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Every printing office is called a chapel. The term is supposed to have had its origin from the first introduction of printing into England by Caxton, who executed his works in a chapel adjoining Westminster Abbey, Moxon however gives a different account, for which see Ancient Customs.
A chapel, in the technical sense of the word, is when the workmen agree to certain rules for the good order of the printing office.
All the compositors in a composing room, and all the pressmen in a press room, who are journeymen, form the chapel in each department, (for they seldom unite,) in which one of the number is elected, during pleasure, as president, or The Father, as he is styled. In their assembled body they enjoin regulations, and enforce their due observance; they also take cognizance of any disputes, and any grievance that may be complained of, that arise within the chapel, when called upon for that purpose; and there is no appeal from their decision.
The chapel is in general sanctioned by the master printer, on account of some of the rules tending to the preservation of his property; — such as the infliction of a fine on any one connected with the house leaving the premises without putting out his candle or leaving it in charge, or for throwing types, quadrats, or furniture, at another; and for the regular despatch of business, so far as regards the forwarding of work in general — but in addition the workmen make particular regulations for themselves, with regard to their own mode of working in companion ship, &c. The chapel will also, if appealed to, enforce these bye laws, if I may so term them. The fine for leaving a candle burning, is, I believe, never remitted; it is generally sixpence for a workman, double for the overseer, and half a crown for the master of the house.
The person who first sees the candle extinguishes it and delivers the candlestick to the Father, who keeps it till the fine is either paid, or promised to be paid; for Monday is the regular pay day in a printing office.
There are frequently a number of devices resorted to to induce a workman to go out after the candles are lighted, for the sake of the fine — the open air being the boundary — such as saying, a person is below who wants to speak to Mr. ——; this is usually avoided by the party giving his candle in charge; that is, saying to some one, Mr. ——, take charge of my candle. This person then becomes responsible for the charge as well as for his own candle, and has to pay for both should he leave the house without putting them out, or giving them in charge to some other person.
I have previously said that the office of Father is during pleasure, although I am aware that Mr. Hansard, in his Typographia, has stated it to be otherwise; but I have known instances of the Father being deposed, after having held the office for many years, and a successor appointed and deposed within a fortnight, merely for the sake of the initiatory fine, which is usually a gallon of porter. These instances have occurred when a flush of business caused an additional number of men to be employed in a printing office; some of whom being of a thoughtless disposition, and thinking they could outvote the sedate and the sober part of the workmen, call a chapel for the most trivial purposes, which thus becomes a hinderance to business, as it takes the whole of the men from their work.
But this evil produces its own remedy, when it is carried to too great an extent. Workmen get tired of being called from their employment, and losing time continually, on trifling objects in which they feel no interest: and they check the evil by fining those who call the chapel, when it is evident that liquor is the motive for calling it.
I remember an instance when calling chapels had become a grievance from their frequency, in which the party was so completely checked, that he never ventured to call another. It occurred during a flush of work, when there were temporary hands employed, some of whom were partial to liquor, and eager, to fine any one in order to obtain it. After deposing the Father two or three times, and calling chapels many times unnecessarily, a person left his candle burning one evening, and another passing his frame observed. Here's a candle left; whose is it? The reply was, Mr. —— 's. — If I had known that, I would have put it out. This was sufficient to bring the individual before the chapel, as it was held to be an attempt to defraud it of its due, of which the chapel is very jealous. Well, a chapel was called to take cognizance of the charge, without a doubt that they should levy a good fine for what they looked on as a great offence: but the established workmen of the house, and some of the additional men, had got tired of these repeated calls from their employment; and it being proved in the defence, that a party in the house had been for some time expressing a desire to fine this individual, who was of a warm temper, and had brought a charge against him for a thoughtless expression that was not acted on, the chapel decided that it was a conspiracy against him, acquitted him, and laid a heavy fine upon the accuser.
No person but the Father can call a chapel, which is generally held at the imposing stone: and when any one wishes to appeal to it, he notifies the same to the Father, stating the objects generally, and accompanying the notification with a penny. The Father will sometimes decline to call the chapel, where the object appears trivial; but if the notification be accompanied with the value of a gallon of porter, it is imperative on him to call it, under the penalty of being deposed.
The chapel never assembles without the fee of a gallon of porter, in addition to the fine it may impose; and this fee is always paid, even when it assembles to settle any disputed matter between workmen, when no fine is levied.
If any workman refuses to attend when a chapel is summoned, after being called on by the Father for that purpose, the first business is to proceed to judgment on him for contumacy, which is always punished by a fine; — the chapel then proceeds to the business for which it was called, and when the members cannot agree in their decision, or when the matter becomes personal, they decide by chalking. For this purpose, a large galley is placed on a frame, in that part of the room which is most private and cannot be overlooked, and a line drawn down the middle of it and at the top over each column is written for and against, or yes and no; one of the members then makes a mark, usually on the lenient side, which saves him from ill will, as it must be known on which side he gives his decision; the second generally marks the contrary side, so that the following persons cannot discover how any have voted. The Father, when all have chalked, examines the number on each side, and declares the judgment of the chapel.
