It’s a long time now but once I ran what was called a ‘private’ or ‘fine’ press. I was publisher and printer.
Here’s my story.
Short history of the Beeches Press
Why the Beeches Press?
I started the Beeches Press as a teenager, when I was about 16 from memory. At that time [early 1970s] I was living with my parents in Carshalton Beeches, a small town about 40 minutes by train from Victoria Station, London. I bought an Adana desktop, [8×5] through the wonderful Exchange and Mart [a weekly printed on newsprint full of ads for all manner of things]and a very limited amount of type, consisting of Times. I have a recollection of buying the equipment locally then strapping the lot to some sort of rack over the back wheel of my bike. But that might just be memory playing tricks. It was most probably delivered.
Searching for a name for the press I selected where I lived and engraved a tree [though whether or not it resembles a beech I do not know] on a random piece of wood, which I used as a ‘device’ on my first publication – grandiloquently titled A Manifesto. I was a radical school student at the time, taking Sociology A level and very much into Marx!
Part I –A Manifesto, 1970s
This first manifestation of the press in Carshalton Beeches left little to posterity. I have a copy of the Manifesto [printed in black and red]and I seem to recall printing Coleridge’s Kubla Kahn [I was also taking an English A level] but, thankfully, that seems to have been lost.
The press work on the Manifesto was appalling, though the intentions were laudable: A private press will have four objectives: the press will print limited numbers of fine texts; an excellant [sic] but discriminate type face will be used; the press will print on high quality and, if possible, hand made paper; and finally, the press will ensure that the best bindings are tooled, I wrote. Nevertheless, this was all hand-set and printed on the Adana; a nice touch being a layer of tissue paper overlaying the example of Donne’s Holy Sonnets.
Part II – High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, early 1980s
The original press was discontinued around the time I was completing my A levels (18 years old) in 1975 and didn’t get going again until 1980, by which time I was living in High Wycombe (having started a degree in English at Newcastle University), working as a reporter on the town’s weekly broadsheet, The Bucks Free Press. I bought, with considerable financial assistance from my dad, a new build terrace house near West Wycombe. It was on a small estate backing on to the grounds of the Dashwood estate; in fact, the little garden backed on to the estate itself, a flint wall being the boundary. The house at Portway Drive had three bedrooms, one tiny which I converted into a printing room. My diary records that I purchased one machine in January [of this I can’t recall] and then on 11 July drove to Kenilworth, near Coventry, to collect a Furnival guillotine and a Cropper Carlton treadle press. As with the Adana, I think these would have been advertised in the Exchange and Mart, since in these pre-internet years this weekly magazine was like today’s Gumtree or eBay, and had a comprehensive section of printing machinery for sale. I bought it every week and followed up on various leads – it was through E&M that I would later find the Monotype.
One other thing I remember about West Wycombe was the local rector, Michael Staines, I think of St Paul’s Church, had a vast collection of printing equipment and type housed on the first floor the Church Loft, an old building that fronted the A40/High Street. I recall going up there a couple of times but, much to my regret now, did not further access this source or find out any more about its history or function. Does it still exist? I have this entry dated 26 February 1983: See the vicar, Michael Staines, in the Church loft. He is printing. He has such a quantity of type. I hope he will buy the guillotine.
I also made friends with Harry Warschauer during this time through his wife, Judy, who worked at the Bucks Free Press. Harry, who had fled from Nazi Germany as a young boy, was an investigative reporter on the Sunday People [their house was alarmed after one expose´ led to death threats]; but I loved him for his eclectic book collection not for being a celebrated Fleet Street journo. He opened my mind to concrete poetry, Ian Hamilton Finlay and much else, and became my first ‘patron’ after my enthusiasm shifted from hot metal to letter carving on stone a decade later.
This re-incarnation of the Beeches Press was not very productive: some ephemera and a book of poems for a friend of Harry’s is all I can recall, hand-set in whatever metal type I had at the time. The only other item of mention was a card Harry and I produced (printed offset by a printer in High Wycombe) to commemorate the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana on 29 July 1981. The plan was to make some money and we had 10,000 printed thinking our fortune ensured. The card featured a typographic portrait of the pair done using Letraset Univers and was printed in purple on white glossy stock. Awful.I have found one surviving example, tucked at the back of a photo album mum kept of my ‘life’, as well as a letter from the Lord Chamberlain’s Office, to whom one sent, very rightly, such things for the seal of approval. [The watermark is Original Turkey Mill Kent.]
