On the paper trail

An artist is exploring the rich newspaper connections in the area

By Oliver Bennett

Clerkenwell has long been an inky place. Home to three national newspapers and several magazines – including Samuel Johnson’s old employer The Gentleman Magazine, said to be the first magazine in the world – it was once full of printers, some of whom remain. It is also a short stride from Fleet Street in the City of London, the fabled exepicentre of British newspapers, where the alleys leading from Holborn were home to the industry.

Now artist Eloise Hawser is mining that rich history, which would have once seen the streets teeming with messengers, journalists and newspaper sellers barking their wares. A newspaper lover and collector, Eloise is creating a digital walk and interactive map showing the history of newspaper production and circulation in the area navigating the journalists, printers, distributors, and readers of the 250 years, under the title News on the March.

Working in a studio in Somerset House, Eloise, 35 (who has been part funded by Culture Mile’s Imagine Fund), is surrounded by her source material – pile upon pile of newspaper back copies. What is her interest in this form, now assumed to be in decline and threatened by the internet? “I’ve always loved newspapers,” she says. “As an artist I like their physical presence and fusing of pictures and headlines.” Eloise is also interested in what she calls “the relationship between newspapers and public space” – how papers would be rushed to printers in this area, read in local coffee shops and pubs, and seized upon in the street as a primary source of news about world events. “I love that in the old coffee shops they would actually rent newspapers to customers,” she says.

Eloise is interested in how newspapers had a physical impact on streets, with kiosks and newspaper vendors, who until quite recently fiercely protected their prized pitches and kept them in the family. “The longest one was for the Evening Standard in Kingsway, Continued from Page-1 Holborn,” says Eloise, who now planning to make a sculpture from the old papers and lithography plates she has collected over the years. “My plan is to mount them and pulp the paper, to make a baroque sculpture.” Now Eloise is in discussions with the Barbican Library to create an exhibition.

Which brings Eloise to another aspect of her project – the pandemic. “The news has really accelerated over the last year,” she says. “It brings back the idea that newspapers can capture the historic moment. I’ve been gathering papers for the period and am interested in the way they approach the story and how important they have been – despite that physical newspaper circulations have dropped by 40 per cent.” At the same time, local news is stable and growing – including the EC1 Echo. “They still have a huge role to play,” says Eloise. “We still see ‘What the papers say’ pundits on TV shows.”

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