Printing industry trade directories from the 1980s show hundreds of printers in the boroughs of Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, and neighbouring parts of Clerkenwell, the areas covered by this project. Many of these printers have closed or relocated since then. Our project followed some of these businesses and the experiences of people who worked in them. While Clerkenwell was well known as a focus for the industry due to its proximity to the City, other areas such as Hackney Wick had a large number of printers and print-related businesses. As well as commercial businesses, east London was home to many community print workshops and radical presses, which allowed people to access alternative print sources to use for their own events or to promote political causes. As digital processes began to be used later in the 20th century, the industry as a whole changed. The whole area of east London has undergone huge changes including Olympic 2012 development in Hackney Wick and the Lea Valley, and rocketing land and property prices have pushed many businesses further out.
Lightboxes and Lettering has included research on printing in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest, with parts of Clerkenwell at the southern borders included, and a range of people from the industry have had oral history interviews recorded.
The late 80s we were in Carpenters Road, which was just printing paradise. There was printers everywhere, every corner, every trading estate, wherever you went there was printers. If you went over for lunch and had a pub lunch, there was loads of printers and you got a lot of your work like that. “Oh hello Barry, how are you, ain’t seen you? Oh by the way I’ve got this job”, you know, “Can you get it done for Tuesday, I’ve got 800,000 four pages,” and all that sort of thing. And that’s how it all built up, all the way around, everyone scratched each other’s back.Barry Tucker, BMT Print Services, Leyton (formerly BRG in Hackney Wick and Carpenters Road)
There was Hatton Garden I would walk up. Everywhere, there was printers. There was one across the road; there was a platemakers next door. You only had to walk up the road and all you could hear were Heidelberg cylinders running or folding machines, the crack of the folding machine.
Colin Nixon, Eagle House Press, New North Road
The great thing being in Hackney was that there was this wonderful collection of people. They could be carpenters, they could be copper plate. They would do all sorts of little ancillary things that we couldn’t do. You could always find somebody to go and do a bit of carpentry, do a bit of engineering or whatever.Roger Pertwee, Baddeley Brothers, formerly in Hackney, now in Woodford
Clifton Street was really a hub for printing – there was lots and lots of printers there, lots of typesetters, platemakers, finishers, there used to be a printers’ club that we used to go to, called the Watermark Club, and all the printers would go there at lunchtime and have a few beers and some lunch. And we used to pick up quite a lot of business that way, trading with other printers, so it was very, very good.David Amos, Barclay’s Print
In the late 19th century, Leyton and Leytonstone was expanding rapidly with thousands of new houses built over just a few years. The first two photos below of ER Alexander & Sons printers on Leyton High Road (at the corner of Coronation Gardens) show how many houses had been built in that year.
When I first met my boss, he gave me a little booklet and opened it to a picture of a rectangle, separated into something like 100 little rectangles of different sizes with a letter printed in it. And he said, ‘By Monday morning, I want you to memorise where each of those letters is because that will be integral to the rest of your working life.’ It was a diagram of what the inside of a typecase looks like. Inside each of those boxes would go the lead characters, letters, numbers, whatever, that would be used to make words.Frank Baum, Fisherton’s, Brick Lane
Tower Hamlets includes many diverse areas that would have had many small businesses like printers in the 19th and 20th centuries, and some of those included in the project are below.
Clerkenwell, with its proximity to the City, was the main area for printers in the earlier 20th century, with several large companies based there and whole areas dominated by the industry. Although our project mainly covered east London, we have also included some research on companies in parts of Clerkenwell that border Shoreditch. Some of the companies we have included in the project were previously based there and then moved out to Hackney and Waltham Forest.
There was Hatton Garden I would walk up. Everywhere, there was printers. There was one across the road; there was a platemakers next door. You only had to walk up the road and all you could hear were Heidelberg cylinders running or folding machines, the crack of the folding machine.Colin Nixon, Eagle House Press, New North Road