The right type of history

York Press: Robert Duncan De Little, founder of the family firm, holding his baby grandson, Robert James (now known as Jim), in 1935. Jim’s father, Robert Geoffrey, is on the left Robert Duncan De Little, founder of the family firm, holding his baby grandson, Robert James (now known as Jim), in 1935. Jim’s father, Robert Geoffrey, is on the left

A COUPLE of weeks ago in Yesterday Once More, we delved into The Press’s photographic archive to bring you a selection of wedding photographs from times gone by.

We did not know who any of the people pictured in the photographs were. But thanks to reader Rosemary De Little, at least one of the mysteries has now been cleared up.

Perhaps the most striking photograph we carried in our piece that day – under the headline “For richer and for poorer” – showed a groom smartly tricked out in evening jacket and striped trousers, and carrying a top hat.

That man was Alec De Little, and the photograph shows him getting married to Kathleen Neesam at St Michael-le-Belfry church on July 6, 1932.

A keen amateur actor, Mr De Little worked at the time for the family firm, RD De Little. The man standing just behind him in the photograph was his elder brother, Robert Geoffrey – whose son Robert James De Little (known as Jim) is Rosemary’s husband.

Rosemary admits she is proud to bear the De Little name, and with good reason.

For more than a century, the family firm manufactured high-quality large wooden printing type, of the kind used for theatre bills, railway posters and shop sale board advertisements. The type for such large lettering – which could be up to three feet high – had to be wood, because metal would have been too heavy.

The family firm was founded as the Eboracum Letter Factory in 1888 by Robert Duncan De Little, Jim’s grandfather and Alec’s father. Originally based in Railway Street (now George Hudson Street) it moved to new, purpose-built premises in Vine Street, off Bishopthorpe Road, at the turn of the 20th century.

The company – which at the height of its success employed 28 people – was famed for the quality of its wooden type.

It produced the type used for some of the early Terry’s chocolate box posters, and also the wooden letters used in the York 1900 celebrations. At the peak of its success, the company’s letters were sent all around the world – to Europe, America and even Australia.

The letters were manufactured to such a high standard that other firms even tried to pass off their own, inferior products as De Little letters. To prevent that, the firm took to stamping its name on every letter A it produced.

Robert Geoffrey De Little joined the firm in 1915, aged 16; and his son, Jim, in 1950, after completing his national service. Sadly, the firm closed in 1997 – but it lives on at the Type Museum in London, where all the machinery used to make the large wooden letters was sent, and where there is now a De Little’s display. The Vine Street building was sold and pulled down, and is now De Little’s Court.

And as for Alec and the others in the wedding photograph? He went on to perform in the York Mystery Plays, and his wife, Kathleen, was wardrobe mistress. The couple died many years ago, but they had one daughter, Mary, who now lives in Bishopthorpe.

As to the little girl standing to Alec’s right in the photograph, she was his niece, Margaret Hyde. “Her father was vicar of St Chad’s Church, York,” Rosemary writes. “Margaret became a doctor. She lived in Solihull, and died in 2007. Margaret married a doctor and became Mrs Shinton. They had two sons; one is a doctor and one a teacher.”

York Press: Jim De Little at De Littles before it closed with a 100-year-old poster
printed by his grandfather

Jim De Little at De Littles before it closed with a 100-year-old poster printed by his grandfather

York Press: Jim De Little at work

Jim De Little at work

York Press: Jim and Rosemary today, at home in York

Jim and Rosemary today, at home in York

DO you remember the York Blitz of April 29, 1942? Was your house or street damaged? Do you have any photos of the time? If so, we’d like to hear from you for a piece to mark the 70th anniversary. Phone Stephen Lewis on 01904 567263 or email stephen.lewis@thepress.co.uk

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