Leeds printer who won royal approval

By the late 19th century Leeds was a major printing centre. From lowly beginnings, Hunslet-born Alf Cooke (1842-1902) set up as a newsagent, stationer and letter-press printer in Hunslet Road in the 1860s.

Monday, 25th March 2019, 8:31 am

He prospered as a printer and developed great skills in colour lithography and produced art reproductions and portraits of the famous, for which there was a huge demand.

In 1885 his portrait of Queen Victoria, framed in a wreath of roses, was a best-seller at home and abroad; 100,000 were distributed in Australia alone with the Sydney Evening News Christmas edition.

His colour printing achievements were crowned in 1885 when he was granted a Royal Warrant as ‘Chromo-lithographer to Her Majesty’. From then on, he styled himself ‘Queen’s Printer’ and enjoyed his new status to the full, moving to live in the historic grandeur of Weetwood Hall.

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His grand three-storey, red-brick Crown Point Printing Works with it distinctive domed clock tower on Hunslet Road was designed by Thomas Ambler in 1880 and reconstructed after a fire in 1894. It was described as the ‘largest, cleanest, healthiest and most completely fitted printing works in the world’. It housed 300 chromolithographic presses and employed 600 men.

Alf died in 1902, but his printing works, later renowned for its production of playing cards and card games, remained in business until 2005. Following part renovation by the Rushbond Group, in 2012 the buildings were bought by Leeds City College which opened it Printworks Campus there the following year. Alf Cooke’s spectacular Print Hall has been beautifully converted into a modern teaching, learning and recreation space.