Sun Families

During its entire history, but most noticeably in the early days, the Sun was served by families – people with printers’ ink in their veins. Many jobs were filled by word of mouth or through family connections, and many Sun people met their future spouse at work, making the involvement of families even more pronounced.

It would be no exaggeration to say that, in the early days, the majority of Sun employees could have named at least one close family member who was also working for the company, or had done. And some could count many. So this part of the web site is dedicated to the family connection that often served Sun so well.

If you know of a family that might be suitable for highlighting in this section – whether yours or someone else’s – please get in touch with us.


The Farrell Family

It is appropriate that the Farrell family be the first one featured in this section of the Sun web site, because the Farrells were associated with the Sun almost from the beginning, and in Watford, literally from the beginning. Tom Farrell worked for Menpes Press on Whippendell Road before the Watford works were taken over by the Sun Engraving Company.

Thomas Joseph O’Farrell was born in the Irish seaside town of Dun Laoghaire (then Jamestown) in 1863. It is not known when he moved to London [Bethnal Green], or when he dropped the O’ from his name (although he was fond of saying that it was because he had never ‘owed’ anyone anything in his life). At one time he is thought to have been employed as a butler. Later, he worked in London for both André & Sleigh and Menpes Press (whose London office was at Craven House, Kingsway, W.C.2).

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Thomas had married Emily Woodhouse (or Woodham), but Emily died after they had had four children. Jane Barnes had married John Stedman, but John died after they, too, had had four children. In 1900, Thomas Farrell married Jane Stedman, and together they had another seven children, making a total of fifteen when all half-brothers and half-sisters are counted in. Thomas and Jane were nos. 1 and 2 on the electoral rolls in Watford in the 1920s.

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Some time before 1913, Thomas Farrell was asked to move to Watford as factory caretaker, and was offered one of two semi-detached cottages located on the Menpes factory grounds, on the north side of the unsurfaced cart-track that ran from the south end of Whippendell road in a roughly easterly direction, parallel with the river. He protested that for such a large family one cottage would not be enough, so he was given both, and the two sculleries at the rear of the cottages were knocked into one to allow passage from cottage to cottage.

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The cottages had no postal address, so Thomas decided to name the track on which they stood. He called it Ascot Road because the charabancs going to the Ascot races passed by the end of the road to cross Cassio Bridge. He made his own road sign, and the children all watched as he painted the ‘S’ the wrong way round. They explained what was wrong, but he wouldn’t be told, and it stayed that way for years. The street is still named Ascot Road today.

Tom Farrell was very smart and military-looking, and he brooked no nonsense from anyone. As caretaker and general factotum, he was very reliable and was highly esteemed by his employer. He was strict with his family and fearless in performing his duties at Sun, whether this entailed keeping gypsies off the factory grounds or preventing young relatives of the owners from making unscheduled use of the tennis courts, for which Tom held the key. Jack Garratt, who grew up on Whippendell Road (and joined the Sun much later), remembers Thomas Farrell as “tall, with a white moustache ... like an ex-guardsman; [he was] a very officious gateman, a real tyrant.”

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Tom’s granddaughter, Shirley Childs, recalls: “The Sun Engraving Company was such a large part of the life of the Farrell family that I’m sure my granddad thought he was the Sun Engraving Company!” She also tells how he liked the drink: “It was an Irish weakness. The nearest pub was The Half-Way House alongside the canal, close by Cassio Bridge. He frequented that, and the family would have been much better off had he not.” Sometimes, after an evening in The Half-Way House, Tom wished to continue drinking at home: “... but he was too smartly dressed to carry a jug of beer, and when my dad [George Farrell] was a little boy he would be sent to the pub with a jug to fetch beer for his dad.”

Jane Farrell, Tom’s wife, was employed at Sun Engraving after the war: among other things she cleaned the offices in the evenings.

In 1930, when Thomas Farrell was 67 years old, his wife Jane died (she was only 57). All the children had left home by then except for George (aged 18) and Margaret (aged 16), and Thomas was eventually asked to vacate the cottages, because Sun Engraving needed the space; the firm installed a baling machine there once the Farrells had moved out. While George and Margaret went to live with other relatives, Thomas moved in with his daughter Lizzie (Mrs George Green) on Maud Crescent in North Watford; he also lived at his son Charlie’s house on Dell Rd. He now had to travel by bus to get to Whippendell Road, where previously he had lived virtually on the premises. He was still working for Sun at the age of 72 when he got soaked in a heavy downpour while waiting for his bus one day, and caught a chill. The chill turned to pneumonia, and Thomas Farrell died in December 1935.

Farrell Family Tree

Of the fifteen children and stepchildren of Thomas and Jane Farrell, eleven worked for Menpes Press or Sun Engraving, some briefly and some for many years. On the Farrell family tree we show those people in bold. In subsequent generations we also show those who married into the Farrell family and were employed by Sun, but we do not extend any branch beyond the last Sun employee in that branch.

