This collaborative research project has been established with Watford Museum and the University of the Third Age to document the social, aesthetic, technical and educational aspects of Watford's printing past.
For nearly two hundred years, printing has had a central place in the history of Watford and the town has had a formative influence on the history of the international printing industry.
From 1832 when John Peacock first set up his press to the late-twentieth century when Robert Maxwell’s newspaper empire came to town, printing has played a significant role in the development of Watford.
But the town’s reputation as a major international printing centre really began in the early twentieth century when a number of local firms started experimenting with colour printing and began to reproduce high quality artists prints.
In 1918, two of these companies, Andre & Sleigh and Bushey Colour Press, merged to form the Sun Engraving Co Ltd. Its rival, Odhams Ltd established itself in Watford in 1936. The Sun and Odhams were two of the largest printing houses in Britain, producing millions of colour magazines each week using a pioneering technique of four-colour rotary gravure printing, for which Watford became world famous.
By the 1930s, one-in-thirteen of Watford’s population was involved in the industry, thus placing the town at the heart of the greatest concentration of printing in the world.
Although somewhat diminished of late, printing remains a visible industry in Watford, and the town is still home to the Trinity Mirror Group, one of the largest newspaper and magazine printers in Britain.
In 2012 Professor Caroline Archer was invited by Watford Museum to review its current printing exhibitions and to examine its archive of material relating to the history of printing in Watford. After an initial survey of the exhibitions and archives it became clear the collection contained material of both local and national significance and the task of reviewing, cataloguing and re-displaying this material would be a lengthy process, which would require both local knowledge as well as a understanding for the social, aesthetic, technical and educational aspects of printing. The gallery also requires re-working to enable the history of printing to be told alongside the particular development of Watford’s printing past.
In addition, the history of printing in Watford is of such international significance it merits the attention of a full-scale academic study. To which end the Typographic Hub, and the Watford Museum have agreed to work together to prepare the ground-work for a full-scale study of the collection and the telling of the history of printing in Watford.
However, given the size of the task members of the Watford Branch of the U3A are being invited to assist with this primary research, the results of which would be used to inform further research. In addition it is intended the initial project would result in a small exhibition/booklet/oral history collection which would be housed for posterity at the Museum.