In London, a Printer Fit for a Queen

LONDON — During Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral last month at Westminster Abbey, most attendees — including royalty, dignitaries and politicians — received an elegant paper program, known as an order of service, detailing the event’s speakers, prayers and musical selections.

On the back page of the 22-page booklet was a name that, unlike those high-profile mourners, would not have been widely known: Barnard & Westwood, the company that printed it.

“No one’s really heard of us,” said Alasdair Abrines, the company’s sales and marketing director, during an interview at a restaurant near the company’s discreet workshop in Clerkenwell, a neighborhood about three miles northeast of Westminster Abbey. “We’re sort of tucked away, in the back streets of a very residential neighborhood. We don’t get a lot of passing trade.”

Westminster Abbey has been a longtime client, as have royalty from several countries — Barnard & Westwood printed the invitations for the 2019 wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and makes personalized stationery for several Middle Eastern monarchs — and brands including Hunter, Bentley and Paul Smith.

Disclosing details about its clients and their orders, however, is something Barnard & Westwood will not do.

“We have a very strict confidentiality protocol,” Mr. Abrines said. That includes, for particularly high-profile clients, locking proofs in safes.

About 20 percent of the company’s business, Mr. Abrines said, comes from individuals. They order everything from engraved letterhead that starts at about 350 pounds ($395) for 100 sheets, without envelopes, to an elaborate suite of wedding stationery — including invitations, response cards and an order of service — that can cost as much as £12,000 for 100 invitees.

Custom stationery is not inexpensive. But, as Mr. Abrines put it, “The processes that we use are so labor intensive that there’s a price tag attached.”

There are nearly two dozen printing presses at Barnard & Westwood’s headquarters, including three Waite & Saville die-stamping machines for engraving that are least 50 years old; they were made in Otley, West Yorkshire, a town in northern England that once was known for producing industrial machinery. The machines incise the desired lettering or design on metal plates, which then are inked and applied to paper, creating the raised lettering distinctive to the engraving process.

On a typical weekday — as well as, sometimes, during the evening, and over the occasional weekend for a late-breaking project — the large workshop buzzes with the whir of machines, including the three Heidelberg presses from Germany that handle tasks like letterpress printing, which creates a subtly indented result, and stamping gold or colored foil as a decorative element. The company also uses more contemporary printing methods, such as digital printing, a process similar to an office printer but producing much higher-quality results.

Most of Barnard & Westwood’s 14 staff members have learned the work through decades on the job. The company does not have a formal apprenticeship program but regularly trains new printers, who, lately, have predominantly been women.

The company also does bookbinding, from creating new volumes, like custom-made photo albums, to restoring old books.

“What they’ve managed to do is really retain that romance and that kind of aesthetic within their products, but using all of the benefits of modern technology,” said Gary James McQueen, a British artist and designer who recently collaborated with Barnard & Westwood on a limited-edition art piece. The card, which features a design by Mr. McQueen, was a complex project: It was printed both digitally and with four custom-made engraving dies, incorporating several colors of foiling as well as multilevel blind embossing, which involves pressing a pattern without ink into the paper.

Barnard & Westwood has been in business since 1921, when it was founded by a printer, Albert Reginald Barnard. (An aunt of his, whose last name was Westwood, was the financial backer.) It has changed hands several times over the years, and in early 2021, it was purchased by Maurice Bennett, a veteran retailer who has been an owner of several successful British brands, including the women’s fashion chain Warehouse.

“I had one look and I said, ‘I’ve got to buy it,’” Mr. Bennett said in an interview.

At that time, the company was wholly employee-owned and, as about 50 percent of Barnard & Westwood’s business comes from invitations and event-related stationery, “their sales figures were minute” as a result of the pandemic, Mr. Bennett said.

But revenue has been picking up steadily over the last 18 months, Mr. Abrines said, and the company’s aim this year is to reach its prepandemic level of an annual gross revenue of more than £1 million.

A recent venture involved what the retail trade calls a white-label project: producing correspondence cards that the British retailer Fortnum & Mason sells under its own brand. Each card features a single initial, lithographed in the store’s distinctive shade of eau de Nil green and accented with die-stamped gold detailing.

They reflect, said Emma Hawkins, Fortnum’s buyer for stationery and Christmas items, the attention to detail that the store expects from the suppliers of all its house-label items. “It’s us collaborating with a brand that we know is going to provide that level of quality,” she said.

Like Fortnum & Mason, Barnard & Westwood holds royal warrants, a recognition that the company regularly supplies goods or services to royalty. Its warrants — for printing and bookbinding to the late queen and for printing to the Prince of Wales, now King Charles III — technically are void as a result of the queen’s death, but companies are allowed to continue using the credentials for as long as two years during the transition.

A royal warrant signifies to the consuming public, to public opinion if you like, that this brand is not just good, but it’s royal good,” said Chandrika Kaul, a professor of modern history at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland. “It sets the highest possible standard that everybody looks up to in terms of quality, professionalism, delivery and all the things that we look for in any trade or profession.”

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