On the day of the wedding I went into central London with dad and brother Andrew trying to flog the cards to spectators. [Dad was a salesman and saw this as an opportunity to suck up a captive audience. We sold a few cards at 50p each, but I was stopped by police asking me what I had in the large bag I was carrying: I think they thought it might be explosives!] When Diana fell pregnant a year later I over-printed the remaining cards on my treadle with the slogan, Fast Breeder, [one of Harry’s inspirations] and we distributed these to like-minded anti-monarchists and those who opposed nuclear power! There were some bookshops in Charing Cross Road and elsewhere who actually stocked them.
In late 1982 my dad came up with the fancy of buying a newspaper on the Isle of Wight – The Isle of Wight Mercury. Why not? I was a journalist and also a printer, and dad could do the selling and finances. Simple. We went to Ventnor on a cold November morning, taking the ferry from Portsmouth, the departure delayed by an hour because of dense fog. I recall us sitting below deck on the return when the fog was even thicker and mum moaning that we would all perish because of the fog! I wrote in my diary: I heard my mother saying to my father, ‘There’s nothing you can do. Your number has to come up some day and if it comes up well, that’s it. It will come up sooner or later. There’s nothing you can do about it’. We all survived but the project went no further.
The Cropper treadle was sold in 1982 ‘for £200, to a lady living in London. Sold the beautiful beast because of a few debts, mainly mortgage…’ I write in my diary on 23 October. It was at this time I was seeking to return to university to study archaeology and anthropology so I was downsizing. (I matriculated at Fitzwilliam, Cambridge in October 1983, graduating in 1986 with first class honours in Archaeology and Anthropology.) These plans may well have had something to do with dad’s crazy idea for the Isle of Wight – a not so subtle hint in an effort to sway me from giving up a regular job, a mortgage and a future in order to return to uni and uncertainty and penury for three years. I was stubborn and did my own thing.
Part III – Bromley, late 1980s to early 1990s
Two false starts. Now for the real thing. It’s 1988. I’m a full-time journalist at the Financial Times, then at Bracken House, 10 Canon Street, near St Paul’s. [A year later the paper moved to One Southwark Bridge and by a strange quirk of fate is due to return to its former HQ in 2018.] I have bought a small terrace house in Brockley, near Lewisham, and a beige coloured and batteredMGB GT [registration VMD 733G]. Life is good. In April I follow up on an advert placed in the Exchange and Mart for a 1960s built Monotype caster and keyboard once operated by Cox and Wyman in Fakenham, Norfolk. It is priced at £350 and owned by a printer in that town who is selling off his letterpress. My paternal grandmother died in December 1987 and I am left a small legacy. This I use to make the purchase, which includes five matrices: Bembo, Fournier, Times, Gill and Univers.
Earlier in the same year I also acquire an Albion hand press. I can’t exactly recall now how this came about, the diary relates that in February I was put in touch with someone who had the machine through a mutual friend. It was not complete, a ‘few pieces missing but should be quite serviceable,’ I write with the enthusiasm of the amateur. [I never did get it going, and I’ve no idea where it went. I did do a fair bit of research, however, visiting similar machines in Oxford and at the Kelmscott Museum in Chiswick. My press was manufactured by the executors of Cope and is illustrated in Moran’s Printing Presses. I also saw a man named Chris Holladay at his workshop in Frederick Terrace, Hackney. He sold me a filial and gave me detailed drawings of other missing parts. He also guided me to the Slade where he thought there was a machine similar to mine. It was dated 1830.]
On 4 May 1988 I visit the Monotype headquarters at Redhill. I see Duncan Avery, the Sales Support Manager, ML Division, who provides me with the details of Ernie Devonshire. On 27 May I pick up the Monotype equipment from Norfolk – I have to hire a driver and lorry. This I do before starting my night shift at the FT! The Monotype caster is stored for the time being at my friend’s factory unit in Staines as I do not yet have a workshop. The keyboard and some other items I store in an outside shed at the house in Brockley.
