Last anniversary I visited “the birthplace of avant-garde stationery”, as Paul Woodmansterne describes it.
He is the buyer of greetings agenda aggregation Woodmansterne, amid in at The Boulevard
Blackmoor Lane, aing to the business park, and this year he is adulatory the 65th year of the business his ancestor started.
Before I could burrow into this history of the aggregation and how things are run today, Paul aware me with the history of agenda accomplishment in Watford to acknowledge why he believes the breadth to be one of the bigger influences to Western education.
“I anticipate Watford is a absurd abode and I don’t anticipate bodies realise how absurd it is. I did a presentation aback a painting came aback for attention – we accept a programme area every two years we sponsor a attention of artwork in accessible places.
“A painting came aback to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and in this presentation I said ‘we accompany the banknote from Watford, the abundant centre of culture, to Oxford’. Everybody laughed and I thought, actually, this is not right.”
Paul goes on to explain the John Dickenson, whose mills stood area his aggregation now resides, invented the agency to aftermath continuing agenda beck manufacturing. Before this, agenda was handmade and so books were expensive. His apparatus meant that books could be printed cheaply abundant to be accessible in schools for all children.
“So if you ask who is added important to the cultural activity of this country, and the apprenticeship of the western world, Oxford or Watford – it is Watford.”
John Dickenson additionally invented cardboard, enabling layers of agenda to be accumulated calm to be a annealed product, and the adhering envelope.
It is for these affidavit that he calls it the birthplace of avant-garde stationery, and he says alive in the abode area it all happened “sends a shiver bottomward my aback every day”.
Area his abundance began
In 1940 Paul’s ancestor and architect of the business, Graham Woodmansterne, fabricated his aboriginal training blur for British troops confined in India during the Second Apple War, interpreting adeptness through beheld adumbration has been at our core. In 1952, with a accumulating of bristles years’ aboriginal photography of cathedrals and country houses, Graham created a accumulating of colourslides depicting, as he put it, “the beauty, history and beam of Britain and the British way of life”.
With his Dutch wife, Willy, their colourslide publishing business got off to a aces alpha in 1953 with the aboriginal publicly-available, colour photographs of Queen Elizabeth II’s Coronation. For thirty-five years, tourists, agents and advisers admired Woodmansterne as the arch administrator and architect of colourslides in the world, and one of the foremost cataloguers of British cultural heritage.
The acceptance of colourslides started to abate in the mid-1980s with the appearance of agenda photography and improvements of colour television. As Graham and Willy stepped aback from active the company, it fell to Paul to reinvent the business. His wife, Bella, appropriate they broadcast some Christmas cards of the Burne-Jones stained-glass windows in Christ Church, Oxford (where they had met as music acceptance and area Paul acclimated to sing in the basilica choir).
Today, Woodmansterne (now a third accepted ancestors business with Paul’s son Seth), has become the arch supplier of greeting cards to absolute retailers in Britain, and, through their press armpit in Croxley, and administration centre in Milton Keynes, they accumulation about 30 actor cards a year.
How has the business changed?
I asked Paul and his son, Seth, whether the absorption in greetings cards has waned with the appearance of the internet and amusing media. While Seth durably befuddled his head, Paul told me: “Not at all. The UK is the bigger customer of greeting cards.
“It is actual British to charge to acquisition a agenda to accurate yourself. We accelerate added cards per capita than any added country and it is about 50 cards per arch – that includes everyone, alike babies.
“The alone affair we’re beneath blackmail from is the shops that are struggling. We depend on the bloom of the shops and they’re activity through a abhorrent time. If the shops don’t survive again we adeptness not either.”
They have, however, appear a continued way from bearing cards artlessly from images of accomplished art. Paul explains: “We as a business accept migrated to attending at what abroad bodies like. Area does the citizenry lie? Humour. About every agenda we do has to accession a smile. We go to as far as ‘not rude’ but the cheekier the better.”
Today the majority of assignment happens from their Watford site, from architecture appropriate through to folding the cards in half. I absolved through the business and was able to see designers sat cantankerous legged at their desks with an arrangement of instruments in advanced of them alive on cards for Christmas 2019.
I fabricated my way through to the aback area assorted automated machines, some about as old as the company, actualize their absurd and badly accepted greeting cards.
It is absolutely a afterimage to see all of that in one place, and Seth explains that the adeptness for the designs and printers to altercate things face to face is priceless and allows for the accomplished affection of assembly – as able-bodied as a ancestors feel that still charcoal for all agents all these years back it began.
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