The Bells of St Clements’

Posted On November 7, 2014
November 07, 2014

Ex St Clement Danes Student Richard Ardagh, presented the school with a limited edition letterpress print on their 150th anniversary year.

Richard works in East London, dividing his time between graphic design using a state of the art Apple Mac and hand-printing at New North Press, a traditional letterpress studio.L1100836

New North Press run monthly workshops for the public giving a hands-on introduction to the craft of letterpress, from composition (hand setting, spacing and locking up type, inking and pulling the press). Access to their library of wood, metal and 3D-printed fonts is open and everyone leaves with a printed example of their work.

See for more information.

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When Richard Ardagh read in Chorleywood Magazine that St Clement Danes (SCD) school was celebrating its150th year he had a thought. Richard, a former Clement Danes student, had gone on to train as a graphic designer at Central St Martins and then set up his own design studio, where an early project involved creating a series of handprinted posters based on traditional London verse. One of his favourite designs, featured the lyrics of the classic rhyme Oranges and Lemons say the bells of St Clements, a song that had been part of the SCD annual commemoration service at St Clement Danes Church in the Strand. He decided that there could be no better space to display an Oranges and Lemons print than his old school so donated one of the limited run to mark their special anniversary.

The development of the edition itself has a fascinating story.
With a passion for typography, and especially the craft of traditional letterpress, Richard found an instant soulmate in Graham Bignell who he met through a shop in East London that was selling one of Richard’s posters. Graham was running New North Press and was an avid collector of printing blocks.
“Graham and I found we had a common interest in fine printing and the verbal histories of London so I went to visit his studio, New North Press, saw the press and havent left him alone since! We started working together, designing limited edition posters based on traditional East End rhymes and printing them at his premises.”

The creation of Oranges and Lemons came around the time that Richard’s partner, Anne, was pregnant.
“The thought of the baby brought back memories of childhood and the Oranges and Lemons rhyme. Strangly enough when our first daughter was born, we decided to call her Clementine! She’s now three and a half.”

The verse comes from the seventeenth century and refers to the bells of six churches, all within or close to the City of London.
“We made a limited run of 130 which were set and printed by hand on an Albion Press. We did Pop goes the Weasel and One for Sorrow too. I wanted to make them as big as possible – they are massive, over a metre long and 80cm wide,  as big as we can print!”

Original letterpress, which involves hand setting individual letter blocks, inking and using a cast iron press, gives a distinct texture and individuality to the finished text and images. Once the only technology used for all printed matter in the UK, there are few working presses still running.

New North Press is packed from floor to ceiling with drawers full of print blocks, the smallest made of lead (6pt) only millimetres long and largest in wood over 2ft, and Graham travels all over to add to the library.
“Most of the blocks came from old printers who have closed down. They have to be consistent in size, British and European letters are different in height so we can’t mix them.Sometimes we don’t get full cases and alphabets. We only have a few of the largest letters, so are restricted in what we print but we have O and N so we realised we could make up the word London by splitting it into two halves!”

Working with letterpress is a very time consuming and painstaking process..
” Switching from doing graphics on the computer to letterpress is a bit like going on holiday. It needs a gradual slowing down. It’s very therapeutic and it takes a while to adjust to it, you have to get into the rhythm.”

Nothing beats the texture and personality of traditional letterpress on a good paper
“ When it’s done properly people can’t tell it’s handmade so they often prefer to see defects –  which is difficult as its hard for us to accept bad printing!”

The Oranges and Lemons poster is in the process of being framed for St Clement Danes but if you get a chance to see it, be sure to appreciate the history of the rhyme, the tradition of the printing process and the skill of the designer and creator, Richard Ardagh.
And if you spot any irregularities, remember they are left in deliberately to add to the character!

Richard Ardagh’s portfolio can be found on   Commissions and corporate work undertaken
Richard and Graham run monthly workshops for the public giving a hands-on introduction to the craft of letterpress from composition ( hand setting, spacing and locking up type to printing ( inking and pulling the press) Access to the library of wood and metal types is available to everybody and everyone leaves with a printed example of their work. Classes run over 1 or 2 days and cater for groups of up to eight. Basic knowledge of graphic design helps but not essential.  Tel 020 7729 3161

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