Blackrose was based at 30 Clerkenwell Close, London EC1
About 11 workers at any one time; all on equal pay at union rates; members of the National Graphical Association (NGA); sometimes an apprentice. Division of labour: office staff, printers, designers, pre-press. The printers running the MO worked 12-hour shifts.
Equipment: Heidelberg 2-colour MOZP and single-colour Kord; darkroom with process camera; light boxes and print-down frame for plates (4-col process plates had to be ordered from other companies); electric guillotine (with all necessary safety guards!).
Clerkenwell Close is an old London County Council block, with rich historical associations. Back in1381 Wat Tyler and the Peasant Army burnt down the Priory in Clerkenwell; there were Chartist gatherings in the 1840's; the Fenians organised two large meetings for the Manchester Martyrs and, in 1867, carried out a disastrous bombing of Clerkenwell Prison aiming to free two of their members but killing 12 local residents instead. In 1890 the first ever workers' May Day march started at Clerkenwell Green; Lenin hung out there and produced volumes 22-38 of Iskra (but not printed by Blackrose), and the Marx Memorial Library is still alive and well, a proud bearer of left theory, creativity and history.
In the 1980’s Clerkenwell Close was a warren of different companies, some progressive and others purely commercial. The Press had its own entrance on the corner curve, and access to a central courtyard where the rubbish skip was located.
Blackrose Press was formed by a small group of anarchists, some of whom stayed for several years, other moved on. It was an efficient set-up and produced good work. Occasionally there were contradictions between the politically-motivated and the more job-motivated workers, but not enough to cause disruption. All decisions were made at weekly meetings. A finance report was given. Discussion of any controversial work (“That handbook had a horrible sexist image on page 48, did you see it?”). Anything anyone wanted could go on the agenda.
The office coordinator was responsible for accepting work from customers, and usually used their discretion, but in some cases brought borderline jobs to a meeting. The majority of customers were radical groups and progressive charities.
Design and paste-up was done on drawing tables with parallel rules. Galleys (strips of text) from a typesetter (usually IBM golfball) were stuck down on layout sheets with Cow Gum or heated wax. Continuous tone photographs were prepared in the process camera with a screen to produce a half tone version - enlarged or reduced to fit - on photographic paper (PMT, Photo Mechanical Transfer). These too were stuck down on the layout. Headlines were done letter by letter with Letraset. The finished sheets were then reproduced onto negative film in the process camera. It was developed, touched up on the lightbox, masked if there was colour separation and then contacted to the litho plate in the print down frame, chemically processed, washed and gummed. The artwork and negatives and plates were saved for future use in a large cupboard in the kitchen.
The premises were available for groups to use for layout, meetings and collating at weekends and evenings.
Sadly, in the late 1980’s Blackrose did not notice the digital revolution (“revolution”? whatever) and in 1992 it went bankrupt, its equipment sold off to pay creditors and a bit of the workers’ unpaid wages. It was a painful upsetting process. Some of the workers stayed to ensure that customers were given their artwork and film and plates, all the loose ends. After that, some stayed in the trade, some went on to other things, such as university degrees or care of elderly parents. The print union - at that time, the NGA - recognised the quite widespread problem and paid for many of the plate-makers in its unemployed chapel to go the London College of Printing for re-training in digital pre-press.
Sarah Grimes (Worked at Blackrose Press 1986-92)