We end our 2012 selection of ‘Libraries of the Month’ with a virtual visit to St Bride’s Library in London, one of the world’s largest libraries for printing and publishing. St Bride’s is also one of the libraries visited on the ‘Lost Libraries of London Tour’. Thanks to Bob Thompson for the contribution below.
The institution we know today as The St Bride Foundation has a fascinating history. In 1883 a survey of numerous small city charities was undertaken with a view to consolidating their funds so that they might be used more productively. (This excluded funds related to the parish church of St Bride). The result was the creation of the Bride Foundation and Institute and the construction of the attractive red brick building which still stands in Bride Lane today. It was built in Dutch “Queen Anne” style and was originally conceived as an educational institute and a social centre; roles which it still provides today. The building is Grade II listed and retains many original features, some very obvious and some hidden from the public gaze. In the latter category is the City of London’s oldest indoor swimming pool, now covered over and used as a theatre space.
Printing was once at the heart of Fleet Street, and the newly-opened (20 November 1894) St Bride Foundation building incorporated a school to provide young apprentices with all the skills they needed to succeed within the trade. A technical library was opened in 1895. The book stock initially consisted mainly of instruction manuals, technical journals and standard text books required by apprentices. The purchase of the library of the late William Blades, master printer, in 1893 (prior to the opening of the building) was a major coup for the Foundation, providing well over 2,000 volumes related to the history of printing, including material produced by William Caxton, the father of printing in the United Kingdom. Other book collections including those of typefounder and printing historian Talbot Baines Reed and John Southward, a technical print journalist, were added in the early years of the library’s existence. Blades original library still remains, in its purpose-built fireproof room. His bookshelves were acquired along with his books and they fit neatly into the area designed by the architect for his collection.
The library currently contains over 50,000 books, 3,500 periodicals, examples of typefaces, flongs, blocks and printing artefacts. There are over 10,000 type specimens, dating back to 1616. Within the library there are over 250 special collections including early English song sheets and chapbooks, trade union archives and a unique collection of Eric Gill designs, drawings and sketches for typefaces. Additionally, there is a special collection of shorthand books (3,000 volumes), printing patents (40,000+) and photographs covering printing offices, machinery, typefaces and personalities.
As a collection covering the combined trades and professions of printing, print-related engineering, publishing, journalism, graphic design and paper making, the St Bride Library is without equal anywhere in the world.
There is a thriving education programme related to printing techniques and technology. Courses teach students the processes needed to produce their own letterpress work using Albion, Columbian, Stanhope and Adana presses.
The written word is in rude health, despite the waxing and waning of its fortunes from time to time. St Bride remains the last remaining place in Fleet Street where printing still takes place using tradtional methods and skills.
We currently operate an Annual Reader Card system. There is a processing charge of £5 for this, and the card can be issued on your first visit if you have the necessary documentation with you. We require photo ID (passport, driving licence, student identity card) and evidence of your home address in the form of a recent utility bill. Opening times at present are Wednesday only (11am-6pm) but visits by appointment are welcomed on Tuesdays and some Thursdays. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org for details.