Print Works: Part Four – Working in the Print Industry

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!

There were a variety of jobs in the pre-digital printing industry, meaning works like the Thanet Press employed large numbers, and needed specialist suppliers so supported small printers, bookbinders, and other trades locally. The key jobs, as a compositor laying out type, proof reading pages, or working with the machines, were highly skilled. 

A printer’s apprenticeship lasted seven years, and involved study at an approved college as well as practical work at a print works. Locally, apprentices studied at Thanet School of Arts and Crafts, Canterbury College of Arts, or Maidstone College of Arts where they learned layout and design, typography, and to lay out lead type letter-by-letter.

From the 1950s, the print industry underwent radical changes, from traditional ‘hot metal’ letterpress printing to lithographic, and then computer typesetting and digital printing.

For print workers, that meant constant adaptation and learning new skills.

Things Caxton probably wouldn't understand: the evolution of the printing press

Things Caxton probably wouldn’t understand: the evolution of the printing press

“Printing’s changed more than any other trade. It’s changed from a room full of hot metal to an office job, but you need the same experience and expertise.” Jim Bellamy, Thanet Press

A larger print works like The Thanet Press was inevitably about more than the job: it became a place where couples met and got married.  Workers joined amateur theatrical groups, footballs teams, or showed with the horticultural society. And people created their own welfare state, through strong unions and paying into the ‘sick club’. It was common to find siblings working alongside each other, or generations of the same family working in print together.

We'll claim the record for being the first blog to mention printers and football in the same post

We’ll claim the record for being the first blog to mention printers and football in the same post

However, the print industry was old, established – and very male. The unions wouldn’t allow women to operate the printing presses, and they were kept to jobs in the bindery, finishing and stitching or stapling print jobs. 

“The bindery had about twice as many women as men working in it … It was a very companionable environment.” Pat Davies, Thanet Press

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 dawn@appletye.org

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 dawn@appletye.org

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

Print Works: Part Two – The Thanet 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!

In 1887 Frederick J Bobby, who had been running a small store in Bedford, moved to Margate and took over the Smeeds store, on the junction of Margate High Street and Cecil Square. With business booming, over the next few years Bobby’s acquired neighbouring premises to expand the business. In 1907, he bought a nearby stationers, and print works in Well-close Square. 

obby & Co’s Union Crescent works, depicted on a 1970s Eyre & Spottiswoode Christmas Card. The original print works were in the building to the left.

Bobby & Co’s Union Crescent works, depicted on a 1970s Eyre & Spottiswoode Christmas Card. The original print works were in the building to the left.

In 1909, Bobby demolished the old Smeed’s building, and the other shops he had acquired, to build Margate’s first department store, which would trade until 1972.

And in 1913, the Bobby’s printworks were moved from Well-close Square to a new, purpose-built factory in Union Crescent which still stands today. Next door was Bobby’s furniture factory and a trade showroom, and behind the works was Margate’s old Theatre Royal, which Bobby & Co used as a warehouse. The 1920s and 1930s were good years for Bobby & Co, and they employed famous commercial artist F Gregory Brown to design posters for the stores, as they expanded to other seaside towns. Bobby & Co’s presses worked until the end of the Second World War, printing material for the department store chain as well as for other commercial clients. 

In 1947, publishers Eyre & Spottiswoode took over the former Bobby & Co works. Their three London printworks had all been bombed, leaving them with a three metre deep pool of lead in the basement, so they moved their letterpress works to three new sites – Portsmouth, Chiswick and Margate. 

Advertisement for The Thanet Press

Advertisement for The Thanet Press

From 1953 to 1962, they expanded the Thanet Press and added a range of new buildings, creating almost 4500 square metres of floor space. By 1977, they had over 260 staff and were moving from traditional letterpress to digital typesetting. They printed exam papers, guides to buildings owned by the Ministry of Works (now English Heritage), academic magazines and journals, the order of service for the Queen’s coronation and Prince Margaret’s wedding programme. and packaging for high-end brands like Wedgwood.

