A group of artists and historians in East London has won a lottery grant to study the history of the printing industry in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest.
Rendezvous Projects has been given £58,000 from the National Lottery to back ‘Lightboxes and Lettering: Printing Industry Heritage in East London’. The organisers want to track the businesses and record working practices and what it was like to work in the printing industry before the digital age.
Lucy Harrison is project director and says that project hopes to gather photographs and other memorabilia from businesses that are in the area or have moved from it. “So many print businesses have closed or moved to make way for the Olympics and other property development.
“We are trying to record the experiences of people that worked in the industry and how the processes have changed.”
The Olympics Park was built on factories that had been a popular for printing companies, moved out of the City with the transition from letterpress to litho. Capital Print & Display’s factory was located directly under the main stadium before relocating to Beckton, for example.
This helped make the area a major centre for print, at one time boasting the largest concentration of Heidelberg presses outside the factory itself. There were other clusters of printing businesses further along the River Lea in Walthamstow and in Hackney.
“It is about how we used to work before digital processes arrived and we want to map where companies were through speaking to people who still work in the industry or who have retired,” says Harrison.
It will lead to an exhibition, a series of workshops to show how print used to be produced and to both a website and printed publication early next year.
“Printing has been an important industry in east London for may years. Access to small presses allowed political and community groups to easily print their books, pamphlets and leaflets, and many of these smaller firms were in east London,” the project says.