‘There’s no better gift for grandpas than a tea towel covered in rude words’

Owner of Exmouth Market’s Marby & Elm Eleanor Tattersfield talks to Howard Rombough about sex secrets, greetings cards and getting the thumbs up from Matt Hancock

A woman stands at the door of a shop with a candy striped awning
Eleanor Tattersfield

Exmouth Market shop owner Eleanor Tattersfield recently received a postcard reading: “I recently took up burlesque lessons to reframe how I felt about my body and sexuality and totally fell in love with myself.”

We can’t print the rest of the message but let’s just say it’s not your average Wish You Were Here greeting. In fact, Tattersfield has received thousands of similarly saucy postcards to her stationery shop Marby & Elm in the last couple of years and it’s all of her own doing. In 2020, Tattersfield asked her 17.7K Instagram followers to send her their address and she’d send them a blank postcard and a stamp for them to anonymously write a ‘lockdown secret’ and post back.

She was staggered by the enormous range of secrets told with candour and humour that poured in and a big surprise was the creativity people showed in their responses. The most interesting postcards made it into Eleanor’s book, Lockdown Secrets, published by Batsford Books.

So many of the secrets were about sex that Eleanor has just published her second collection Sex Secrets: Postcards From The Bed – the perfect stocking stuffer for over 18s. “The themes are wide-ranging.” says Tattersfield. “From asexuality to polyamory, kinks, stinks, infidelity and high fidelity, to the joys of sim- ple kissing. As with the lockdown secrets, the sex secrets give us a glimpse into our habits, revealing fundamental truths of what it is to be human and our need for connection, love, nurture, and attention.”

She never knows where she’ll run into fans. “I was walking on Hampstead Heath one day,” Tattersfield remembers. “I passed Matt Hancock and he said to me ‘I love your Sex Secrets – best thing on Instagram’. That made my day.”

Tattersfield started her letterpress business from her garden shed in 2009. Prior to this she studied art history and on graduating, worked with Japanese and Chinese art dealers, then started a bespoke art tour consultancy. “I was a sort of cultural keeper of secrets,” Tattersfield says.

Marriage and a career break to raise her two boys Marby and Elm followed, and then she pursued her dream of creating a letterpress stationery business. In 2009 she bought a vintage Adana letterpress printing machine on eBay and set it up in the garden shed making bespoke greetings cards for friends. Her big break quickly followed with a wholesale contract to supply Liberty, selling over 10,000 cards a year and even staging live printing events in its window every Christmas & Valentine’s. She opened her Marby & Elm shop in 2015 in Clerkenwell Road, moving to Exmouth Market in 2017.

Everything is designed and printed on a letterpress machine in the shop with a Marby and Elm aesthetic that she describes as ‘antique modern’: vintage fonts paired with contemporary pops of colour. These include bespoke greetings cards and correspondence such as business cards, invites and letter-headed paper. The shop also sells everything from bespoke Marby & Elm candles, canvas bags, posters and framed prints with uplifting or racy copy such as “Sorry I’m Late I Didn’t Want To Come”, “Done Is Better Than Perfect”, “Phwoar!” and “You Go Girl”. Regular customers include Jamie Oliver, Cath Kidston, Gillian Anderson, Sir John Hegarty and Richard Curtis. “Our absolute USP is you can ask for a card saying ‘such and such’ and walk out within five minutes with the finished card.”

It’s a family business – Eleanor is the designer, her sister Charlie, manages the shop, their father is the lettering artist. Marby & Elm are the nicknames of Eleanor’s boys, Marlowe, 17 and Elmore, 15.

Christmas is the shop’s busiest season. Unsurprisingly, holiday cards and tags are best-sellers, along with ‘Victorian Brothel’ and ‘Midnight Mass’ scented candles, and ‘Dirty Tea Towels’ with naughty slang words for genitalia. “There’s no better gift for grandpas than a tea towel covered in words for penises,” says Tattersfield. “Or ‘Boobs’ for Grandmas.”

She adores Exmouth Market and “its strong village community in the heart of London. All the traders are such a tight group who socialise together with locals and visitors from Sadler’s Well most evenings, Café Kick & Moro being the hubs. It’s a vibrant mix of ages, professions and local characters.”

Tattersfield’s next project? “Leave an anonymous recorded secret on secrets.fm”

Visit marbyandelm.com
Follow @marbyandelm

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