Caught by the River

Journeyman: An Adventure in Print

Nick Hand | 24th April 2017

Nick Hand, the Bristol-based letterpress artist, was introduced to us by the writer Richard King back in July 2009, just before he mounted his bike and cycled around the coast of the United Kingdom. We got to know Nick as he made his journey – documented with great style in a book titled Conversations On The Coast – and we soon became good friends. Since then, this talented and lovely man has guested at many of our events and festivals, more often than not creating the advertising artwork — or in the case of next Sunday’s co-promotion with Friendly Records, the venue itself.

As Nick readies himself for yet another long-distance bike ride, stopping off to meet and record fellow artisans along the way, he took the time out to tell us more about the point and purpose this project. He’s also looking for a bit of help to fund it, so, if you like what you read and you can spare a couple of quid, click through to his Kickstarter page and lend a helping hand (so to speak).

Words and pictures: Nick Hand

The blades, the brewers, the glovers, the potters, the saddlers: a few football club nicknames that give a nod towards the main trade in the respective towns at some time in the near or distant past.

In these towns mostly known for making one thing, the trades and crafts have survived — just about. In Sheffield (United are known as the blades), where there were once 50 cutlers in one area alone, maybe one or two smaller businesses alone have survived, with a handful of artisanal craftsmen and women.

The renaissance of crafts in this country has come about partly because of the realisation that digital stuff is just…well, mostly invisible and a bit dull. The survival of the craft trades (not sure if that’s a term or not) is also down to isolated or struggling businesses using the internet first to survive, and then, sometimes, to thrive. Plus the realisation that if you pay for something of integrity and quality, it will repay you over the years (Sheffield scissors being a good example).

In early May, I’m heading from my own home in Bristol down to Land’s End, and then north, to visit these towns known for making one thing — and to seek out the maker or the business making that one thing. I will head up the spine of England and Scotland, taking in an excursion to Wales and the outer Hebrides, and end up, 1000 miles or so later, in John O’Groats, at the very top of our island.

My vehicle of choice to make this journey, will, as ever, be the humble bicycle. Not only that, but where most sensible folk might carry a small tent and a camping stove, I instead will carry ink, paper, lead type and a small printing press. The intention is to honour each craft, by printing something and presenting to the maker. I will also print postcards and post them to people as I wind my way up the land.

I’ve called this adventure Journeyman, which is what a printer would be called at the end of his or her apprenticeship.

Returning to Bristol in June, we’ll make a large artist’s book from the material from the journey. Our press, The Letterpress Collective, houses a fine collection of lead and wood type, along with printing presses dating back to 1832. So it will be a fine task ahead of us.

The little photo films above and below were made in 2011. One is of Reg and Trevor, the last of the little mesters. Little mesters were common in Sheffield in the early part of the 1900s and often made just one thing: Trevor made pocket knives and Reg, bowie knives. Sadly Trevor died a year or two ago, so the film is testament to the gem of a man he was. The second photofilm is of Iain Finlay Macleod of Breanish Tweed in the Outer Hebrides. The films give you a good idea of the kind of folk that I will encounter on the road.


If you’d like to support Nick’s Journeyman project, it’s being funded over on Kickstarter.