It is an invariable rule that the chapel can do no wrong; and it is a crime to find fault with its decisions, which it would certainly punish with a fine if called on for that purpose, and the case was proved. All wagers of half a gallon of porter, or more, go to the chapel, so that they are never evaded, as the liquor is sent for by the chapel, which adjudges who shall pay for it: the consequence is, that when the object is to obtain drink, and perhaps a young man from the country to act on who is ignorant of the London customs, the cases are often of the most preposterous kind; for, instance, an experienced hand has been known to assert in such a case that a mallet was a planer, and to call it by that name, and then offer a wager, in support of his assertion, to the young man, who has accepted it. The chapel decided that it was a planer, and the stranger had to pay for summoning the chapel, and also the amount of the wager, by way of initiation.
The chapel also decides all disputes that may arise in the house, as well private, if it be appealed to, as those which may arise when two or more are employed on the same piece of work, and frequently fixes the price which shall be paid for it; for in doubtful cases a workman will prefer taking the collective opinion of his fellows, to acting on his own judgment, as it may affect them all. In this case the person who is on the work must not take less than the chapel fixes, without permission; and if the employer will not pay it, he, of course, must quit his situation. If, after the chapel has fixed a price for a piece of work, a man should venture to do it for a reduced price, he becomes a “Rat.”
In a press room there is sometimes a fine for men throwing water at each other, which dirties and spoils the paper; — and in hot summer weather, when a man has been desirous of a draught of porter, an instance has been known of his falling down in a pretended fit and when another in kindness has procured some cold water and sprinkled his face with it, the other has jumped up and accused him of throwing water at him, on which he has had to pay the fine.
If any member of the chapel should be hardy enough to oppose its decisions, there are a number of ways practised to bring him and even the most obstinate, to submission. Every chapel is haunted by an imaginary spirit, named Ralph; and when any person refuses to obey its mandates, this spirit begins to walk, as it is termed. The first act is, in general, to hide the offender's composing stick; if this does not answer, his galleys are secreted; then the page cords, which secure his work, are cut, and his labour rendered more than useless, because he has to distribute his pie as well as to recompose his matter; if he still remains contumacious, the whole of the types in his cases are transposed, so that he cannot proceed in his business; and if he should still set the chapel at defiance, he is smoked, all the members of the chapel surrounding his frame, each with a lighted match of brimstone, and singing a doleful ditty; after this he is sent to Coventry, and every man becomes amenable to the chapel, if he assists him, gives him any information, or speaks to him; so that he must either submit to the penalties inflicted, or leave the house. When he submits, his apparatus is restored, and the types properly arranged again in his cases.
Apprentices never belong to the chapel; neither is the master of the house, nor the overseer, ever allowed to be present when one is held.
Many master printers are decidedly against chapels, as tending to encourage drinking, and the neglect of business; where this has been the case within my knowledge, the grievance has remedied itself, for the sober and industrious prevent the evil going to an extreme; and where there are a number of men employed, the majority will be found opposed to being called from their work repeatedly to decide on fractious or quibbling questions, in which they feel no interest; and by fining a busy meddling person, they put a stop to the frequent calling of chapels, which, as I have said before, are, generally speaking, promoted by temporary workmen, who seldom stop long in a house, and on whose departure the business is carried on in the regular manner, while, if one or two continue to work in the house, they soon fall into the old customs of the permanent men; for among the established workmen of a house chapels are seldom called.
It has also been objected to them that they tend to excite an opposition to the employer on the question of wages. This may have happened; but wherever I have seen a question respecting prices brought before a chapel, I have always seen it discussed in a fair manner, and the value estimated impartially, — the scale being kept in view for any thing nearly similar; — for among a number of workmen there will always be found men of principle, who would not sanction an unreasonable demand for the temporary advantage of a few shillings a week: and these men have always great influence in the decision.
Upon the whole, when I take into account the decreased risk from fire, owing to the fine for candles — the prevention of waste of materials, by throwing them about — the appeal for wrongs done in companionships, or for neglect, or throwing impediments in the way of business, and remedying them — I am of opinion that the advantages attending chapels, outweigh their disadvantages, and that the business is carried on with more regularity and promptitude with them than without them, particularly when it is taken into account that the rules and regulations laid down by the employer for the governing of his house, are adopted by the workmen and become chapel laws.
As many of the customs of chapels are passing away, I have been rather more diffuse in this article than the mere definition of the term might seem to require; but as I am not aware that any preceding writer has explained a chapel, I have been led to do so, that the knowledge of old customs might not be entirely lost. See Rules.