An archive is only as good as its interpretation. And the tangled archives that make up StArt The Press are harder to interpret than most.

StArt The Press is based on two main archives, with a collection of subsidiary items. The Martell Press archive is from a jobbing commercial printer, that by its peak in the year 2000 employed 26 staff across a large site in Ramsgate, and a stationery and office supplies shop on Northdown Road, Margate. The archive includes 40 scrapbooks of samples of jobs from the 1960s-70s, paper samples and catalogues, and hundreds of letterpress printing plates and blocks.

And The Thanet Press archive records the work of Eyre & Spottiswoode’s Margate works, which is soon to become Tracey Emin’s new studio, the Viner Gallery, and a printworks for the Carl Freedman Gallery. The archive includes samples of books and pamphlets, items from Thanet Press social clubs, old ledgers, and a room-by-room site inventory that lists not only machinery and trays of type, but every chair, desk lamp and waste paper bin.

Last Friday (16th Nov), we opened up the archive (physically held at Marine Studios) to former staff from The Thanet Press. Each item in the archive has many layers of interpretation. An old Margate tourist guide, for example, is a social record, and tells a story about the town’s tourist trade. But in the hands of the people who printed it, it also becomes a reminder of old machinery, printing techniques, paper types, and other technical aspects of the trade. And the conversations an item triggers lead to discussion of the building’s layout, the changes in technology, who worked where, and the many practical jokes played by a workforce of 150+.

This week, we found out more about the top-shelf magazines and exam papers printed at the site, how a bombproof 1950s extension may have played a role after a nuclear war, the printing of Monopoly money, and rumours of real money going missing from Union funds.

We have a huge archive, comprising thousands of items, and every time we open it to former staff we get valuable insight into a major lost industry. We’re currently talking to the Heritage Lottery Fund about funds to run more events, start cataloguing and digitising the archives, and find new ways to interpret them with local community groups. Hopefully, in 2019 we’ll get to restart the presses.