One year dating presents
It is a question that presents itself again and again as the team explore – at the foundation’s January relaunch event – the newly revamped, grand events spaces of the downstairs Bridewell Hall and Farringdon Room, the pleasant, modern space of the library working area, and the still fully functioning historic presses of the print workshops, now used for a whole array of letterpress, linocut and engraving courses.
It is probably a question that gets asked most often in the William Blades Library.
The St Bride Foundation was established just off Fleet Street in 1891 as a cultural, recreational and educational centre for local people, particularly those associated with print, and central to this aim has been the gathering of historical print artefacts over the years.
This is the sort of place where you could open a drawer to stumble across, as Clayton did last year, an original, initialled Eric Gill type block.
It’s the kind of place where you might get around to investigating the contents of an Ilford film box, and discover a papyrus from the "We used to say it was almost certainly the largest print library in Europe, definitely England, but that’s when we thought we had 50,000 books and documents," says Glynn Farrow, chief executive at the foundation since 2009, and the man tasked with its reorganisation and with injecting it with a new lease of life.
"We now find we’ve got about another 40,000 that haven’t yet been catalogued so it’s really quite possible that we’re the biggest printing library in the world – and that there’ll be more exciting finds to come."The question that will be springing to most people’s minds is: how on earth did I not know this existed?
The inside and outside of the case are hallmarked as 14K gold and the inside is signed "Longines".
I could see no dents or scratches of any significance to point out to you."The number of people who have never heard anything about us is amazing," he says."We never used to show people these things, but now, thanks to upping our profile, we get people coming along – students, academics, retired printers or just passers by, and we do tell them, and they go ‘wow’."Also astounding those discovering the foundation and its historic building for the first time, is its colourful and indeed long history.Of course, the hive of activity going on inside the foundation was often more than matched by those activities taking place just outside the building’s red brick walls. "It was here through the First World War, kept going by the women who were left behind when the men went off to fight.It survived the depression of the 1920s, the general strike of 1926, then there’s the demise of Fleet Street in the 1980s."The most perilous time for the building and its collection was undoubtedly the Second World War.