eric gill

A note on Kenneth Eager and Ditchling

Kenneth Eager was a craftsman and carver who worked at Ditchling with Joseph Cribb, Eric Gill’s first apprentice. Ditchling, a village in Sussex, England, ditchling commonwas chosen by Gill as a place to experiment with his idea of a community of like-minded people, Catholics all, who gathered to create what became the Third Order of St Dominic (TOSD) – a sort of commune that adhered strictly to Catholic ritual and ceremony. Eager continued working at Ditchling long after the death of Cribb in 1967. Infact, he stayed until the Ditchling experiment finally ended in 1989. He was 84.

There is little I can find about Eager’s solo work. But what follows is an account given by Michael Harvey of his own genesis as a letter carver and his memories of going to Ditchling in 1954 to meet Cribb and his workmen (including Eager).

‘Joseph Cribb was a wiry-haired man, the hair quite grey, who carried on the craft of tombstone maker, letter carver and sculptor of religious subjects…Joesph had two assistants, Noel and Kenneth, ex-apprentices who had trained with him as he had with Gill fifty years before. These younger men did not live on the common but travelled in every day like commuters, Kenneth all the way from Brighton on the other side of the Downs. When a figure needed carving, Joseph sometimes allowed his assistants to do most of the work, leaving the expressive parts such as hands and faces to complete himself. Consequently, in later years when Joseph was no longer around, both craftsmen had some difficulty in these areas.’

He concludes: ‘The workshops on Ditchling Common were pulled down a few years ago, replaced by two pretentious “executive” houses, but in the churchyard many fine gravestones show the hands of the carvers who worked in the stone shop built by Eric Gill and Joseph Cribb’. Perhaps some of those are by the hand of Kenneth Eager?

[From Matrix 27, A review for printers and bibliophiles, 2007, Whittington Press.]

eric gill

John Skelton and Eric Gill revisited


Previous posts have commented on the similarity in appearance between nephew and uncle. (see here and here.) By chance I found these newspaper clippings in a magazine, dated October and November 1958. I shall have more to write about Gill very soon, in particular the exhibition referred to in these clippings.



eric gill

Mr Rene Hague

I surprise even myself with some of the things I turn up in old notebooks and journals. Such was the joy of the analogue age when one tore reports from the daily newspaper and tucked them away – waiting, in this instance, 31 years before resurfacing. Those who follow my posts on Gill will find this of interest. The Times obituary writer has a nice turn of phrase: ‘Intellectually, however, he was never dominated by the patriarchal Gill…’

eric gill

Howard Coster’s portrait photograph of Eric Gill and Eric Gill’s pencil sketch of Howard Coster

About Howard Coster (1885-1959) I am unable to reveal much, other than a cursory look on the world’s favourite search engine reveals little, save that he was prominent in the 1920s and 1930s and London’s National Portrait Gallery had a retrospective of his work in the 1980s. Perhaps someone has a catalogue from that show and can help flesh out this man’s life?

What of his picture of Gill, which I found by chance in volume 39 of Penrose (1937), a volume I have used as the basis for a number of previous blogs. The picture was taken in 1927, and is a bromide print, hence the sepia tone. Gill is in characteristic pose, puffing on one of the fags that would kill him at the early age of 58. (I am 55 so mindful of mortality, though I no longer smoke.) In 1927 Gill was living all over the place, chiefly Salies-de-Bearn in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Paris and Chelsea, where perhaps this photo was taken, while his family stayed at Capel-y-ffin, that remote village in Wales that proved not such a good idea. Anyhow, Gill’s travels gave him plenty opportunity to chase the flesh.

I don’t think it’s a great photo, for Gill is so much the poseur that we do not get (as we do from a truly great photo) an idea of the person behind the mask. How much more fun if Gill had posed for Coster naked – a bit of a Stanley Spencer or a Lucian Freud. We can’t see his eyes either but we can tell that he is right handed.

I am grateful to the National Portrait Gallery for permission to use the Gill drawing, downloaded for free from their website.

eric gill History of Lettering Thoughts on lettering

On the other side of fame: a life more ordinary: MacDonald Gill, younger brother of Eric

This blog would not have been written (at least not yet) had I not had cause to pull a Ward Lock & Co guide to London from my bookshelf. It is the 42nd edition and while undated must be around the early 1920s. 

While looking for a reference (to Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais sculpture in Victoria Gardens), I came across a London Underground map tipped in. In the bottom left corner is the name MacDonald Gill (look closely at the image lower down – the lettering is all by hand). What, I thought, who is this, having forgotten all I once knew on the Gill clan.

MacDonald (also Max) was himself a letterer, craftsman and rather ‘ordinary’. This from Fiona MacCarthy’s biography (Faber and Faber, 1989, but quoting from the paperback edition of 1990, p255): ‘He too had a reputation as a letterer, had been a member of the War Graves Commission Committee and designed a standard headstone for the British Army dead of the First World War. He had specialised in decorative graphics…Compared with Eric he operated on the artistic middle ground. He was the sort of artist his father understood. Moreover, he was married (though not happily) to the daughter of a canon, whom he left eventually for the daughter of Edward Johnston. Eric’s father made it clear, from early days, that he would like it if Eric could be more ordinary, more like Max’.

