Artisan printer pens love letter to streets of Hackney
PUBLISHED: 11:36 17 March 2016 | UPDATED: 11:36 17 March 2016
"When computers came in there was a readiness to just bin everything, but there's a certain quality in letterpress you can't beat."
Graham Bignell is in the process of printing his latest design at his New North Press workshop, tucked away at the back of Hoxton Square.
He is surrounded there by tonnes of equipment and 700 types of material, which he has accumulated over the last 40 years.
Back in 1976 he was working for his A-level printing teacher in Victoria Park. Now he runs one of the two remaining letterpress printers in Hackney. But business is good, and his latest idea should be popular with locals.
“We’ve adapted a letter that was sent by Charles Lamb to William Wordsworth in 1801,” explained Graham. “His letter sings the praises of living in London compared to the countryside. Ours follows the same lines, but we have adapted it to describe what we love about Hackney in 2016.”
The text has been hand set in wood and metal type and is being printed in three colours. It will sell for £120 in his Columbia Road shop.
Graham continued: “We came up with the idea for the design, then we started setting – not only the letters but the white space around them. It was three days’ work, and then another three to print it.”
Graham, 62, is actually from Chingford – but is an adopted Hackney son who lives in Maynell Road, Victoria Park, with his wife and children. He has spent most of his life in the borough.
“I’ve seen it develop over the years, in some positive ways and in some negative ways,” he said. “I set up New North Press in 1986. Hoxton was really, really derelict when we came here, but it had a vibrancy and was quite lively. At that time there were lots of artists’ studios. Then the estate agents cottoned on and more and more people came.
“Our business is fairly unique and we think we’re the only ones left in the area now. There’s only I M Imprimit in Victoria Park.”
Graham was introduced to Richard Ardagh after spotting one of his posters at Nelly Duffs. The two went on to host the Reverting to Type exhibition there, which brought on a renaissance of sorts.
“I was printing for a long time on my own but the equipment just wasn’t being used enough,” he said. “I had another business as a restorer in the same space. Then I met Richard and we worked on the exhibition together and he came on board.”
The pair, along with colleague Beatrice Bless, host monthly workshops which are proving popular.
“Printed posters or hand-printed books have a lovely feel that can’t be matched,” he said. “It’s a craft.”