burton. The firm also began to sell office equipment, office furniture, typewriters, adding machines, cash registers, all types of stationery, paper and pencils.

An advert from 1954.

From the 1995 telephone directory.

From The Gazette.

In the early years of this century, Whiteheads began to concentrate on letting space in the company’s buildings. The business was described as letting and operating its own or leased real estate.

Sadly the company went into voluntary liquidation in March 2017.

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