For 30 years, Christopher Bradshaw was chief designer for Eyre & Spottiswoode. Passionate about traditional skills and craftsmanship (he was a founder of the Printing Historical Society) he was also an early advocate of computer design. He wrote Design (1964), on the theory of design, and commissioned Michael Twyman’s Printing 1770-1970 (1970), still a definitive book about the print industry.

Advertisement for Bobby's at Margate and Cliftonville

Advertisement for Bobby’s at Margate and Cliftonville

But by 1985, the print industry was facing radical disruption from new technology and Thanet Press was in trouble. Waddington & Co took over the struggling business and the 200 year connection to the Eyre family was lost. 

The company changed hands a few times but by 2011, now owned by the Graham Cumming Group and with staff reduced to just 85, Thanet Press was pushed into administration.

After being left derelict, and nearly being demolished to build social housing, The Thanet Press site has been split up. Part of it is the Carl Freedman Gallery, another will soon be Tracey Emin’s new studios. Upstairs, in the old bindery, is Counter Editions – producing limited edition prints for artists including Anthony Gornley, Bridget Riley, David Shrigley, and Juergen Teller. Printing has happened here for over 110 years.

 

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 dawn@appletye.org

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

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 dawn@appletye.org

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

Alternative Comedy Now

In the summer of 1979, two things happened which changed forever the face of British stand-up comedy. On 19 May, the Comedy Store opened in Soho – and a few weeks later some of the performers who had met there formed a group called Alternative Cabaret, described onstage by founder member Tony Allen as “a sort of collective of comedians, musicians, dope smokers, dole scroungers, tax evaders, sexual deviants, political extremists.” Taken together the Comedy Store and Alternative Cabaret kicked off a movement that became known as alternative comedy. This led to a radical reinvention of stand-up in terms of both form and content, and created what grew into today’s live comedy scene.

1984 flyer for Brave New Comedy, a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, featuring a young Paul Merton, then known as Paul Martin.

Alternative comedy was a youthful, iconoclastic thing, and many have made the point that it did for light entertainment what punk had done for music just a couple of years earlier. So it came as a bit of a shock when I realised that we were starting to approach its 40th anniversary. How could something so young and vibrant have started so long ago?

Clearly, such a milestone could not pass without being marked in some way, and the University of Kent was particularly well placed to celebrate it. Our Special Collections & Archives department contains the British Stand-Up Comedy Archive (BSUCA), which has an unparalleled collection of material relating to the beginning of alternative comedy. Its donors include key figures in the movement like Tony Allen, Alexei Sayle, Andy de la Tour, and Jim Barclay. We also have material from people who helped it spread across London and beyond, like Ivor Dembina, Monika Bobinska, Mark Thomas, and Ray Campbell. Indeed, BSUCA was started after we acquired the archive of the late Linda Smith, who cut her comedy teeth on the alternative comedy circuit of the 1980s.

Originally a venue, The Comic Strip collective quickly embarked on a national tour, released an LP and produced TV series “The Comic Strip Presents…”

A large selection of this material has been used to stage the Alternative Comedy Now exhibition. In it you’ll find publicity materials, photographs, press coverage, scripts, LPs, business records, and more. All of this is arranged into seven themes: the Comedy Store; Alternative Cabaret; the Comic Strip; the Spread of the Circuit; the Small Comedy Club; the Edinburgh Fringe; and Politics. The team from Special Collections & Archives have done amazing work in putting the exhibition together, particularly Elspeth Millar, Mandy Green, Karen Brayshaw, Clair Waller and Tom Kennett.

Poster, 1980. Smaller pub-based clubs were the lifeblood of the comedy circuit. The publicity materials took the form of homemade art that could be reproduced on a photocopier, like this striking example.

I’m particularly pleased that Jim Barclay and Andy de la Tour had time to visit the exhibition on a recent visit to the University. As Andy put it: “The exhibition is remarkable, I was quite bowled over by how much you’d manage to display.”

Oliver Double