‘Rich history’ of east London’s print trade on display for new exhibition

The Malvern Press on Dalston Lane in the 1970s. Photograph: courtesy Les and Peter Wynn

A major new exhibition at Bow’s Nunnery Gallery celebrates the evolution of the print industry in east London throughout the 20th century.

Lightboxes and Lettering, created by Rendezvous Projects and bankrolled by the National Lottery Heritage Fund, runs from 17 January until 29 March.

The show charts the changing face of the trade in Hackney, Tower Hamlets and Waltham Forest through oral histories, photographs and other printed materials – many of which have never been made public before.

Visitors will see images of iconic local shops, factory floors and machinery, presented alongside audio and video interviews with print workers.

These stories were collected by the Rendezvous Projects team and a number of local volunteers who were given free training in interviewing techniques.

D. Smith and Sons box makers, 97 Lea Bridge Road, 1959.
Photograph: courtesy Vestry House Museum, London Borough of Waltham Forest

Project leader Lucy Harrison said: “The print trade is such a rich part of east London’s industrial history.

“The technology of print, design aspects and the finished products all provide a fascinating insight into the evolution of the print industry in the area, from closed-shop union print works to radical presses and commercial, artists’ or community print shops.”

The show uses archived and newly discovered items form print companies and community organisations to explore east London’s role in the evolution of the industry, as well as the influences of new technologies.

Forgotten, often intricate techniques are on display in the form of booklets, catalogues, packaging and colourful posters that advertise anything from political events to music nights. 

International Women’s Day poster, 1987. Image: Lenthall Road Workshop

There is also a selection of prints and publications made during workshops run by Rendezvous Projects to demonstrate techniques and equipment of the past.

Peter Wynn, who used to own Malvern Press, which operated in Dalston from 1953 until 2003, said: “It is important that the history of the print industry in east London is recognised and recorded.

“The advent of the printed word in England in the 15th century saw London become a major centre of print.

“Due to its proximity to the City, its commercial heart, East London provided a base for printers to supply products and services that supported its rapid growth and, to some extent, still does.”

Lightboxes and Lettering runs from 17 January to 29 March 2020 at Bow Arts’ Nunnery Gallery, 181 Bow Road, E3 2SJ.