And so a man’s life is written.

This picture of him is taken from that same book, dated 1930. (The extract is also the only decent mention of the man, and I have found nothing else in my collection of Gill, so far – I’d be pleased to hear from readers if they know more about Max.)

Separately, it is clear how revolutionary Pick’s map was when it was published in 1931.

PS – thanks to Michael Barker for alerting me to the fact Max was a younger brother of Eric – born 6 Oct 1884, to EG’s 22 Feb 1882. The index in McCarthy’s 1990 pbk edition is in error, but I should have taken more care.

eric gill

Eric Gill archive – Knock the door down: for US readers, especially those in Los Angeles

This archive is at:

William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
2520 Cimarron Street
Los Angeles, CA 90018

Click to access kt9m3nc2gh.pdf

The resource has been used in the past by writers such as Fiona Mccarthy, but will reward a new look. If you are near do go and ask the librarian if you can access the archive. Knock on the door, pull it down, enter the archive and liberate it for the good of all, and  publish on the web. This archive deserves to be made freely available.

University of California, Los Angeles. Library. William Andrews Clark Memorial Library
Los Angeles, California 90095-1490
Abstract: This collection of materials accumulated by the William Andrews Clark Memorial Library documents the personal and artistic development and activities of Eric Gill, a twentieth-century English stone-cutter, sculptor, artist, author, typographer/type designer, printer, book illustrator; and champion of social reforms. The collection includes manuscripts, diaries, correspondence, legal and financial documents, scrapbooks, clippings, periodicals, photographs, Gill’s books and library, as well as several printing items and a substantial amount of art.

For example:

Series 3. Art and artifacts, 1887-1940 and undated

Physical Description: 14 flat files, 9 tubes, 15 linear feet (45 boxes), 8 items

Scope and Content Note

This series is arranged into six subseries; Drawings, engravings, posters, etc., Sculpture,

Printing blocks, plates and punches, Sketchbooks and Miscellaneous artifacts.

Fuller descriptions of Eric Gill art can be found in an in-house, searchable, non-image

database at the Clark. The database comprises records concerning Gill and Gill-related art

that is held at the Clark. The database also includes a small number of records concerning

art produced by others such as members of the Gill family, Edward Johnston, Hague and Gill,

Harry Kessler, Graily Hewitt, George Friend, Anthony Foster, Laurie Cribb, Frances Cornford,

Caslon and the Central School for Art and Design. The database is searchable by title, artist,

date, object type (using a controlled vocabulary of largely preferred terms from the Getty’s

Art and Architecture Thesaurus ), description and in some cases by numbers cross

referenced from published works regarding Eric Gill (ie. J.F. Physick’s numbers from “The

Engraved Work of Eric Gill”).

In some cases art items pertaining to a specific manuscript work are filed under that work in

Series 2. Professional papers, subseries A. Manuscripts, arranged alphabetically by title. This

generally applies to works sized 8 ó x 11 or smaller. This arrangement was imposed by the

Clark and was retained during processing.

calligraphy eric gill lettering Thoughts on lettering

Masterful and beautiful: David Jones

The lettering of David Jones has featured once before in this blog (see here), but is of such individuality and beauty it is a shame not to show more. Those who follow Gill (or like his stuff) will know that Jones was part of that ‘set’, being once engaged to one of Gill’s daughters. (He died a bachelor.)

The illustration shown here is from about 1948 (the text reads Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to men of good will: Jones was Catholic), so dating from what Nicolete Gray in The Painted Inscriptions of David Jones [Gordon Fraser, London: 1981], describes as a period when his work started to take on a painterly style.

This piece (40.5cm by 33cm) is done in pencil, DEO in red, other letters in yellow crayon under the pencil. The background is black and yellow wax crayon on a green-gray watercolour wash. Gray notes that the open R in the first line is the first example of its use in Jones’s work.

On a personal note, David Jones is buried in Brockley cemetery, London SE4, very near where I lived, since Jones spent the last years of his life (he died in 1974) living nearby. I visited the site a few times and once assisted John Skelton when he was asked to ‘renovate’ the grave.

eric gill

Monotype Poster – Gill

A second of the posters in this series. (Click here for the first.)

eric gill lettering

Lettering by John Skelton

John Skelton was a typographer, letter carver and sculptor. He was related to Eric Gill, and I have briefly touched on his life in an earlier post. I took some lessons from him when I was beginning letter carving and kept in touch until his death in 1999. More about him can be found here (The first piece is a brushwork I had from him at one of his workshops.)

eric gill

Eric Gill video on YouTube

Please see

by a uni student, nicely done, and short…