Print Works: Part One – Forgotten Industry on the Isle of Thanet

Special Collections & Archives has been working with Appletye – an artists’-led organisation based in Margate – to support their mission to record the Isle of Thanet’s rich printing heritage. In lieu of a physical display in Spring 2020 these guest blogs by Dan Thompson and Dawn Cole are our virtual equivalent – we hope you enjoy!
Map of the Isle of Thanet from a tourism magazine printed at Thanet Press

Map of the Isle of Thanet from a tourism magazine printed at Thanet Press

Each town on the Isle of Thanet is distinct. Ramsgate has its Royal Harbour, and is still an active port for pleasure craft, and the rugged boats that service the offshore windfarms north of Margate. Broadstairs is the quintessential seaside town, a curve of beach at the break in the chalk cliffs, with the town piled up picturesque behind it. 

Margate is brash, East London come to the seaside, proud of its egalitarian spirit and reinventing itself through art and culture. Turner Contemporary opened just shy of ten years ago, and the Old Town is now a jumble of small galleries, vintage shops, and quirky cafes. 

While the story told about the Isle of Thanet over the last twenty or so years has been one of tourism (Margate rebranded itself in 2011 as ‘The Original Seaside Resort’), there’s an untold history of the island. From the 1920s onwards, it became a centre for a set of light industries, based mainly on former farmland around Westwood, in between Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate. 

After the Second World War, the government recognised this and gave it assistance as an industrial area. 

Hornby made their model trains and Airfix soldiers at Westwood for 50 years. 

The UK’s first cable television was piped from the Isle of Thanet to homes across England by Rediffusion, who were at the sharp edge of innovation until the 1990s – they invented a precursor to the internet in the 1980s. 

In 1954, Pfizer opened research laboratories at Sandwich, at the edge of Thanet, inventing a way to mass produce penicillin and winning numerous awards over the next 60 years. 

Until the turn of the millennium, industry employed more people on the Isle of Thanet than tourism ever did.

And with both industry and tourism to service, the Isle of Thanet became home to a concentration of printing companies, employing hundreds in skilled, secure, well-paid jobs – some of the best printers in the country. 


About the Print Works project:

Print Works is a year-long project from Appletye, an arts and heritage organisation. The project explores the history of the print industry on the Isle of Thanet, taking inspiration from two former companies and the heritage of the sites they occupied at Thanet Press, Union Crescent, Margate and Martell Press, Northdown Road, Cliftonville. At the heart of the project are archives from the two Margate firms, recording the stories of the people who worked there and the work they did. 

Using the Print Works archive:

The Print Works archives include hundreds of examples of material printed in a pre-digital age, including much related to Margate, Broadstairs, and Ramsgate. It includes print for seaside hotels, entertainment venues, and tourism businesses.

The archive also includes documents relating to working in the print industry in the 20th century, from apprenticeship indentures to certificates from a print factory’s Horticultural Club. There are documents relating to design, typography, and the move from analogue processes like typography to digital design and print.

The archive is new, so includes primary material not used before in academic research. It is held at a studio in Margate. For more information email

Print Works is supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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