History of East London print industry on show

East London had a thriving printing trade in the last century providing jobs for thousands of people. But technological changes transformed the industry over the last 50 years. 

The “Rendezvous Projects” team has recorded the history of printing in East London and put their work on display at the Nunnery Gallery in Bow.

Pic: Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest

D. Smith and sons, Carton makers, printing carton sheets, 97 Lea Bridge road, 1959. 

The work done by the companies was varied – the presses printed books, posters,  magazines and advertisements.

Lucy Harrison, the project leader said, “The way we print things has been completely changed through digital technologies. Some things are produced digitally, some are printed digitally and the whole process of how we print things, even though the product is not digital,

 is still using computers. So people’s whole way of working would have changed in that period of time. I couldn’t see anywhere this history has been recorded and the experience of people who work in the industry over that period of time.”

The exhibition tells the story of the print industry across the 20th century, focusing on the east London boroughs of Tower Hamlets, Hackney and Waltham Forest. The exhibition includes historic photographs and printed items as well as workers’ memories, told through a new collection of oral histories.

The exhibition |Pic: Ibrahim Banat 

“Rendezvous Projects” started working on this in 2018 when they were awarded funds from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.  They worked with a team of volunteers to collect the exhibition’s material and coordinated with different organizations and companies to collect the archive and newly found items. 

The exhibition |Pic: Ibrahim Banat 

The exhibition examines and documents changes in the print industry, exploring the role east London played and the influences of new and digital technologies. Forgotten and intricate techniques are celebrated, with beautiful examples of print on display. These include booklets, catalogues, packaging and colourful posters that advertise anything from political events to music nights across east London. 

The exhibition is taking place until the end of March, (Tue-Fri 10am-4pm, Sat & Sun 10am-5pm) at Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, London E3 2SJ. 

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