Since Paper City begins this week, I thought it was about time for a post about my trip to Hull to visit the G.F Smith factory.
This has been on my to-do list for years and luckily the lovely Simon Dennison agreed to show me around earlier this month.
The tour started with a peek at some of their incredible archives. Seeing their sample books from the 1920s amongst the colourplan books was a really interesting juxtaposition. It's lovely, maybe not intentionally, that Made Thought and Studio Makgill have still managed to keep some of the sample book styles across the beautiful new brand, using die-cutting and even some of the same colours.
George Frederick Smith founded G.F Smith with his son in 1885 and the company has been through a lot in that time. Two world wars saw an obvious decline in the importance of quality papers as well as their factories being destroyed in May of 1941. It is said that 6 days after the bombs dropped the company wrote to all their customers, explaining the impact and then within days the two offices were back up and running. Their determination and passion wins out.
Once the war was over and the demand for commercial printing papers rose again, they moved to their factory in Lockwood Street in 1947. This is where I went to visit!
After the archives, it was time to see the busy factory!
On our way round, we stopped off at each department and the amazingly skilled employees would talk me through their equipment and how it's used. I got to ask silly questions and continue to fill up my tote bag with samples.
One of my favourite areas was that of the Make Book: a specially-made dust-filtered room. Inside were a few work benches, one massive printer and a few employees. They were making a hand-made, bespoke, lay-flat bound book for a boating company. The skill and precision of the employees at the factory is truly impressive; the lay-flat technique is a really unique and fascinating process to watch.
Another moment which really stuck in my mind was a gentleman in the envelope department. I asked how he got to working at G.F Smith and he told me he had a mechanical background and someone suggested it would be a good career path. He showed me around his amazing department, and, I know, it's envelopes, but still I found it enthralling. He knew everything there possibly was to know about his machinery and his customers, talking me through envelopes made from some of the machines, including those for Elton John and of course The Queen.
G.F Smith also make bespoke envelopes which is also an interesting process, using a pressing machine which pushes down on a precisely oriented cutter trimming the envelopes to size. In a clear example of G F Smith's truly handmade ethic these templates are slid under at exactly the right time BY HAND. When I left this room there was a smaller adjoining room where four friendly ladies were hand-folding envelopes (and let me join in!). The dedication to handcrafted paper design and traditional production methods at G F Smith continues to impress me.
I was lucky enough to see the embossing, the duplexing and also people making bespoke boxes and packaging. It was a brilliant trip full of super talented people and definitely one I'd recommend.
As we walked around it felt like a family. The G.F Smith family. The employees a huge mixture in ages but all with a real feeling of Hull community. G.F Smith are a cornerstone employer in Hull and continue to teach these incredible crafts even 130 years on. Their now international reputation is testament to the abiding relevance and effectiveness of their set-up: their approachable and friendly attitude, steadfast dedication to meticulous design, close-knit workforce and resolution in the face of adversity make them the success they are today. I for one will happily continue using their products for years to come!
A special thanks to Simon Dennison for his brilliant tour, Margaret Sweeney for helping organise the trip and the wonderful G.F Smith family for making me feel very welcome!