History of Printing in East London exhibition to open in Tower Hamlets

Printing Photograph. Pic: Rendezvous Projects.

Printing has played an important role in history and has been shaping the country and its politics since the 1900s. Now, a new exhibition in Tower Hamlets will document printing’s development in East London across the 20thcentury.

Bow Arts’ The Nunnery’s exhibition ‘Lightbboxes and Lettering; Printing Industry Heritage in East London’ will display historical artefacts related to the printing process, examples of prints from ever changing methods and types of printing, and photographs of the different the businesses that existed. 

The exhibition, which runs from 17 January to 29 March next year, is produced by Rendezvous Projects, a community interest company, after receiving a grant of £50,200 from the National Lottery Heritage fund. The company produces projects that explore social history and provides opportunities for communities to participate.

A spokesperson for Rendezvous Projects said: “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.”

Lightboxes and Lettering will tell the story of the print industry and how it has changed across the 20thcentury, and particularly focuses on the boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest. 

Lucy Harrison, Director of Rendezvous Projects CIC, told EastLondonLines: “The history of the printing industry in east London in the 20th century includes a diverse range of businesses from letter press and foiling to offset litho, radical presses and community workshops to large prestigious businesses.”

As well as sharing workers’ memories, there will also be a series of oral histories, where visitors can hear former print workers speaking first hand about their experiences working in the printing industry.

Sophie Hill, Director of Arts & Events, Bow Arts, told EastLondonLines: “Celebrating local history is a constant thread in the Nunnery Gallery programme, especially industrial history, as it was industry that shaped the east London we know today. The innovation of east London’s industry is something we explore through our own National Lottery-supported heritage series, Raw Material and Lightboxes & Lettering continues this story with the print industry – the impact of which could be compared to social media at times across the 20th century.

“Tower Hamlets is one of London’s fastest growing boroughs and it’s through exhibitions like this that residents old and new can learn and remember the rich history of their local area.” 

Rendezvous Projects is currently compiling artefacts from both public and private collections that have been kept by former members of the industry.

The series of personal items that are being donated to the project relate to various companies, co-ops and radical presses across the East End.

Stuart McLeod, Area Director London & South, The National Lottery Heritage Fund, told EastLondonLines: “The printing industry is a key part of East London’s heritage and thanks to money raised by National Lottery players, this project has been exploring and preserving its legacy.

“The project gave volunteers the opportunity to learn new skills and members of the public to share in an important part of London’s story.”

The exhibition will celebrate time-old techniques and processes, but also document the transition into modern day printing through the development of new digital technologies. 

Harrison added: “The industry as a whole has changed a great deal due to the impact of digital technologies, and in east London this is compounded by rising property prices and large scale developments. This project aims to record the experiences of people who worked in the industry and to showcase their work and the way that these places have changed.”

Visitors will be offered a designated events programme, which includes artist-led workshops where they can have a go at traditional printing.

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