The other week we were delighted to welcome The Prince of Wales for a tour of the Foundation. HRH was taken around the building by CEO Glyn Farrow in order to showcase the charity’s ongoing services to the cultural heritage of London.
St Bride Foundation has had a connection with royalty since its inception. An ornamented stone on the wall in reception states that Prince Edward VII officially opened the charity in 1893. The current Prince of Wales has also been here before, visiting in 2002 to mark the 300th anniversary of newspaper production.
Nevertheless, arrivals of this esteem remain a rare privilege and so are still met with a nervous excitement. They are a royal anomaly to the typical week at work, where ‘nerves’ are only ever really caused by the risk of ink spillage.
The tour was divided into numerous sections to reflect the many functions of the Foundation. The first of these was the library and archives. St Bride Library opened in 1894 as part of the printing school. It quickly became one of the leading sources of information on printing and typography in the world.
In the weeks prior to the event, thousands of books took part in a rigorous audition process for a chance to meet The Prince. The lucky winners included Dr Johnsons’ dictionary, the Kelmscott Chaucer, and a beautifully bound edition of Macbeth. The diversity of our collection is something that we were keen to portray. Each of these publications offer their own unique contribution to the history of the printed word and the book.
The special occasion was also used to show off our newly restored William Blades’ library, where other famous works from Caxton and Wynkyn de Worde were on display.
Books weren’t the only things exhibited. In the archives, the building’s architecture was also given attention. Here a small square of the ceiling had been taken out, allowing a narrow glimpse of the original wood and glass frame above. In the future, we hope to strip back the building to its original Victorian skeleton.
The architecture is a core feature of what the Foundation represents and thus a huge element of our central mission. It’s ultimately another way of displaying the cultural and historical legacy of printing, Fleet Street, and Victorian London in general. So although showing the heir to the throne our ceiling may appear to be strange, we assure you that it was an important part of the visit and not because we ran out of books.
Next stop was the workshop. An underlying debate in the days prior to the royal visit regarded royal etiquette. How does one greet the Prince of Wales? Do you handshake? Do you bow? During this part of the tour, it became apparent that a certain someone (Mick Clayton) clearly wasn’t intimidated by such protocol. Before showing Prince Charles how to pull a print on the Duerer, the ex-compositor cheekily requested a union card. Mick’s ice breaking question received the biggest laugh of the day and also earned him a mention in the Telegraph. The picture below captures the moment quite well.
Back in 2002, HRH printed on the Albion. This time he used our latest acquisition, the Duerer Press, which was built by Alan May in collaboration with the Duerer Press Group. If we are lucky enough to host more royal visitors in the future, then we’ll be sure to have another press lined up.
An enthusiastic expedition around the four walls of the workshop soon followed. Guided around by Mick, the visiting party was given an education on the history of printing and the processes of newspaper making. Our resident wood engraver, Peter Smith, was also there to show HRH some of his latest work. Preserving these crafts and incorporating them with contemporary art and design is ongoing aim of the Foundation.
Coincidentally, Prince Charles visited on a day when we were running a one day Adana course. Meeting Prince Charles wasn’t actually included in the lesson brief, but our student seemed pretty happy. Unfortunately, we do not offer royalty at any of our other classes.
Before leaving the workshop, Prince Charles was shown The Bridewell Theatre through a secret door at the rear of the room. The upper rear gallery provides a top down view of this unique space, which has been used for the performing arts since 1994. At the time, our current theatre-dwellers, LAMDA, were busy building the set for their upcoming show, ‘Rent’.
The tour concluded with some tea and coffee in the Bridewell Hall. Around thirty guests from various industries mingled, all subtly crossing their fingers in the hope that HRH would make it to them. Meanwhile, a military operation was underway in the kitchen to ensure that the Prince’s drink was timed perfectly for his arrival. After all, we pride ourselves as also being a fine venue for events; serving cold tea would have contradicted this. Once Prince Charles entered the hall, he took the time to talk with everyone in the room (the scene was described by Darrel Danielli, editor of Print Week, as a ‘ networking masterclass’).
Before departing, HRH left a signature in our visitors book. His print and signature will be kept safely as a record of what was a very special day for everyone involved. The visit also attracted a bit of media attention, so we may now also be able to pride ourselves as the first group of people to get letterpress printing into Hello! Magazine. This in itself is evidence of our services to the cultural heritage of London. Although looking back at this day, as well as the future ahead, we’re sure that St Bride Foundation will continue to do quite a lot more.
St Bride Foundation is a registered charity (no.207607), which relies on regular donations in order to provide its many different services. If you wish to help us, then head over to our donation page here.