History of artist Tracey Emin’s studio at Thanet Press explored in new project

Inside Thanet Press before remodelling work began

Report and photos by Dan Thompson

The history of artist Tracey Emin’s new studio at the former Thanet Press site is being explored in a new project by arts organisation Appletye.

For StArt The Press, Appletye has brought together two archives relating to a local industry that at its peak employed an estimated 2500 people across the Isle of Thanet. After the Second World War destroyed their London printworks, famous publisher Eyre & Spottiswoode moved their printing to Margate, taking over the printshop and warehouses on Union Crescent that had previously belonged to department store Bobby & Co and renaming the site The Thanet Press.

Eyre & Spottiswoode’s arrival led to a boom in the print industry. Established local companies like Cooper The Printer and Lanes of Broadstairs were soon joined by dozens of small firms, offering specialised jobs like bookbinding.

Appletye is working with two archives. The Martell Press archive is from a jobbing commercial printer, that 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 works. Buildings on the site will house Tracey Emin’s new studio, the Viner Gallery, and a gallery and printworks for the Carl Freedman Gallery. Emin’s plans were the subject of a recent BBC documentary.

Tracey Emin

The Thanet Press 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.

The Thanet Press printed top-shelf magazines,  exam papers, books, exhibition catalogues for organisations like the British Museum, The Beatles Monthly magazine, and journals for the British Medical association. In the mid-1980s, the site was bought by games company Waddington – so Monopoly money, boards and boxes were also made in Margate.

Appletye is a national arts organisation, based at Marine Studios in Margate. The studios are also home to international design company HKD, who provide services to museums and science centres across the world. Founded by three experienced artists, Appletye aims to explore the ways that the arts can help people engage with archives, collections and historical sites. As well as running projects like StArt The Press, the organisation is developing a UK-wide network of artists, and aims to provide training for anyone working with arts and heritage.

“We have a huge archive relating to printing in Thanet, comprising thousands of items, and every time we open it to former staff we get valuable insight into a major lost industry,” says Appletye artist Dawn Cole, “and 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.”

For more information about The Thanet Press or about the StArt The Press project, visit appletye.org