Trip to Amberley Museum

This Thursday, our band of volunteers, plus some of our keen colleagues from the International Centre for Victorian Women Writers (ICVWW) at Canterbury Christ Church University, embarked on an adventure to West Sussex, to visit the wonderful Print Workshop at Amberley Museum.

The idea of this trip, one of a couple we have planned as part of the project, was to give the volunteers a greater idea of how our Cropper Minerva printing platen fits into the wider story of letterpress printing.

Our second charge, as part of our Heritage Lottery Funding, concerns the recording and sharing of heritage. We are aware that the stories and experiences of these experts – in letterpress printing, in linotype, monotype and hot metal casting – rarely find audiences these days, yet they are so very important. The industrial past of our country, the contribution of these machines and these skills, stories of life as a printing apprentice and the like – these things should not be forgotten in our fast-paced, technological present.

So, as well as taking lots of photos and watching type being cast, we listened to and recorded some of the stories from those showing us round, and they will appear on this blog, soon.

The volunteers were able to see the evolution of the printing press, from the 15th century devices developed by Gutenberg, through to German motorised presses from the 1930s. It was fascinating to note the differences between flat-bed presses, cylinder presses, and free-standing jobbing platens.

We were also fortunate enough to be given a brilliant demonstration of a Linotype machine. Everyone marvelled as the machine operator tapped away on a large, multi-alphabet keyboard, causing a line of cast type to be emitted at the other end.

The expertise of the volunteers at the Print Workshop at Amberley Museum deserves recognition and accolade. It was a privilege to hear from them and to encounter their obvious passion for the craft. We are especially grateful to Peter and John, who showed us round, patiently answered our questions, and were very kind about our fledgling poem prints!

Here are some images from the trip:

This is a wooden Common Press, built at the museum according to the blueprints of these early presses:


Here, Gary expertly inks up the Columbian Eagle Press, in order to print some fun birthday wrapping paper:


We were very grateful to Peter for his stories, advice and expertise:



Here, the linotype machine is charging into action:


And last but not least, this is an Autovic platen from the 1930s. One of my favourites:


Hopefully there’ll be some more stories from our museum trip coming soon, so watch this space!



Today we finished printing page two… Ready to steam ahead with pages three and four next week.

The photos show the process of proofing the page, getting the registration (position on the page) right, and then getting the ink even.




Week Four

So, the autumn sun is shining, and we are looking forward to another week of workshops at Sissinghurst Castle.

Six workshops in, the volunteer team have grasped the fundamentals of letterpress printing well. They are a great bunch: eager, unflinching, tenacious and hilarious. It is a joy to work with them.

Our challenges this week will be to print, print and print…, to print with aplomb. Last week we motored treadled our way through 37 copies of the front page of the poem. We need to get to about 200 this week, to cut some more paper, and to start printing the inner pages of the poem.

We also now have the brackets to be able to finish the typesetting of the third page, which includes the lines:

           I am content to leave the world

           (Busy with politic perplexity,)



Behind the scenes, I’ll be working on the poem introduction / afterword, getting these ready to send off for the creation of photopolymer plates. These will allow us to print these heavier blocks of texts using the press, but will mean we don’t have to type-set and justify nigh on 1000 words of text 🙂

We also have the delights of the trip to the Print Workshop at Amberley Museum to look forward to. We’ll be looking at many different types of press, being talked through some of the processes involved in traditional printing, and hopefully chatting with some experts and enthusiasts.

Project Clerihews

One of our volunteers – Alison Cook – has been keenly writing Clerihew poems about the project, the volunteer team, and those who have inspired our work.

If you scroll down the blog entries, you’ll read some of the ‘rules’ of the Clerihew form and it’s history, but these should be read aloud, and are fundamentally satirical.

You can read them by clicking the below link. Enjoy!

Clerihews for Letterpress Reimagined 2014

Project Update

Week three of our Letterpress Reimagined workshops at Sissinghurst Castle has been one of progress, development and breakthrough!

On Tuesday, we worked to ‘diss’ the new fount of type, expertly cast for us by the brilliant Hell-Box Letter Foundry. Everyone got stuck in, battling tiny vowels with rusty tweezers. We marvelled at joined ligature letters: where there are words with a fi, or an fl, or an ffi/ffl, the hanging-over ligature of the f causes a tiny gap between the letters, which looks unsightly on the printed page. Thanks to a brilliant tip on this blog, we worked through our typeset stanzas and replaced all the culprits!

On Wednesday, Sandra, Carla and Ellie did a fantastic job running prints of the first page of the poem on the Minerva platen. We all felt such a swell of pride and pleasure seeing Vita’s beautiful words impressed on the page. We printed about 36 copies of a necessary 200 (we are taking no chances and printing lots of spare copies, especially as printing on the back of an already printed page will be one of the challenges facing us next week!

Next week will be fun: a couple of our lovely volunteers are on holiday, still another couple are off to see Kate Bush in concert (I am jealous!), but there will be a happy nucleus working away in the Old Dairy Barn. We have a bit more typesetting to do, and some more paper cutting and folding to achieve, but otherwise it will be a case of noses to the grindstone (or the printing platen, which is probably a more appropriate metaphor, but also a Health & Safety nightmare).

We are also really excited about our group trip to Amberley Museum – booked in for Thursday 18th. It will be brilliant for the volunteers to see larger presses in action, to understand how our Minerva platen fits into a wider collection of print technology, and to be able to hear stories from printing experts who have been doing this for their whole careers!

We’ll keep you posted!