Prince Charles visits St Bride Foundation

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Library manager, Bob Richardson, meets HRH in the Passmore Edwards room.

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Simon Eccles shows a beauitfully bound edition of Macbeth

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.

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Original architectural drawings of the Foundation.

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

CEO Glyn Farrow discusses future plans

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Wood engraver, Peter Smith, talks about his craft.

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Mick Clayton teaches a bit of letterpress.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

The finished print.

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’.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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’).

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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.

Prince Charles visiting St Bride Foundation

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You can read more on the day on our press page here. Photographs in this article are by Rick Bronks.

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.

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One thing you don’t want to pawn

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The Game and Playe of Chesse by William Caxton was one of the first books to be printed from moveable type in English. Printed at Westminster in the 1470s, if you had an original edition, then you would be the owner of a priceless print artefact.

Unfortunately St Bride Foundation doesn’t own an original copy of this book, but it does have the next best thing.

In 1855, in an effort to raise money for a printing charity, Vincent Figgins, the owner of a very successful London based type foundry, decided to produce facsimiles of Caxton’s ‘Chesse’. This necessitated the cutting of punches similar to the original typeface used by Caxton nearly 400 years previous.

No stone was left unturned for the project; the Figgins edition of the book utilised 23 woodcuts, and even the paper was specifically milled to be as close as possible match to Caxton’s original, made nearly 400 years earlier.

Even after all of this, Figgins wasn’t entirely happy with his creation. He wrote: “Could I have had a copy of the original alongside me during my progress, I should have succeeded more to my own satisfaction.”

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Figgins’ facsimile would have set you back two guineas, with the luxury edition (bound in calf leather with silver clasps) a mere three guineas. All the profits from the sales went to the Printers’ Almshouses charity.

The finest Columbian Black

This year sees the 50th anniversary of The Beatles crossing the pond to have a crack at America. 150 years before that, Mr George Clymer did the opposite journey – and brought a game-changing invention along for the ride.

While very similar to its rivals Albion and Stanhope, in that it could only print one page of type at a time, the Columbian printing press’s light touch gave it an edge over its competitors.

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Not only adding an impressive visual element, the eagle positioned on the top of the press acts as a counter balance system, with far less effort required to operate.

Here at St Bride Foundation we have two machinces: one of which is still frequently used in the workshops. To coincide with the press’s 200th birthday, a special book is being published, including the testimonials from the original promotional material!

Room 19: King Edward’s funeral train plaque

Room 19 contains a huge source of history and information – and indeed is the basis of many of our blog posts – but it is not all about the books. Hanging up by the entrance to the room is a plaque from King Edward VII’s funeral train. The train itself was built in 1909, and took the body of the king from Paddington to Windsor Central Station on 20th May 1910.

Three of these plaques were made but only two were used so there is a chance that our version of the plaque might have been made and then never even used!

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It’s a fascinating artefact, and a wonderful introduction to an incredible room: once you’re through the door of Room 19, 3.5km worth of shelving containing a wealth of print and type history awaits.

Gerald Cinamon: Collected Work Since 1958

Here at St Bride Foundation we always seek to point you in the direction of exhibitions and events that we feel you might enjoy.

One of our long term library users – and a great advocate for the Foundation – Gerald Cinamon will be displaying a presentation of his work post-1958. The presentation will delve into his early work at Penguin and look at how he was influenced heavily by Swiss design.

The exhibition, titled ‘Gerald Cinamon: Collected Work Since 1958‘, runs from September 4th to October 6th at the Institute of Contemporary Arts London.