THE sweet smell of ink greets us as we enter Peter Sotheran's neat little Redcar print works.

He calls it his factory, but it's small. It is where his working life began in 1961, after he left the local Sir William Turner Grammar School.

Now, the 59-year-old is retiring and selling "the factory" and adjoining stationery shop bearing his grandfather's name, A A Sotheran.

The sale ends three generations of the Sotheran family ownership - but represents a new chapter in the history of the business which has become an institution to many.

During his school holidays, young Peter Sotheran earned 7s 6d (37p) working there for his grandfather, Alfred Alexander Sotheran.

Peter's father, Kenneth, was a qualified typesetter and Peter studied printing at Leeds College of Technology before returning to the business.

He then spent months in each department, learning the ropes. A branch of Sotheran's opened in Marske and he worked there for two years, before taking on more responsibility at Redcar.

He said: "In the Sixties, the presses were good, solid stuff, with nuts and bolts. We had hot-metal linotype machines and printing was then a labour-intensive industry.

"We had three compositors, two machine operators and an apprentice, all using a hot-metal system. Now, we'll do a week's worth of hot-metal jobs in 1 days with litho. We now have five staff in the factory.

"When I started, the main part of the business was printing commercial stationery for local firms. But things have changed significantly, with the huge growth of computers and desk-top publishing. We used to do 1,500 jobs a year. Now, we do half that amount, but the jobs are far more interesting."

He still champions good typography and design, and has considerable reservations about the poor appearance of amateur printing and attitudes.

"Many people may know how to use a computer, but they haven't studied the fundamental principles of good design. It's upsetting that some people will accept material which is of fairly unprofessional quality.

"They rely on software without the knowledge of what's good or bad."

Modern work is more varied and challenging. Typically, many books or pamphlets are short-run jobs, such as books and guides on local history, poetry, memoirs and reviews.

However, one book written by a Warwickshire church bell ringer has been reprinted many times - 80,000 copies have been sold worldwide.

At times, topics have been very specialised - such as The Psychology of Doctors' Surgery Waiting Rooms - or funny - the history of Blackburn written by three cats - or nostalgic - the memoirs of a Moors policeman at Goathland.

Production has had its challenges. One author died just before deadline, but his book was published with his family's help.

Away from books, the presses also print tide tables for East Coast angling shops, and possibly the biggest supply of small calendars in the North - 40,000 are printed annually for schoolchildren's calendar artwork.

The second important element of Sotheran's is mapping. It has been an Ordnance Survey agent for almost 30 years and stocks a huge range of OS maps and guides.

Additionally, it provides tailor-made maps for land and property owners, architects, farmers, solicitors and other professionals. The nearest other OS agents are in Leeds and Newcastle.

A special computer can print OS maps at any scale, focusing on any sized location - whether a city, street, village, field, garden or building.

Accurate measurements can be given for land, which has been used by many farmers in particular.

During the Nineties, they flocked to Sotheran's from across northern England to obtain individual maps for registration on an EU subsidy scheme called Ayax.

Accuracy became even more vital after Corsican olive farmers allegedly exaggerated the size of the groves, with the effect that the island's mass expanded by half.

When the English Ayax deadline approached in 1992, anxious northern farmers travelled to the Redcar shop from as far away as the Lake District and Northumberland. Delays at other mapping centres only heightened the demand.

Mr Sotheran said: "Telephones never stopped ringing. We put in an extra line and hired a receptionist.

"We served farmers refreshments over Easter weekend and worked until 11pm.

"We dealt with over 1,500 farmers in five weeks and none who had booked an appointment had to wait longer than five minutes. They joked there were more farmers in Redcar than at Bedale mart.

"Farmers brought their wives here for a day at the seaside. We've established a great rapport with farmers over the years."

He remembered one amusing telephone conversation with a Dales farmer, who was unable to reach Redcar and had little sense of geography - or the points of the compass.

"I asked him over the phone if his particular field he described was above or below a location I'd pinpointed on a map.

"He said it was to the side, so I asked east or west? But he didn't know. So I said left or right?

"He replied 'eeh, lad, I've always had problems with me hands'. When I asked him which foot he used for the clutch pedal in his car, he said he drove an automatic Volvo! Eventually, he sent a map with a note attached."

Despite the fun, the period was extremely pressurised and he praised his staff for their skills and patience.

Now, he is selling up, as his four daughters work in other sectors. He is looking forward to a little more time with his wife, Sue, a retired teacher.

But he plans to remain active in the community. He is president of Guisborough and Great Ayton Rotary Club, a bell ringer at St Mark's Church, Marske and chairman of Sir WilliamTurner Almshouses at Kirkleatham.

He also served on the BBC's North-East regional advisory committee for six years and was the founding chairman of both the Redcar Business Association and the Langbaurgh Twinning Association.

In addition, he served on the advisory committee of Cleveland College of Art's printing department for ten years and is chairman of the community chest grant panel for Redcar and Cleveland's single regeneration project.

Local history is another great interest and he has a collection of 3,000 old photographs showing East Cleveland and the Yorkshire coast.