The term chapel

Who here can tell us about the origin of the term chapel. My guess is that it is English in origin. Are there any old members of the ITU left who can contribute?
I doubt that there are any written references. Your contributions may be history or legend and lore. Could be interesting for the new/young printers.

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Do you mean chappel?


From Theodore De Vinne’s comments on Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises (published 1683)

The Chapel. The common belief that the word “chapel” as the trade name of an association of printers in a printing-house is as old as Caxton, and that it was so given from a chapel attached to “the almonesrye at the reed pale” in Westminster Abbey, in or near which Caxton did his work, finds no warrant from Moxon. His explanation is more reasonable :”…. some great Churchman, or men,… for the Books of Divinity that proceeded from a Printing-house, gave it the Reverend Title of Chappel.” I find no mention in any book of earlier date of the word chapel as a synonym for a fraternity of printers. Although England is regarded as the birthplace of guilds and fraternities, there is no old record of any association of printers as printers only.

As Ivan suggests, Moxon appears to be the best early source. He refers to a printing house as a “Chappel” in an appendix, “Ancient Customs Used in a Printing-house” in his Mechanick Exercises (the ones on printing, 1683/4). It’s worth reading Moxon’s original text on this, as it is the source of most later notions about the “customs of the Chappel.”

The *best* source for Moxon on printing is the Davis/Carter edition under the title “Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing.” Everyone interested in printing should have this, but (ironically) it’s out of print. Secondhand copies of the Dover edition aren’t hard to come by, though.

The 1896 DeVinne reprint of Moxon (lacking Davis & Carter’s excellent critical apparatus, of course) has been digitized by Google. You want Vol. 2 for the material on the Chappel. This Google Books ID will *probably* work:

If it doesn’t, I’ve also stashed a copy on my page at:

David M.

Ramblings from the U.K. in the *First Person* i.e. The author!!

Bona Fide Apprenticeship from 1954 - 1960 in Medium sized Print Shop.
Generally and because Union affiliation & membership was still strong across the board, the system was then that, potential apprentices were *taken on* with an initial period of 3 months (probationary only) and then offered a Job or the Door!!
If the former happened the Indentures were deemed to be operational from the day of the initial foot in the door, which meant that, All The world and his wife, knew EXACTLY which day matured Apprentices,s would be BANGED OUT and the stories that one has heard of were pretty much factual AND worse, inc. Paraded around on a Sack barrow or tied to a lamp post etc.

In the early 50,s outside of London at least in the provinces, the T.A. (Typographical Association) was basically king and after the probationary period Apprentices were obliged to take Junior Membership with the appropriate Pro Rata subscription,s but did get Union protection and voting rights @ Chapel Meetings .

The *Father of The Chapel* was elected on a show of hands for a 12 month period, The Clerk was also elected thus, kept and read the Minutes from previous meeting,s included outcome of recorded considerations, suggestions, etc.

This scenario became interesting in 1957 when there was a strike by the T.A. membership for approx. 7 weeks, because although Apprentices were in theory bound to the Union, They/We were bound to the *Master* far more so.
Consequently in our respective Departments we were allowed to perform the operations which we were being trained for, providing we had reached the required capabilities, but where machinery was involved, ONLY in the presence of the *Clicker/Charge Hand Foreman* etc.

Output was of course very restricted but the learning curve was improved rapidly, and in some cases a Bonus to apprentices wages was involved.!!

It was a fantastic time, there is a hundred and one (True) stories in the pending file, including the one about the Apprentice that got his collar felt re forged driving licences.
We believe that some records may still be on file, in Glorious down town Eastbourne Sussex U.K. so anonymity must be guaranteed for publication.
How long are fingerprints kept on file Stateside.???

The T.A. as above later became the N.G.A. (National Graphical Association) and we seem to remember became interconnected with S.O.G.A.T. (Society of Graphic and Allied Trades) which up to a point already existed, because Finishing And Bindery staff worked hand in hand and side by side with T.A. members.

I cannot find a definition of either chapel or chappel in Wickopedia. My dictionary makes reference to chapel as an association of persons in a printing firm.
I was of the impression that regardless of the spelling, (perhaps either) that it was the group of employees belonging to the union or guild and employed at a printing firm. A branch of the union or guild.
I have also heard it used to refer to a meeting of such a group. It was used in the sense that a chapel was called. This was a meeting on the spot to resolve some matter that irritated one or more members.

Keep it going guys. This is history.

Is the Westchester Chappel still active?

The original paperback book printed by Ben Lieberman outlining the modern chappel movement can still be found on Amazon.

The Modern Chappel Movement,: Or, at least, the Moxon Chappel Paperback – 1957
by J. Ben Lieberman (Author)

Lieberman based his chappel on Joseph Moxon’s “Mechanick Exercises” and used the same terminology. Each chappel was overseen by the “Father”, who was the “Master” in Mick’s situation and all members were companions. There are still 3 or 4 active chappels in the US. I happen to be a member of the original Palo Alto CA. Chappel founded by Ben Lieberman in 1957 and we are still very active, meeting 10 times a year and expected to print a keepsake for each meeting.

I am a former ITU member still at the trade in Canada. Have been self employed for 45 years. Back in the 60’s I left Canada with an ITU travelling card and moved to LA. The day after I got there I went to the ITU office. They told me to see the Chapel Chairman at a local paper and I was put to work that night. Same for my return to Canada. Fantastic. Then ITU was swallowed up by the Teamster Union in Canada. I had left previous to the takeover and do not know what became of the ITU in the USA. Can anyone explain there demise?

I worked in an important publishing house in London in the early 1980s and found out that most of the staff in the company were union members and that the chapel system functioned there as well, went only had ‘fathers’, but also ‘mothers’ of the chapel.

The ITU in the US folded into the CWA, Communication Workers of America. The rest of the US printing craft unions are now in the Teamsters.
At a large shop with multiple unions, each would have its own chapel, right?

A lot of historical information can be found in L. Voet’s masterpiece, The Golden Compasses, The history of the house of Plantin-Moretus.
For the ‘chapel’ see chapter 14, An Unruly Republic, volume 2, pp. 357 …
Specifically page 361. This link should direct to the online edition :

It is a lot of reading, but does explains the function of the chapel rather good, including comparison with the situation in England.
kind regards
Patrick Goossens, Antwerp, Belgium, home town of the Plantin museum.
Letter-kunde press

You are correct; your link led to a lot of reading.
It is excellent. Thank you