Lightboxes and Lettering was a project by Rendezvous Projects CIC which took place from 2018 to 2020, funded by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and focussing on the experiences of people involved in the printing industry in the pre-digital era in east London, mainly in the boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, with some parts of Clerkenwell.
The project culminated in an exhibition at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow in 2020, which was cut short by the Covid-19 outbreak, and so we have created this online exhibition including most of the material that was in the show.
Printing – in particular offset lithography, silkscreen and letterpress – has been an important industry in east London for many years. The industry changed a great deal with the arrival of digital technologies, and new processes have transformed the everyday lives of print workers. In addition, the changing nature of industry in general in these east London boroughs, and rising property and land values, has meant that many businesses have moved away or closed. The number of print workshops is now much reduced and those still in operation are working in very different ways to how they would have done only a few decades earlier. While continuities exist in some processes and roles, Lightboxes and Lettering exists in part to emphasise the importance of documenting the development of the industry, its people and processes before they are forgotten.
The project included a collection of oral history interviews with people involved in many aspect of the print trade, in the past and present. These first-hand accounts of the industry cover the range of trades and roles involved in it, how people’s careers and businesses began and grew over time and their reminiscences on the changing nature of print. The interviews will be housed permanently at the London Metropolitan Archives in Clerkenwell, in the old Temple Press building. Some extracts are included here.
We held and attended workshops and visits to archives and libraries including London Metropolitan Archives, London Boroughs of Hackney and Tower Hamlets, Bishopsgate Institute, St Bride Library, the Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell and Vestry House Museum in Walthamstow, all of which have substantial print-related holdings. These gave us access to trade handbooks and guides to where industry premises were housed in east London, how companies relocated and in some cases where premises were shared between companies.
The project maps former and current businesses, recording the experiences of their founders and their employees, and collecting printed matter, objects, images of print workshops and details of technical processes. Using oral history interviews, material from public archives, private collections and digital media researched with our volunteers, Lightboxes and Lettering shares the findings of the project’s investigations into print and printers.
Lucy Harrison and Rosa Ainley, Rendezvous Projects CIC
Rendezvous Projects is a Community Interest Company working on creative projects exploring social history.
The project was run by Lucy Harrison and Rosa Ainley with a team of volunteers.
Volunteer Co-ordinator: Helen Johnston
Oral history interviews carried out for the project will be deposited with London Metropolitan Archives for public access.
Interviews were carried out by Rosa Ainley, Paul Bolding, Mike Caulfield, Ellen Dobbs, Holly Gilbert, Lucy Harrison, Linda Mezaks, Karolina Simaskaite and Linda Williams.
Transcriptions by Lucie Boase, Paul Bolding, Jenny Clark, Sophie Contento, Jackie Kinnear and Lorna Seymour.
Russell Frost, Hooksmith Press
Les and Peter Wynn, The Malvern Press
All the volunteers who carried out research, interviews and transcriptions, and helped with other aspects of the project.
The individuals and companies who helped with research, recorded interviews and lent material for the exhibition and book.
The archives who assisted with research:
London Borough of Hackney Archives
Islington Local History Centre
London College of Communication Library and Archive
London Metropolitan Archives
Marx Memorial Library
St Bride Library
Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest