Our good friends at Huit Denim introduced us to Nick, he visited them at their workplace in Cardigan. He’s been on an epic journey cycling around the UK with his letter press, we caught up with Nick when he visited us at Grenson factory in Northampton and asked him about his trip and his favourite spots in Bristol.
Can you tell us why you decided to cycle around the UK with your letterpress?
Well, it was a set of circumstances really. A friend of mine, Cally Callomon has a documentary film from the early 1980s that I’ve seen twice now, both times I’ve found it both inspiring and emotional. It is about a knife grinder who travelled the country north to south sharpening knives. Something about carrying everything that you need to live and carry out your trade on a simple bicycle that is totally brilliant. Secondly my friend, Robin Mather is a bicycle maker and it was a kind of challenge to build a bicycle that could travel long distances and carry a printing press.
Robin Mather is a renowned British bespoke bicycle maker and has been making bicycles for over twenty years. He worked in the next workshop from me at Centrespace (Centrespace is a craft makers cooperative in the middle of Bristol with 31 workshops). Making bespoke frames is much like a tailor making a suit, the bike is made to fit it’s rider perfectly and is a very skilled process. So then it’s a simple thing of combining the things I love doing: letterpress printing, cycling and visiting folk who make brilliant things. Seems a bit mad, but when you put things together it sort of makes sense. The journey itself was about being intrigued by places that are known for one thing, often making one thing. It became a challenge to link that idea into a Lands End to John o’Groats adventure. The challenge then was could I print and post a set of postcards of something honouring that craft or trade in the workshop or factory in that town?
After you visited us at the factory who else did you visit on your journey?
I loved visiting the factory, and particularly liked it that people from the factory came up and asked if they could print their own card, I think there was even a short queue at one point. I headed back to Stratford upon Avon where I had met Blanche McIntyre the director of Titus Andronicus at the Royal Shakespeare Company (Stratford is known for Shakespeare and acting is a craft, so I loved adding this to my list). From there I went to the saddle factory of Brooks of England (Walsall was primarily the place where saddles for horses and bicycles were and are built).
From there a potter, Kevin Milward in Stoke on Trent, then Ernest Wright and Son, Scissor makers in Sheffield, then a printers Wayzgoose (an ancient name for a gathering of printers) in Yorkshire the home of the letterpress machine in Victorian times, then Hebden Bridge (known as Trouser Town) then a whisky distillery in Dufftown in the Spey Vally (The Balvenie), then a weaver, Breanish Tweed on Harris and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides and finally I printed at John o’Groats, a homage to the journey from Land’s End to John o’Groats itself.
Also, before visiting Grenson I had been to Cardigan (jeans), Somerset (cider) and St Ives (pottery).
Cardigan was the home of the largest denim jeans manufacturer in the UK for many years, the factory moved abroad, but the skilled folk that made the jeans remained in the town. David and Clare Hieatt started Hiut Denim to reuse those skills in the town to make high end jeans.
Somerset: We printed at Burrow Hill cider (Cheese and cider are Somerset’s most famous exports), where they make cider brandy. Very beautiful place.
We also printed at the Leach Pottery in St Ives. Bernard Leach set up the pottery in the 1920s and is seen as the father of studio pottery not just in the UK, but around the world and the pottery is still a centre for fine pottery. St Ives is renowned for it’s art.
The three above, were visited by the Printing Bike on the Journeyman adventure. Ellen Bills, who works with me, cycled with me for this first leg of the journey from Land’s End to Bristol.
So as you can imagine quite and adventure.
Any interesting unexpected things that happened along the way?
I heard Corncrake on Lewis, I stayed in the only pub in Britain owned by the church (on a moor in Scotland)
Tell us abit more about your love of printing?
I trained as a typographer (a fancy name for a graphic designer really) in the 1970s and spent a year in a room with a compositor (sets the lead and wood type by hand) and a letterpress printer. Then I got lost in a career of design which meant the last twenty years working on computers. I suppose ten or so years ago, I realised that I was looking for things to be away from a computer and spent a lot of time photographing and recording crafts men and women. This made me think about that year back in Stafford in the printroom. About five years ago, I started collecting type and presses, which are totally brilliant and then spending time with printers again, learning the skills. I now combine my time with graphic design and print which is perfect. I also work with Ellen Bills a young printer and I am inspired by her love of this ancient trade as well.
Whats your favourite Grenson Shoe?
I love the Archive range, especially the black shoe NO.3. I know that they are at the expensive end of the range, but I love the simplicity and amazing quality of the components. Also having seen the makers in action, I also know the amount of skill and work in each pair.
Lets talk about Bristol, whats your favourite pub?
Ah the easy bit, well I’m a Bristolian so I am looking forward to this. The Victoria (next to the Lido in Clifton) A proper old pub, owned by Dawkins a local brewer (also at my advanced age, I get 30p off a pint, bonus).
Small Street Espresso, Small Street in the Old City and two minutes walk from the printshop.
Friendly Records in North Street, the best record shop on this earth (we are strictly vinyl in the printshop).
We have a print festival each year at the Letterpress Collective (this year from November 30th to December 6th), which is always great fun, and this year we’ll launch a book to celebrate Journeyman (the Land’s End to John o’Groats adventure on the Printing Bike).