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An odyssey in search for printing’s lost heritage

As digital inkjet printing takes a significant stake in the industry, 3D print is on the agenda and methods of print finishing become increasingly automated it is worth a look at the heritage of an industry that dates back to the 15th century.

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The Jarrold Printing Museum in Norwich

Fortunately, there are a number of museums and heritage sites where the ancient presses and production methods have been preserved. So, should you fancy a day trip to one or an odyssey around England in search of print’s lost heritage then perhaps you could start at the British Printing Museum in Mablethorpe, on the east coast in Lincolnshire. (www.britishprintingmuseum.org.uk)

It is a private museum with a collection of letterpress printing equipment with working press exhibits dating from 1860 up to the 1960s. Open to the public by prior arrangement and to industry and education groups for meetings, workshops and demonstrations, the museum collection is based upon some of the original presses, type, wood letter and printing blocks used by The Portland Press, Mablethorpe from the 1940s and added to from time to time.

A beautiful Albion Press in full working order at Amberley House Museum

Another must visit place in England is the St Bride Foundation just off Fleet Street in London (www.sbf.org.uk) where there’s a collection of ancient presses in working order. The Foundation has regular workshops, a library for researchers and a wealth of printing heritage including precious fonts, drawings and early examples of print.
In East Anglia there is the John Jarrold Printing Museum, in Norwich (www.johnjarroldprintingmuseum.org.uk) which is open on a Wednesday and run by volunteers. The Jarrold family run a number of businesses in the city including a department store and a print and copy shop and funds help finance the print museum. Meanwhile the Beck Isle Museum, in Pickering, North Yorkshire (www.beckislemuseum.org.uk) is worth a visit in its own right with a Victorian theme to the various collections. Part of the museum is devoted to industry and features an 1812 Columbian press designed by George E. Clymer around 1812. It was still in use up 1972 commercially and is still put through its paces on craft days.

There are collections of printing heritage items and some presses at places such as The University of Reading (http://www.rdg.ac.uk/AcaDepts/lt/) the Bodleian Library in Oxford and The Centre for Printing History and Culture (a joint initiative between Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham) which encourages research into all aspects and periods of printing history and culture, as well as education and training into the art and practice of printing.

Part of the museum is devoted to industry and features an 1812 Columbian press

For two weeks in September, hundreds of places open their doors for free in celebration of England’s history and culture as part of Heritage Open Days, many of these with connections to the print industry’s past. Leicester Print Workshop is inviting visitors to experience an interactive tour of historical printmaking presses, with some dating back to 1838 and many still in use today. Guests will have the chance to use a letterpress type and print their own cards. Heritage Open Days takes place from September 6th-9th and 13th-16th.

St Bride Foundation has a collection of beautiful presses

In Cambridge there is the Historical Printing Room at the Museum of Technology and the Cambridge University Library, where there’s several presses  including a Columbian and a copperplate printing press. Other industrial museums have a section on printing such as the Amberley Museum & Heritage Centre, in Arundel, Sussex, (www.amberleymuseum.co.uk) and the centre has demonstrations of the Linotype, Ludlow and Elrod machines. I’m sure there are others and of course more museums of print across Europe.

Have we missed anyone out? Send in your notes on printing heritage in England – and those in Scotland, Ireland and Wales. Email to Harry - Harry@linkpublishing.co.uk or call me on 0117 9805 040. Or react to the story on Twitter and have your say.

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