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Background on Sun Printers’ Clock Tower

Peter Draper, Sun’s chief engineer for most of the 1980s, writes:


In order to print in four colours in the rotary gravure process (as Sun did), it is necessary for the preceding printed colour to be dry (wet-on-dry printing). In the early days, drying was achieved by passing the web of paper over a large, heated steel drum and, later, by hot air. The heat source for both systems was steam and, as the heat was taken to atmosphere on the web, large quantities of water were required to raise this steam.


At Sun Engraving, the steam was originally raised by three coal-fired Lancashire Boilers. In 1956, five Danks of Dewsbury boilers, burning heavy fuel oil instead of coal, were installed by Sun Printers to replace the Lancashires.


The company’s water source became its own artesian well, for which a licence was granted in 1934. The clock tower building was constructed over the well that same year. The well had a 16” diameter and was 300’ deep to allow it to take water from the chalk aquifer that was replenished by the River Gade. The building was 15’ (475 cm) wide and 6’ (183 cm) deep. The tower itself was 3’ (91 cm) x 3’ (91 cm), and 17’ (518 cm) from ground level to apex. The building was brick-built rendered and the green roof tiles were Italian. The tower had the word SUN cut into the brickwork and in one of the windows the wrought-iron protective grill had the letters SEC (Sun Engraving Company) designed into it. There was a clock-face on all four sides of the tower. When finished, it was an elegant building and quickly became a local landmark. Its design reflected the fact that although there was a recession in the 1930s, printing was still a prosperous business. The building’s sole purpose was to house the well and two associated pumps (one for backup), as well as switchgear and valve gear. A crude building would have been much easier to build and maintain. and would have sufficed, but to their credit the company and the architect made it a feature.


The original licence allowed Sun to take 16,000 gallons of water per hour from the aquifer. In 1988, the amount was increased to 25,000 gallons per hour. The licence was revoked in 1992 following the cessation of gravure printing on the site.


The reason permission was given to increase the volume of water extracted in 1988 is interesting. Early that year, Sun’s chief engineer was notified by Thames Water that the company was exceeding the extraction level of the licence. The chief engineer admitted that he was not aware that a licence existed, but no problem: he would simply obtain a new licence for the volume being extracted, 25,000 gallons/hour. Thames Water explained that life wasn’t that simple and that the extraction level of 16,000 gallons/hour could not be increased, because it would lower the water table and cause environmental damage. The chief engineer’s solution – that Sun would return uncontaminated water, via a water meter, to the water table – was initially rejected but eventually accepted, provided the temperature rise of the returned water was less than 3°C. A revised licence was thus issued to extract 25,000 gallons/hour and return 9,000 gallons/hour, giving a net extraction of 16,000 gallons/hour. The licence was issued only after the application had appeared in The Illustrated London News and the local press, and had met with no objections.


The clock tower is listed today as a building of local interest. Hopefully, with refurbishment completed, the clocks, with modern technology, will keep accurate time. (In the old days, they were notoriously bad timekeepers, being pulsed every second by a DC supply switched by a micro switch operated by a cam on a shaft driven by a synchronous motor.) The clock tower is the only physical evidence in the area (aside from a plaque on the exterior wall of “The Rising Sun” pub) that Sun Engraving/Sun Printers, with all its storied history, ever existed. So it is encouraging to know that I am not alone in my concern for the building.



 Reminiscences Page


We have added three further entries, one by Roy Hodgson and two by Alan Orchard, all in the 1980s.


People Pages  


Spring 2021 – We are still busy adding information to our lists of employees on the People pages. Many individuals have supplied us with details of their own and their colleagues’ Sun careers, and on this occasion we would like particularly to thank Colin Sillwood and his son Paul, as well as John (Jeb) Brown of Sun Engraving, for stretching their memories and enabling us to add further details about a large number of people who were already on file, and for supplying names and information about a number of others who previously were not on file at all.


Our lists of Sun employees are probably the most complete ever compiled but, even so, there is much information missing.


To any visitors to this website, whether you worked at the Sun or know people who did:
We would be grateful if you could supply us with any further information. We still lack a lot of detail about employees during the early years of the companies, and during the decade before the Sun ceased doing business.


If you were an employee, please make sure that you are listed and that your information is correct. Please notify us if you find that anyone (yourself, a colleague, a relative, etc.) is missing from this list or inaccurately identified in any way. We welcome corrections and more detail.

Sun Movie

The c.1935 Sun cine-film on this site is now in MP4 format. We recommend that you allow it to download at least 75% before starting to watch it. Download takes about 20 minutes, and viewing time is approx. 8 minutes.

Please note that this new version is not as “speeded up as the earlier one and is therefore a shade more realistic. It's also a larger image.


Sun-Related Book

The Way of the Sun, the definitive history of the Sun (limited edition)
This is the first-ever full-length history of Sun Engraving / Sun Printers, by Peter Greenhill and Brian Reynolds. A handsome, hard-cover book (416 pages), it contains hundreds of photographs in colour and black & white, many never-before published. The book will be of great interest to former employees, their families, relatives, and friends. Those interested in Watford's history or the influence of the Sun on the development of mass-market colour printing will also find the book informative and enlightening.

Copies are still available in Croxley as well as by post. Price is £22 (plus P&P where necessary).


Shirley Greenman

130 Baldwins Lane

Croxley Green, Rickmansworth, Herts. WD3 3LJ

Tel.: 01 923 227 945