Print Works: Part Three – The Martell Press

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!

Two Thanet schoolboys had already caught the addictive whiff of printer’s ink, oil, and paper that you find in any pre-digital printworks, from their father Norman, co-founder of publishers The Graham Cumming Group and owner of printer Westwood Press. Norman Martell printed town maps for councils, and diaries for clubs and societies, selling advertising in them to cover costs and generate a profit. 

So when his sons Charles and Henry Martell found a printing press at their school, St Lawrence College in Ramsgate, they started to print for themselves.

And when they unwrapped their Christmas presents in 1962, they found that their dad had bought them an Adana which could print an area up to about 20cm by 12cm. Adana printing machines were made between 1922 and 1999. Aimed at the hobby market, they were widely used by small, commercial printers and thousands of their vertical platen presses are still in use, often in the hands of artists and designer-makers.

Charles & Henry Martell’s original Adana, seen here in situ but now in the Print Works archive.

Charles & Henry Martell’s original Adana, seen here in situ but now in the Print Works archive.

From that small Adana, the Martells got to work printing calling cards, letterheads and other ‘social stationery’ and were paying tax by the age of 16. They learned as they printed, rather than through a formal apprenticeship.

In 1967, the Martell brothers had built enough business to move from working at home to opening their first print works, in Fitzroy Avenue, Margate, and in 1969 they took over a stationery shop on Northdown Road, Margate.

Advert printed by the Martell Press

Advert printed by the Martell Press

35 years later, the brothers employed around 30 people. The printworks had expanded into three units at Hopes Lane, Ramsgate and the shop had more than doubled in size after being destroyed by a fire in 1982.

For both sides of the business, local guesthouses, hotels, and tourist attractions were essential.

“I used to zig zag down the road collecting orders from all of the guest houses,” Henry remembers, “We did everything from menus and business cards to theatre programmes and postcards.” 

Advert for Goodwin Sands Fashion Show, printed by the Martell Press

Advert for Goodwin Sands Fashion Show, printed by the Martell Press

As tourism faded in Thanet, so did Martell’s trade until only the Northdown Road shop remained, selling stationery and offering basic design, printing and copying services. The shop closed in 2017.

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.

Leave a Reply