The printing press is one of the key inventions that changed the world and has come to be known as one of the most important inventions of all time. Allowing the swift replication and distribution of text and images, it has changed the way we learn and the way we communicate news, ideas and knowledge. In the 21st century historic printing is still a highly skilled but endangered craft, which is coming under pressure with only a few working historic printshops remaining open and active in the UK.
Nestled in the heart of North Norfolk lies the Norwich Printing Museum historic printing shop, tucked behind Blickling hall in one of the farmyard workshops. The print shop is still using historic printing presses and traditional techniques to share the history of printed text with demonstrations for visitors to the museum. The workshop opened at Blickling in July 2021 after a having a tough time finding a new accommodation during the pandemic.
The Printing Museum was founded in 1982 by Peter Jarrold, the then Chairman of Jarrold and Sons Limited (the Company), with colleague Mike Fuggle and a small group of volunteer members, mainly consisting of retired print industry workers who were keen to continue their involvement with traditional printing skills. Peter Jarrold, who devoted his career to Jarrold Printing, dedicated the Printing Museum organisation to his father, John Jarrold, a pioneer and renowned innovator in colour print reproduction techniques. A group was set up and officers appointed including a President, Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer. Peter Jarrold was the founding President and officers were proposed from the retired printing volunteers.
Although the core of the collection is made up from some of the original collection from Jarrolds and Sons Ltd, many of the presses and other pieces of equipment have been generously donated over the years by individuals and printing firms that had ceased trading.
In 2018 the print museum had started to look for a new home to house the printing collection. In 2019 every piece of equipment, machinery and type was packed with care and stored to await being transported to their new lodgings. Unfortunately, when the pandemic hit in March 2020, finding a new location to display the presses and collection became extremely difficult. Later that year the museum volunteers approached staff at Blickling Estate to propose setting up a pop-up printing museum on site and in July 2021 the print shop was opened in the farmyard.
Around 15 percent of the collection is on show in the busy little workshop with print shop volunteer technicians skilfully working the presses and sharing their vast knowledge with visitors. The sound of the clacking machines and smell of ink and metal makes a visit to the small museum unlike any other. Being based on the same estate as the largest library in the National Trust makes the print shop feel right at home and is happily neighbours with a rather lovely second-hand bookshop!
The print shop has the feel of a hidden gem about it. Most visitors to the estate come for the magnificent red brick Jacobean manor and parkland but are quite delighted to find the hidden bonus of a bustling historic workshop working away behind the east wing. The visitor book is packed with praise from holiday makers and locals who have been inspired by their visit and it is easy to see why. The store house where the pop up-workshop has been set up has been completely taken over, and is packed with equipment, workbenches, machines and cases upon cases of type leaving only small corridors to get around the shop. Every surface is covered with curious pieces of equipment, materials, proofs and bits of printed paper ephemera, it is difficult to decide where to look first! There are some pieces of interpretation attached to displays on some of the counters, but your best bet for information is to ask one of volunteers. I cannot possibly do justice to the wealth of knowledge that lies with the volunteers of the print shop, these craftsmen have worked with these machines and techniques for years and have such in depth knowledge and authentic stories about working in the printing industry, it is truly what makes this workshop so special and an important part of British heritage. If you have ever wondered where the phrase, ‘getting the wrong end of the stick’ comes from, why text is called an upper or lower case or what makes Times New Roman, Roman, then these are the guys to ask!
The museum is completely volunteer led and run, with the skilled technicians and craftsmen trained to operate and care for the printing equipment and well as give demonstrations of book binding, printing and lots more. All the volunteers are keen to share their tradition craft skills and to keep the practical skills alive and to celebrate the craft.
In future there is the hope of starting workshops again, post covid, and training courses to start sharing the skills and knowledge in earnest. With the restrictions of social distancing this is not currently possible, but the print shop remains hopeful for the future and is planning learning modules, book binding and printing workshops, demonstrations and maybe even apprenticeships to utilise the working equipment and keep the traditional craft alive and well. There is also hope for more of collection to coming on display providing more space can be found. Events and workshops will be listed on the print museums website and social media platforms, so keep an eye out for any events including the traditional printing ‘wayzgoose’ an annual gathering of printing folk.
The Print shop will reopen at Blickling Estate in April 2022. Details of opening times will be posted on their website as well as the Blickling National Trust website where you can also find out how to find them.
With eyes set on expanding their offer, the print museum is looking for more volunteers, if you have been trained in the print industry and would like to consider volunteering, then please get in touch with Jules at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Registered charity: No. 1186762
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Elizabeth is heritage professional living in the East of England, working as part of a historic collections care team for the National Trust in Norfolk. She is working on achieving her AMA (Associateship of the Museums Association) and is busy visiting as many museums and historic sites as possible to enrich her knowledge of the heritage sector. Alongside collections care her research interests include costume and textiles display in museums and recreation of garments for research and interpretation.