Thomas Farrell and his first wife had four children, three of whom worked at Menpes before the First World War: Elizabeth (whose job we don’t know); Thomas W. [Tom Jr] (who worked as a clerk); and Bernard M. (who worked briefly at Menpes before the war, and died during the war). Both Thomas and Bernard served in the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and Thomas is believed to have returned to Menpes/Sun Engraving after the war for a year or two before joining the Indian Army. Bernard was killed in action on August 16, 1917, and Menpes Director Fred Staley sent Thomas a letter of condolence on behalf of the company.

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Jane Stedman and her husband had four children, two of whom worked at Menpes before the First World War: Annie (who was a forewoman) and Mabel (whose job we don’t know); Annie probably met her husband, Frank Willoughby, at the Sun, where he worked until 1938. Jane was pregnant with twins when her husband died. The twins (Jenny and John) were sent to a Dr Barnardo’s Home, and do not appear in any of the family photos.

Thomas and Jane had seven children of their own, five of whom worked for Sun Engraving: Kathleen and Winifred (both of whom are thought to have worked as forewomen); Reginald (who was apprenticed at Sun and became a compositor, eventually transferring to Odhams); George (who was apprenticed at Sun as a gravure minder and worked there until 1938, when he transferred to Odhams); and Margaret (whose job we don’t know). Kathleen married W.J. (Bill) Hart, a Rembrandt employee; Winifred married Alf Stockman, who became a Sun warehouse foreman; George married Phyllis Pratt, whom he met at Sun and who worked in the warehouse; and Margaret married Sun electrician Len Hills.

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In the third generation, Kathleen (Farrell) and Bill Hart’s son, Michael, was apprenticed at Sun Printers (carbon printing); two daughters of Charles Farrell and Kathleen (Kendal), Pat and Mary, both worked in Sun’s offices for a year or so; of the two daughters of Annie (Farrell) and Frank Willoughby, Joan worked for Sun (job not known to us) and Joyce worked in the Sun warehouse; the daughter of George Farrell and Phyllis (Pratt), Shirley, married Michael Childs, who was apprenticed at Sun in 1952 (colour carbon process); and Margaret (Farrell) and Len Hill’s second daughter, Jean, also went to work at Sun.

With special thanks to Thomas Farrell’s granddaughters Shirley Childs and Pat Skeates for supplying us with this – and much other – material.

Please refer to the Reminiscences page of the web site for George Farrell’s recollections of printing Irish Sweepstakes tickets at Sun Engraving and of helping his father at the Sun on weekends.


The Davis Family

Over the years many articles appeared in the Sun's house magazines extolling the virtues of the Davis family. The Davises are a much smaller group than the Farrells (see above) but, as this article shows, they served the Sun (and, in the case of Jim Davis, also served, first, Geo. W. Jones, and, second, Menpes Printing and Engraving) for a total of more than 352 man years, an average of 35 years for each of the ten family members. See the Davis family tree.

Davis Family Tree

Jim Davis was apprenticed as a letterpress machine minder at Geo. W. Jones in 1888 - the earliest known date of any Sun employee, and apparently even before GWJ was incorporated. He moved to Watford when GWJ (by now owned by Debenhams, the London department store) built its new plant on Whippendell Road in 1906 at a cost of 14,000. Jones sold his interest to Mortimer Menpes in 1908, so Jim now found himself working for the Menpes Printing and Engraving Co., where he was still working after the First World War, when Edward Hunter purchased Menpes and its plant (1919) and consolidated his diverse printing and engraving operations as The Sun Engraving Co. By the time Jim Davis retired, towards the end of the Second World War, he had put in 55 years of service.

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Jim and his wife had five children: Leslie, Vernon, Kenneth, Maurice, and Nora. All five worked at the Sun (see family tree); Leslie in Planning (49 years' service), Vernon in Monotype Keyboard (49 years), Kenneth in Process (45 years), Maurice in Letterpress Machines like his father (51 years), and Nora in the Warehouse (31 years).

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Leslie had two daughters, both of whom worked at the Sun: Betty (who married Dick Challoner of Security) worked in the Warehouse for 8 years; and Sylvia worked in various administrative postings, also for 8 years. Maurice had two sons: Colin, who served 20+ years in the Sun's Studio; and Roy, who worked in Engraving for 38 years, having started an apprenticeship at the Sun in 1950. His apprenticeship indenture is reproduced below. Nora married Jack Simons of Gravure Machines in 1955.

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In later years there was some inter-company rivalry between the Sun and Hazell, Watson & Viney, to declare the family with the longest total service. One Hazells family, the Collingses, was touted in Sun News in late 1963 as a competitor for the Davises, and the Collingses were in fact ahead at that time. The challenge was issued to the entire BPC group, but no definitive rules were specified. We do not know the outcome, but it seems likely that the Davises eventually won.

We are most grateful to Marian Everly and Marie Davis for their contributions to this piece about the Davis family. We also referred to Sun News of December, 1963, and Sunews of June, 1974.


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