John William Ruddock (JWR) came to work for Charles Akrill in 1873 after serving an apprenticeship at a printing firm and in 1880 set up his own printing business at 333 High Street, Lincoln. Surprisingly, he was helped to do this by Charles Akrill. Four years later, Charles Akrill’s only son died, and he sold his own business. J W Ruddock and E Keyworth (who had worked for Charles Akrill for many years) bought the printing business jointly, and J W Ruddock bought the stationery business, which continued to trade from 253 High Street.
A boom in engineering and manufacturing saw Ruddocks being called upon to print catalogues for agriculture, railway and motive power products. Printing was spread across three different sites while the shop was in another. In 1904, JWR bought 286/7 High Street to have both businesses under one roof. The Silver Street property was sold soon afterwards. Having gained sole ownership and having consolidated the business at 286/7 High Street, J W Ruddock was in a position to develop the business. He then retired in 1911, leaving the business to his two sons.
The business carried on through the Great War and despite injuries to J H Ruddock and one of the managers Mr Field, Ruddocks began to expand in the wake of pre-war success. A London office and shop had already been purchased from Hazell, Watson & Viney in 1914. This was followed by an office in Birmingham and even one in New York. Unfortunately, the New York office didn’t continue past the 1930s depression and the London shop suffered a direct hit in the war and didn’t re-open.
J W Ruddock & Sons, printing and bookshop, survived the war and whilst the great depression hit Britain hard with unemployment rising to a high of 30%, there was opportunity for businesses to take control and help revitalise the British economy. The advent of electricity and a new approach to regain trade by satisfying the needs and wants of customers saw direct mail become one of the foremost products of the company, with several copywriters being employed. J D Ruddock ran the printing side while J H Ruddock ran the shop in 1937.
In 1945, J G Ruddock (JGR), grandson of JWR returned from the war to find that not much had changed and there was no specific role for him in the business at that time. The advertising industry in post war Britain really took off, fuelled by the growing influence of US culture and success stories of the brands’ that were fast becoming household names. Realising the importance of sales for the business JGR started an advertising agency which enjoyed enormous success during the 1950’s and he ran this business until he gained control of Ruddocks in the 60s.
As with most printers’ a stationery shop complemented the business however the printing works, still at the back of the shop, was becoming more cramped and difficult to operate. The printing side had developed its own customers, while the shop had found its own suppliers, so the two were less connected, if at all. Compositors & typesetters formed the largest group of craftsmen in the printing industry during the 1950’s, however on the cusp of a technological revolution that was soon to dramatically reform the printing industry, this was set to change.
In 1969, JGR built a new printing works on Great Northern Terrace in Lincoln which initially had a dozen letterpress printing presses. We are still located at this address today! Printing was achieved by setting up type (in reverse), inking it and pressing paper onto it to achieve a true impression. Mechanisation was achieved by a machine which stamped out letters and most of the machines were single colour, so anything requiring more than one colour had to be printed three or four times.
All our printers undertook an extensive 6-year apprenticeship and two of the printers who went through the process during the 1970s are still with us today. This era saw the decline of hot metal presses and the business began looking at investment in offset litho technology. Two of the Heidelberg Cylinder and Platen presses were eventually converted into print finishing machines which we still use today and are a constant reminder of the impressive journey the print industry and Ruddocks have travelled together.
The introduction of offset litho printing was eventually achieved in the 1980s. One aspect of this was a large format camera that could take pictures of artwork directly which were printed onto plates after colour separation. ‘Large’ because the body of the camera was actually a room about 5m x 3m which included film development facilities. The Thatcher recession at the end of the 1980’s caused concerns for many local businesses including Ruddocks but the continuation of loyal custom and the Ruddocks drive to overcome challenges powered the business through uncertain times.
The large camera was replaced with image setting film, meaning for the first time we moved from manual to an electronic artwork processing. A new production manager by the name of Paul Banton joined us; he would later become our managing director who drives us forward to this day. Instruction manuals were a big part of our business, we produced them for household names such as Philips and also for the first videogames of the Tomb Raider series.
The new millennium marked a new era for Ruddocks. In less than a decade we upgraded our lithographic presses twice, most recently with a £900,000 investment in 2011, and digital print was continuing to grow at a rapid rate. The direction of the design studio shifted significantly following an evolution in trends, seeing the rise in demand for a creative design service, and we recognised the need to diversify and look at building relationships in new markets and sectors. In 2010 our national reach also increased, following the purchase of a digital printer in Essex.
Over the following few years we created a new way of working with our clients, ensuring we not only understand but also challenge, encouraging them to think differently in order to get to the heart of what they really need. Constant investment in talent has seen the studio grow to an 11 strong team, including an in-house illustrator, and internal marketing. The design studio has developed from a traditional graphic design studio into a modern design agency. Offering design and print as a package has pushed the boundaries, adding real value to our clients, helping them to better achieve their objectives.
2017 was a year of celebrations. Our work with British Steel received 7 industry awards at the Transform Awards Europe and CIPR Excellence Awards, and we were shortlisted for 2 further awards at the Print, Design & Marketing Awards and the Lincolnshire Digital and Tech Awards. Focusing on our employees, we introduced our Emerging Leaders Programme, and launched the Ruddocks Marketing Excellence Scholarship; a partnership with the University of Lincoln. Our client satisfaction survey results also made us very proud; having achieved a Net Promoter Score of +82, a real-time measurement of customer loyalty, puts us into the world class category!
Over the last 5 years, we have seen a monumental shift in both our business and our market, driven by unprecedented global change. From our 2019 celebrations to mark 50 years since the opening of our current premises, through to the impact of the pandemic; we have diversified and become stronger. Our focus now and for the future is on relationships. Adding to our offering through our network of trusted partners which feature alongside our core services to ensure we continue to exceed the expectations of our clients amidst the rapidly changing nature of the current commercial landscape. The Ruddocks story is evolving, and we’re excited about the new chapters ahead.