In August 1988, I lay my hands on a proofing press. This from the Journal: ‘A chance browse through Artists Newsletter in Dillons, Long Acre, led me to Goldsmiths (just down the road @ New Cross) which had advertised a proofing press – a Western with a 30” wide bed. Saw it Thursday, meeting Colin Aggett who explained that the printing workshop was closing down…The Beeches Press is reborn!’
At the end of the year I write: ‘It is a delight, it is wonderful, to have the workshop. I consider how lucky I am to have come across Ernie just at the right time and for all the elements of my project to fall neatly into place. There is much to learn, a great deal, but I feel that I am moving forward. Next year must be consolidation as this year has been assembling the parts of the jigsaw and moving machinery from place to place. But I now have the equipment to do whatever I care to do and The Beeches Press is reborn and a private press is born and like a little demigod I [am] in charge.’
Brief Chronology from 1988
May: Monotype Caster, keyboard and five fonts (Bembo, Fournier, Times, Gill and Univers) purchased for £350 from a printer in Norfolk.
May: Visit Monotype headquarters in Redhill and given name of Ernie Devonshire, a retired former Monotype engineer who lives in Bromley, Kent.
June: Visit Ernie and negotiate space in his workshop. Ernie also offers me lessons on how to operate the keyboard and caster. I pay £20 a week in rent.
July: Purchase some equipment from Financial Times which is closing its works at Bracken House – includes trolley used to move large chases, furniture and other sundries.
August: Western Proofing Press purchased from Goldsmith’s College, Deptford for £75. [I am living in Brockley, near Lewisham.] I have to hire a specialist removal firm, the same Chris Holliday of Modbury Engineering,as the press is on the third or fourth floor.
September: Research Coryate’s Crudities at British Library, having heard a talk on radio earlier in the year about Thomas Coryate. Decide to use the section on Venice for first publication by the Press. Decide to use Bembo for text. In the same month visit the Whittington Press.
November: Set-up and print a specimen sheet for The Beeches Press, to use as publicity poster. Send this out to those who I think may be interested in the venture. [I purchase paper from John Purcell of Brixton.]
February: Complete Prospectus for Coryate’s Venice.
April: Print Prospectus.
June: Put in touch with artist Gwyn Roberts through Goldsmith’s College and I commission Gwyn to do linoprints for Coryate. Contact the Libanus Press regarding Greek sorts needed for Coryate.
July: Start printing – this being the third day of the third Ashes Test.
September: First proof of lino cuts by Gwyn arrive.
October: Back at British Library to commence research on possible second publication by Press: George Farquhar’s Adventures in Covent Garden.
November: Title page of Coryate printed.
December: First trial binding completed. Edition runs to 55 copies. Some are boxed.
January: Bertram Rota Booksellers in Covent Garden agree to stock a few Coryate’s; orders come in for others.
August: On the Flying Scotsman printed in an edition of 100, including a printer’s hat. This is a reprint of Eric Gill’s essay originally published in the London and North Eastern Railway Magazine, vol. 23 no. 1, dated January 1933. Published to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gill’s death.
October: Exhibit at first Oxford Fine Print Bookfair.
A prospectus is issued on the intention to publish a book on the artist Betty Swanwick, who died in 1989, to be called A Singular Vision.The work was never completed. I had been collaborating on this with my friend Philip Garner who knew Swanwick and would write the text.
Little work at the workshop and nothing printed: I married in October this year after a short betrothal.
I extend my studies in calligraphy and letter carving in stone. In November I take leave from the FT [long service leave of about 5 weeks] and spend part of that time in the studio of Richard Kindersley, Camberwell.
August: Take a one week residential course in letter carving under Tom Perkins at West Dean.
August: Visit to see John Skelton, nephew of Gill’s, at his workshop at Blabers Mead, Streat. He is holding an exhibition to celebrate his 70th.I take a one week letter carving course at his workshop in 1994. [John Skelton died in November 1999. I attend his memorial service held at Chichester Cathedral, 24 June 2000.]
August: Make a video of the workshop at Piell’s Yard with Marian’s assistance. [This has now been converted to DVD.]
April: Visit David Kindersley at his workshop in Cambridge on the 24th. [DK died on 2 February 1995 and I attend his memorial service held at St James’ Church, Piccadilly, on 2 October.]
