Two Thanet schoolboys had already caught the addictive whiff of printer’s ink, oil, and paper that you find in any pre-digital printworks, from their father Norman, co-founder of publishers The Graham Cumming Group and owner of printer Westwood Press. Norman Martell printed town maps for councils, and diaries for clubs and societies, selling advertising in them to cover costs and generate a profit.

So when his sons Charles and Henry Martell found a printing press at their school, St Lawrence College in Ramsgate, they started to print for themselves.

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Charles & Henry Martell’s original Adana, seen here in situ but now in the Print Works archive.

And when they unwrapped their Christmas presents in 1962, they found that their dad had bought them an Adana which could print an area up to about 20cm by 12cm. Adana printing machines were made between 1922 and 1999. Aimed at the hobby market, they were widely used by small, commercial printers and thousands of their vertical platen presses are still in use, often in the hands of artists and designer-makers.

From that small Adana, the Martells got to work printing calling cards, letterheads and other ‘social stationery’ and were paying tax by the age of 16. They learned as they printed, rather than through a formal apprenticeship.

In 1967, the Martell brothers had built enough business to move from working at home to opening their first print works, in Fitzroy Avenue, Margate, and in 1969 they took over a stationery shop on Northdown Road, Margate.

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The Martell Press works

35 years later, the brothers employed around 30 people. The printworks had expanded into three units at Hopes Lane, Ramsgate and the shop had more than doubled in size after being destroyed by a fire in 1982.

For both sides of the business, local guesthouses, hotels, and tourist attractions were essential.

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The Goodwin Sands Fashion Show, 1969 – held on Goodwin Sands – ticket printed by Martell Press

“I used to zig zag down the road collecting orders from all of the guest houses,” Henry remembers, “We did everything from menus and business cards to theatre programmes and postcards.”

As tourism faded in Thanet, so did Martell’s trade until only the Northdown Road shop remained, selling stationery and offering basic design, printing and copying services. The shop closed in 2017.

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About the Print Works project

Print Works is a year-long project from Appletye, an arts and heritage organisation. The project explores the history of the print industry on the Isle of Thanet, taking inspiration from two former companies and the heritage of the sites they occupied at Thanet Press, Union Crescent, Margate and Martell Press, Northdown Road, Cliftonville. At the heart of the project are archives from the two Margate firms, recording the stories of the people who worked there and the work they did.

The project would have included an exhibition at the Templeman Library, University of Kent (supported by the Special Collections team) which has been postponed due to the coronavirus crisis. This series of blog posts are designed to share the story that the exhibition would have told.

Using the Print Works archive.

The Print Works archives include hundreds of examples of material printed in a pre-digital age, including much related to Margate, Broadstairs, and Ramsgate. It includes print for seaside hotels, entertainment venues, and tourism businesses.

The archive also includes documents relating to working in the print industry in the 20th century, from apprenticeship indentures to certificates from a print factory’s Horticultural Club. There are documents relating to design, typography, and the move from analogue processes like typography to digital design and print.

The archive is new, so includes primary material not used before in academic research. It is held at a studio in Margate. For more information email dawn@appletye.org

Print Works is supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

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