Saturday, 24 November 2012


The Brother factory in Wrexham made its final typewriter last Tuesday and donated it to the Science Museum. 

Not just the last typewriter to be made in Wales but the last typewriter to be made anywhere in Britain.  I was surprised to read this and had thought that typewriter production would have ceased decades ago.  I find it heartening that somewhere there are people who use typewriters out of habit, confidentiality, stubbornness or economy.  I hope they will continue to be able to source new ribbons and indulge delaying habits such as cleaning the keys with blu-tack and mopping up residual dirt with a fine paintbrush.  Somewhere there are writers still hearing the warning bicycle-bell ring that says they have come to the end of the line and can go no further.

I still have an ancient portable (a Litton Imperial) which was briefly brought out of retirement about seven years ago to type up teaching hand-outs during a week-long power cut.  I look at it gathering dust in the corner of my study and wonder if Oxfam would take it.

Earlier this month, Valerie Eliot, T S Eliot’s second wife died. 
She was a shorthand-typist and T S Eliot’s secretary.  One of her great achievements was liberating the original typed drafts of The Waste Land.  After Eliot’s death the drafts languished in the New York Public Library.  In 1971 Valerie Eliot published the facsimile and transcripts of the original drafts of The Waste Land, showing the crucial part played by Ezra Pound in editing and revising Eliot’s original ideas. 

When did you last see a job advertisement for a shorthand-typist?  Yet for millions of women in the last century (including my mother) it was their daily employment.  


Just there – the iron black typewriter –
Remington in gold letters.  Dust between the keys –
filaments of paper, skin cells, hair, threads
from a utility dress.  I remember her clothes –

the coupon bought shirt-waister, knitted cardigan,
straight seams in her seamed stockings,
the scent of Yardley lavender.  It’s as if I clicked                  
copy this file and all the pages she ever typed

come flying across my memory, the letters
grey with age, the paper acid yellow.
Her fingers rest on the home keys;
as she touches s a diamond glints,

swaddled in white gold.  The ribbon spools
and unspools until it wears to rags.
She is the concert typist of the keyboard,
her bobbed hair a permanent wave to the past.

©  Mary Robinson 2012


  1. I so enjoyed this post, including 'Transcript', Mary. My mother too was a shorthand-typist. I would be inclined to hang onto your (marvellously named) Litton Imperial in case you should have to endure further lengthy power cuts. I can picture you bashing out the words, by candle light.

    1. Thank you very much, Christine. Glad you liked the poem.`