Last recorded entry of visiting the printing workshop is made on 1st November. I have no date for sale of the machinery but guess it may have been 1999.
Aside from wedding invitations [ours in 1991] and some other ephemera I printed nothing of consequence after On the Flying Scotsman.
The Beeches Press was, therefore, dormant from 1991 until machinery sold in or about 1999.
The man who was much later to become Cardinal Pietro Bembo wrote in the 1490s of his travels up the slopes of Mount Etna. The text was in the form of a dialogue between Pietro and his father, Bernardo, the latter twice an ambassador for the Venetians in Florence and also a highly respected connoisseur of the arts. The book was taken up by Aldus Manutius in 1495, partly to make money since the publisher was, to paraphrase Updike, commercially driven, as shown by his commissioning some years after the publication of De Etna, an italic face. [See below.]
The roman designed for Cardinal Bembo’s travelogue is not considered by experts in the field as much good. Updike, quoted by Morison, says there’s only one roman that comes
close to distinction, and that’s from the 1499 edition of Hypnerotomachia Poliphili [‘The Strife of Love in a Dream of the Lover of Polia’ by Franciscus Colona]. Both this and the italic were cut by Francesco Raibolini da Blogna, more popularly known as Griffo. [From the Strife of Love also came the publisher’s device, though it was first on a coin said to have been sent by Cardinal Bembo to his publisher.]
The Bembo known to us was recut by the Monotype Corporation in 1929 [overseen by Morison].
As a tailpiece, Updike has a brilliant note [2nd edition, p.127] regarding the Aldine italic, observing its use was to make books in a smaller size [16mo] so they could be portable. The note, a quote from another author, reads: ‘We think of the cheap book and the public library as blessings coming direct from the invention of the printing-press, and at first thought we may be inclined to suppose that in Rome, when copies had to be written by hand, books must have been as dear as they were during the Middle Ages…This was not the case. Copyists had been trained to attain such a speed in writing, and slave labour was so cheap, that in the first century of our era, as Martial tells us, his first book of poems, which contains about seven hundred lines, could be had at a sum amounting to thirty or forty cents, while his Xenia could be sold for twenty cents. At these rates, books did not cost more than twice what they do to-day’.
Texts consulted: Updike, D.B. Printing Types, 1937; Morison, S.M. A Tally of Types, 1973; HMSO. Early Printers’ Marks. 1962. Printing and the Mind of Man, 1963. Grafton, A. Locum, Lacum, Lucum. 13/9/2018, London Review of Books. [The last was the inspiration for this blog.]
In The Monotype Recorder vol 36, no. 3 [December 1937], the Fortieth Birthday Number is a report on the Fifty Books of 1936: the type faces used.
Reading through the list I came across reference to Monotype Pitt (private). The text speaks of ‘the Pitt 8vo Bible of the Cambridge University Press, which was designed with special reference to the requirements of schools’.
While I am aware of the tradition of CUP for its Pitt Bible series, as well as the Pitt Building, in the town, I have never come across a type face so named. Can anyone throw light on this?
Following Marvin’s answer to my question I am pleased to show this page from my copy of the Monotype Type Faces, dated [bottom left] 9-63:
Life was tough in the sixteenth century. Consider Christoper Plantin [c1520 – 1589] of Antwerp, though a Frenchman, known for his Biblia Real or Polyglot Bible [published 1572], with some of the types cut by Robert Granjon, another Frenchman.
This venture almost cost Plantin his business, such was the financial investment needed.
Yet another strain on his wellbeing was the engravers he used to illustrate not just this but many other works, among whom the three Wiericx brothers were possibly the most troublesome.
According to contemporary reports fine draughtsmen, the brothers also liked their drink and other recreational past times to be had in Dutch taverns of the period. As Clair reports in his biography [Cassell, 1960], Jan and Jerome were ‘incorrigible drunkards’ [p.115].
Plantin himself wrote: ‘There are those in this town who offer them eight florins a day each if they will work for them in their own house, which the said Wiericx do with alacrity, and then, having worked one or two days, they go and spend all their money with disreputable companions in public places of ill fame, often leaving their gear and clothes in pledge, so that anyone who needs their services has to go and ransom them and keep them at work in his house until he has recovered his money’.
Yet Plantin admired the brothers so much [they were quick at their work] that he paid the fines, and paid them well.
