At the age of 7, on 25th April 1866 John David Lewis, the founder of Gwasg Gomer, wrote in his diary:
“My father commenced shopkeeping on his own account at his own home, Red Lion, opposite Ty Main”.
The business prospered and was successful, moving into larger premises. J.D. Lewis grew up helping run the shop, but also nurturing a lifelong love of books and reading. A quotation from Gibbon can be found in one of his later notebooks: “A taste for books is the pleasure and glory of my life. I would not exchange it for all the wealth of the Indies.”
So perhaps it is not surprising that when his father died in 1889 J.D. Lewis began to stock books among the groceries, ironmongery, cloth and corn at the “Market Stores” and his dream of establishing a printing press began to take hold of him.
In 1892 he bought his first press in Brecon and as he had no knowledge of the printing process of the time he advertised for a journeyman printer. The appointment of a nineteen year old who had served his apprenticeship in Anglesey proved to be a solid foundation for the success of his enterprise. W.J. Jones, who was universally know as Jones Y Printer was a master craftsman and teacher and served the company faithfully for decades. He remained active and worked as a compositor until just a few months before his death in 1955 aged 82.
The name Gomerian Press was almost certainly chosen due to J.D. Lewis’ high regard for the Revd Joseph Harris (1773-1825) whose nom de plume was Gomer.
In 1894 the first book was published, Hanes Plwyf Llandysul. The 350 pages were typeset letter by letter, by hand, with some 2000 pieces of type on each page. The press was powered by the operator and in a letter to the author it is recorded:
“My price for printing and packing ready for binders 1500 copies of Hanes Plwyf Llandysul will be £53.” (about £3500 in today’s money)
A diary entry from 1901 shows a willingness to invest that has characterised Gomer Press ever since; “Fix oil engine in shed outside house, spindle from shed underneath road to present kitchen, furniture etc. being removed to small kitchen. Double Crown (machine) to be removed from present position in kitchen. Sell Demy folio and get a Treadle instead…”
Records indicate that the business grew apace in the early part of the 20th century and the unexpected death of J.D. Lewis from what would today be regarded as a simple complaint was a severe blow to the family as well as the wider community. He left behind four sons, and the task of keeping the presses running fell to the eldest, David Lewis. The next significant development was the purchase of mechanically operated typesetting machinery – at the height of the depression in 1926. The fact that they opted for the Monotype system as opposed to the Linotype used by newspapers confirms that quality of reproduction was uppermost in their minds. This decision was to serve the company well until superceded by the advent of computer assisted equipment in the early 1970s. Up-to-date printing machinery was also purchased in the 1930s and the Wharfedale cylinder was responsible for printing books for some of Wales’ leading publishers.
Up to 1945 Gwasg Gomer was strictly a printing company, but the purchase of Gwasg Aberystwyth in that year changed things, and the publishing side of the business is still going strong today.
In 2004 the business moved from its home of 112 years to a new purpose built site on the outskirts of Llandysul in order to continue to expand and develop. Today that factory houses a state-of-the-art Heidelberg XL106 perfecting press as well as correspondingly advanced computer-to-plate and binding facilities. The love for books and printing that first inspired J.D. Lewis is still there in the fourth generation of the Lewis family now running the business. No doubt the future holds many further challenges and technological advances and no doubt Gomer Press will continue to adapt, invest and thrive.