Welcoming Thin Ice Press to St Anthony's Gardens

With renovations and repairs to the Old School House completed, we are delighted to welcome our newest tenants, Thin Ice Press. It’s an exciting time for the team behind this social enterprise spin-out from the University of York, and, with our founder JB Morrell’s close involvement in the Yorkshire Herald and Yorkshire Evening Press, together with the founding of the University, we are delighted they have chosen St Anthony’s Gardens to be their central York base.

Heading up the project, Helen Smith is a professor of Renaissance Literature at the University of York. With a research interest in printing, particularly 16th and 17th century book publishing, Helen set up an in-house campus press in 2017, together with a small team. The printing facility used letterpress, a traditional method of relief printing that involves putting together type one letter at a time to form a raised surface. Ink is applied to the surface and pressed directly onto paper. Interest quickly grew in this popular campus resource, and its range of traditional printing equipment. In 2023 the Centre for Print was launched to run workshops, host away days and welcome a flourishing membership. The move to the lovely surroundings of Peasholme Green will mean a much more accessible service and greater opportunities for new members, activities, events and public engagement.

Manager of Thin Ice Press, Lizzy Holling, did her undergraduate degree at the University of York, during which time she took on an internship to help establish Thin Ice Press on campus. Returning to York after an MA in Renaissance Literature, Lizzy project managed the Street Life initiative in Coney Street to encourage public engagement and put traditional printing back in the heart of York. Today, Lizzy is spearheading the move from the campus to Thin Ice Press’ new home in the Old School House.

The name Thin Ice Press hails from a particularly cold January in 1739. Like many towns and cities up and down the country, York’s river Ouse froze solid, hard enough for the citizens to host a frost fair. The inhabitants spilled out on to the ice to enjoy skating, entertainments, ballad singers, and stalls selling gingerbread and ale. At the time, Thomas Gent had a printing studio in the city and decided to produce frost fair souvenirs for visitors. Taking some equipment down on to the ice, for a small fee he would print people’s names on to pre-printed pages describing the events for posterity. Safe in the Minster Library, one of those printed pages has survived.

The team loved this connection to York’s enterprising printing past and plan to encourage wider engagement in traditional printing, preserving an ancient craft, and make it available for people locally, nationally and internationally.

The interconnected, ground floor rooms of the Old School House are great for easy access and important because of the weight of the printing equipment, notably their Albion iron hand press. The social enterprise has two iron hand presses: a beautiful 1845 Columbian press and the 1847 Albion press, along with four powered proofing presses and twentieth-century printing equipment, including an etching press, bookbinding and lino printing equipment.

Future activities will include drop-ins and workshops, courses, a gallery and a shop. Everyone is welcome to join in from print enthusiasts to artists, school groups, students and passers-by. The team will also be looking for commercial opportunities to help ensure they are a sustainable enterprise. The team are already in contact with local businesses interested in working with them and hands-on printing techniques.

Hoping to launch officially in June, close to the York Ghost Merchant’s dispensary and within the charming St Anthony’s Hall gardens, the team are looking forward to a busy summer.

For all the latest news, please visit Thin Ice Press website. You can also follow their progress on Instagram.


Professor Helen Smith and Thin Ice Press Manager Lizzy Holling.

Letterpress is traditional relief printing that relies on individual letters and just one of the printing methods available.

Thomas Gent's printed souvenirs from York's frost fair of 1739. Image courtesy of York Chapter.

The 1847 Albion Press

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