In his Signs and Symbols he writes of the value of ‘interior and intermediary space’. Designers take especial note. ‘The beauty of a sign,’ he writes, ‘is often the result of a struggle between the resistance of the material and its conquest by the instrument…By contrast, the Oriental way of thought and expression…puts the creative act more into the mastery of a gesture with which the brush lays the sign on paper’. [Studio Editions, London, 1989, p.101.)
I did not know of Frutiger’s personal life so as a mental health social worker I find he lost two daughters to suicide prompting him and his partner to establish a foundation
A reader recently identified the typeface I commented upon in this post as being Ashley Crawford, and not Neuland as I had then speculated. Thank you Marvin.
The face was designed by Ashley Havinden, a noted designer of that period and produced by Monotype as Series 238 and 279 (the later for the plain font). Image from Encyclopaedia of Typefaces, Blandford Press, 1953 as in my copy of Specimens of the Type Faces, Borders, Ornaments, Rules and Other Material cast on ‘Monotype’ Type Composing and Casting Machines, The Monotype Corporation, n.d it is not included, although ‘single specimen sheets…may be obtained on application’.
This is another of his works for the London store Simpson, taken from Modern Publicity 1942-48, The Studio Publications.
To correct the earlier misinterpretation here is Neuland used in another ad (taken from The Typography of Newspaper Advertisements, Meynell, F, 1929).
This is truly appalling. The company behind this atrocity is The Coffee Club. How many indiscretions can you make out? It starts with the miserable lower case w, is exacerbated by the clumsy joining of the h and the m (this is most definitely the work of someone not trained in typography), and crowned by the (deliberate?) religious cross of the lc t. I will not even go there with the question mark, of which it must go down as probably the weakest example since moveable type was set rolling. Let me lay myself down in a darkened room….(Can a reader advise as to the name of this monstrosity of a font.)
PS – there are many other issues with this signage. Feel free to add your comments. It might make a good assignment for a first year graphic design course: “In no more than 1000 words indicate the faults in this piece of typography and indicate how you would improve it”.
We arrived about 10am to find Michael and his partner Jade and their 19 month old son James waiting outside on a grass strip that separates the building housing the newspaper from a garage next door. Their car was full of that week’s edition waiting to be distributed. The business fronting Hickory Street is now occupied by a Trust promoting an endeavour to set up a new medical centre in town through money left by a past resident – the entrance to the newspaper is along the side and leads directly into the factory or ‘print room’.
For me walking into this building was like going back to the late 1980s and early 1990s when I ran my own letterpress workshop in Bromley, UK. It was not much bigger, about the size of a double garage, yet housed the Heidelberg cylinder, a Heidelberg platen, two Intertypes (one not working), and a composing bench, formes, a small proofing press and guillotine. In the middle of the room a pot belly stove for those cold winter mornings, though as Jade told me the heat from the Intertype’s lead pot was usually sufficient: it was the hot summer months that things became unpleasant inside, the tin roof focusing the sun’s heat even more.
There used to be several people who worked at the paper, assisting with the printing or typesetting but Michael does everything now, his father John having passed away. Everything that is apart from hand-setting the headlines which are done by Jade, who also folds the sheets each week. ‘I’m pretty quick at it,’ she says.
Though he is not a trained journalist Michael does a wonderful job, some of the copy being supplied or himself sourcing it from the internet (such as police reports). He has little time to service the machinery between editions and is having increasing difficulty, he told me, finding suitable supplies of newsprint and ink.
That’s when I realised just how devoted Michael and Jade are to keeping this enterprise continuing week in and week out – not just so that printing enthusiasts like myself can come and swoon over the machinery and raise hallelujahs that letterpress is still surviving. This is their livelihood. During our time the local estate agent dropped in to ask about next week’s ad, while Michael said that many of his regular advertisers know this paper is read from cover to cover each week, unlike its local competitior down the mountain.
So because it is their livelihood I ask that if any of this blog’s readers out there know of spare parts for the Heidelberg Cylinder or sources of ink or someone who can turn around recovering rollers quickly do make contact with Michael and Jade at the Don Dorrigo Gazette. Their email is: firstname.lastname@example.org
And think about taking out an annual subscription! At A$1 a week it’s the best investment you can make in letterpress.