The building is in the Anglo Dutch style, with fine red brickwork, terracotta dressings and a steeply pitched roof. This style, formerly known as Queen Anne, represents a breaking away from classicism with a return to the domestic architecture of William of Orange.
The height of the rooms and the strength of the floors reflect their purpose for the printing school – printing machinery is extremely heavy – and the lithographic school, which is now the public reading room, can take one ton weight per square metre.
Many features have been adapted but, as far as possible, the essential style is preserved as befits a Grade II listed building. What was the gymnasium is now a printing workshop, the towel laundry is a bar and the swimming pool has been boarded over to create a theatre but the central skylight and the viewing gallery can still be seen. This is a building with a practical purpose which, although the printing school left in the 1920s, still delivers its original aim of providing education and entertainment.
St Bride Foundation Today
Our Grade II listed building still boasts its original fine red brickwork, terracotta dressings, and steeply pitched roof from its original construction and feels like a hidden gem, tucked away from the bustle of Fleet Street. With 5 floors, the building at St Bride Foundation is a unique and memorable setting for a range of events.
With rooms ranging from comfortable meeting spaces to the opulent Salisbury Room and elegant Bridewell Hall, there is a space to suit every occasion, from lectures to board meetings, conferences to wedding ceremonies.
We also have our very own theatre, built over the City of London’s first heated swimming pool; and a Theatre Bar, on the site of the Institute’s original Laundry, which are both particularly unique settings for events and performances.
Printing at St Bride
Fleet Street at the end of the 19th Century was at the heart of the printing world. A trade paper of 1891 explained that “most of the great morning and evening journals are issued within its precincts, periodicals are printed by the million, books are manufactured by the ton. There is probably no place in the universe of the same size wherein so much printing is done” (British and Colonial Printer May 21, 1891).
The St Bride Foundation, then, was born from a project by St Bride's Parochial Charities to support a community with printing and publishing as its major industry.
St Bride Library
St Bride Library opened as a technical and academic collection in 1895 and has grown dramatically since.
With the death of William Blades, Victorian printer and expert on Caxton and early printing, St Bride Foundation had the opportunity to acquire a private library devoted to the history of print, containing exceptionally rare books on the subject. The collection was given its own purpose-built, fireproof room, in which it still rests to this day, as part of St Bride's extensive library of print-related technical and academic works.
Other important collections were also added, including that of Talbot Baines Reed, a type founder and historian, and John Southward, a technical print journalist.
The St Bride Library collection now consists of well over 50,000 books, periodicals and artefacts and is a thriving, international resource for typographers, graphic designers, writers, researchers and many others who simply enjoy the wealth of publications about the printed word.
The Swimming Pool
When the Institute was planned at the end of the 19th Century, the intention was not just to create a printing school for local workers, but also to provide facilities to the local community. The baths would be open to the public and "available for the use of the poorer classes".
The Swimming Pool – believed to be the first public pool in the area – remains in situ today underneath the stage of the theatre! Its original towel laundry, where swimming costumes were hired, washed and dried, is also still in place in the Bridewell Theatre Bar.