Print history preserved at new Stationers' Hall archive

By Rhys Handley, Friday 10 November 2017

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Priceless documents recording the history of copyrighting and the print industry will be available for all to see as the Stationers' Company opens its new Tokefield Centre archive to the public.

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The Tokefield Centre is named after the man who saved the company's archive in the Great Fire of London, 1666

On 10 November, the company marked the culmination of a years-long project to relocate its extensive paper archive to a new, purpose-made facility at its London site, Stationers’ Hall.

The archive was named in tribute to George Tokefield, who saved all of the company's records from the Great Fire of London in 1666 by transporting them in a wheelbarrow to his own home.

“In 2023, we will be marking the 350th anniversary of our rebuilt home after it was salvaged from the Great Fire,” said company clerk William Alden. “Establishing this archive is part of this broader strategy to make our premises a centre for education to be used by members of the public, and especially young people, interested in the creative industries.

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Archivist Ruth Frendo demonstrates some of the records available in the new reading room

“Until now, access has been poor as the building is old and listed but exists on 16 levels. Our view is to work towards improving disabled access and enhancing our educational offer.”

Documents for the archive are currently being kept offsite as the recently-completed work on the Tokefield Centre has yet to completely dry and so the moisture could damage the documents, some of them several hundred years old.

Practical plans for the centre, which sits in the gardens of the premises at Ave Maria Lane, were overseen by liveryman Sarah Mahurter, who served as project manager alongside a team set up with Aiden and his deputy.

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Some of the documents available are hundreds of years old

“I came on to the project in 2014 to write a business case which we took to the City of London and Historic England to negotiate the preservation of the building,” she said.

“Our end-result is very much based within the culture of print, we will continue to maintain printed records which will exist alongside our digitised archive.

“We are very proud to have brought the project to conclusion more or less on time and on budget.”

Funding for the project came from the company’s own library fund – contributed to by company members – but the bulk of it was made up by the “extremely generous” donations of liverymen Duncan Spence and Amy McKee, according to chair Martin Woodhead.

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Duncan Spence and Amy McKee made up the balance to fund the archive

Stationer’s Company archivist Ruth Frendo also emphasised the importance of print in its record keeping, as well as the capability of the archive to trace back print industry trends going back centuries.

“This is very exciting to me because I wanted to provide as much access as possible for people in an environment safe for our precious records,” she said. “We want people to still be coming to look at these records in 100 years’ time.

“Among our records are those based around advertising, packaging and design. It is fascinating because, from the written descriptions of the copyright, you can see how trends and ideas have evolved over the years.”

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