The Art of Letterpress

In a tiny shop, on an ordinary north London high street, the antique art of letterpress printing is flourishing. A long, narrow, light-filled space carved out of an alleyway is home to salvaged printing presses that are being brought back to life. Multi-coloured prints flutter against the white walls while a newly discovered Arab press sits proudly in the shop window.

Fondly called The Corridor, the space is home to Harrington & Squires, a print and design business founded by Chrissie Charlton and Vicky Fullick. The shop opened in January 2006, but the business itself had started a few years earlier.

“My husband and I went to see a house for sale in Tufnell Park,” explains Vicky. “We quickly decided the house wasn’t for us, but still had a look around.  A back bedroom was filled with dusty presses, cards, paper and bits of type.  It turned out that the woman selling the house was a widow and her husband had been a print hobbyist. I thought this is really exciting, and ended up buying a press and some type.”

2016 04 19 HS Vicky Chrissie
Vicky Fullick and Chrissie Charlton, owners of artisan letterpress print and design company Harrington & Squires.

At the time Vicky was working on a freelance basis for Chrissie, who had a graphic design studio in Old Street.  The two women met in the mid-eighties when Chrissie gave Vicky her first job on graduating as a graphic designer.

Space was made for the press in one corner of the studio and the two women began experimenting.  They made a few moving home cards and invitations for friends.  An evening lesson with experienced graphic designer and specialist typographer, Deborah Akers, helped the women to quickly raise the quality and scope of their work.

2016 04 19 HS arab press
An Arab press, named Gloria, was a wonderful find. The fly wheel allows the printer to work at a faster rate than the Adana letterpress.

“We have just slowly evolved and grown organically from that start,” continued Chrissie. “We took a table at the London Book Fair which forced us to think about what we wanted to print and sell.  We met some interesting people and were inspired by the work of other printers.”

During this time, Vicky completed a degree in Book Binding with the London College of Communications.

“I was coming out of a time when I had young children and it was hard to be creative. So, I did an evening class in book binding,” explained Vicky. “The college asked if I wanted to stay on and do a degree, and I thought why not. I really loved it, and it has contributed to what H&S has become. I had to be organised, and was very swotty!”

Just as Vicky’s course came to an end, so Chrissie’s assistant in the graphic design business decided to move onto another role. It gave her an opportunity to consider her own future.

2016 04 19 HS playbill type
Vintage Playbill type in a drawer. It is hard to find complete sets of type today. H&S are slowly acquiring and conserving the pieces they discover.

“Since the late 1970s I have had my own businesses.  The most financially successful time was also the most unhappy time for me,” explained Chrissie. “I wasn’t doing what I loved, but was a rep and business manager.  This time, when my assistant left, I decided I wanted to focus on books, and produce things that people keep. Graphic design has become all about the computer.  I wanted something more hands on and to go back to print.  It was serendipity.”

Chrissie had originally trained as a graphic designer at the Hornsey College of Art where her letterpress tutors were Bob Harrington and Horace Squires. And so Harrington and Squires was born.

Some of H&S's work: wedding invitation and a christening invitation. The simple print style works well with coloured paper.
Some of H&S’s work: wedding invitation and a christening invitation. The simple print style works well with coloured paper.

Three elements make up the business: bespoke commissions, print workshops and their own products sold directly and on a small wholesale basis.

The letterpresses are ideal for producing personalised wedding invitations and birthday cards, and bespoke stationery. Over the years, the pair have collected cases of different typefaces and acquired more printing presses.

“We have to be disciplined because there’s just no spare space,” said Vicky. “But, we can do a job from start to finish right here. For our workshops, we only have two people in each session which means they get a lot of personal attention.”

2014 05 21 HS retail
Quirky cards, love books and fridge magnets are sold in the shop and online.

Settled into The Corridor, H&S is riding the new wave of interest in letterpress printing and artisans in general.  The simplicity of the method, combined with the striking paper colours and textures results in a product that is tactile and beautifully imperfect. New designers are keen to learn the hands on technique and quickly fall in love with the purity of the process.

The nature of letterpress printing means it is likely to remain a small business.  This suits both women who want a satisfying and productive working life, but also time to spend with family and pursue other interests.

“We are looking for creative satisfaction, rather than to make lots of money,” concluded Chrissie.

 

Useful Links: Harrington and Squires, London Book Fair, Wikipedia: Letterpress Printing, British Letterpress

 

 

 

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