W H I T T I N G T O N  P R E S S
O P E N   D A Y   2 0 1 3  

The Press’ next Open Day will be on Saturday 7th September 2013, 2 p.m. onwards. As usual it will coincide with the annual Whittington Summer Show, with all its many attractions. Whittington Court will be open to the public, and the Press will be showing off its latest work, with displays of printing and typecasting. Outside there will be usual array of printers, binders, marblers, wood-engravers and paper-makers, showing off the myriad skills that go into the production of a properly produced book. Whittington is 40 miles west of Oxford, 5 miles east of Cheltenham, just off the A40.

Please click here to view the 2011 open day, colour photos by Sarah Dixon/Spider Shooter, black-and-whites by Karel Prokes of Avant Garde Letterpress in Prague.


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Its first book, RICHARD KENNEDY’S A Boy at the Hogarth Press (1972), which took a year of weekends and holidays to print in an edition of 525 copies on an 1848 Columbian hand-press, proved to be that rare event in the private press world, a best seller (it was re-issued by Penguin the same year, and in 2011 by Hesperus Press, with a foreword by John Randle ), and encouraged us to make the Press a full-time activity in 1974. From 1972 to 1991 the Press’ home was at Manor Farm, Andoversford, a mile away from the presses at Whittington, here shown in a wood-engraving by Miriam Macgregor, who came to work at the Press as compositor in 1976. Since 1972 we have printed, and nearly always published, some 200 books, including the renowned annual review for printers and bibliophiles, Matrix (‘by far the finest periodical of the book arts of the twentieth century, surpassing even the seven-volume Fleuron issued in the 1920s’), which is now in its thirtieth year. The Press has received numerous awards for its printing and publishing, most recently (2009) THE AMERICAN PRINTING HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION’S AWARD for Matrix, the first time APHA’S INSTITUTIONAL AWARD has gone to a private press. In 2008 THE CENTER FOR BOOK ARTS in New York held an exhibition of the Press’s work, and its curator Barbara Henry came to Whittington to make a film to show during the exhibition, which includes a conversation with Miriam Macgregor about her wood-engraving. An audio interview with John Randle in the Nota Bene series on printing and publishing was issued in 2011 and can be found here.

THE PRESS has a varied list, which can be best described as belles lettres, and includes books with and about wood-engravings, bibliographies of other presses (DAVID BUTCHER’S The Stanbrook Abbey Press, 1956-1990 was described as ‘a model of how these things should be done’), type specimens, diaries, pochoir (stencil) illustration, and much else besides. The one factor they all have in common is illustration, nearly always printed from the original block, plate or stencil (‘things, not pictures of things’, as ERIC GILL said).

The Press holds an annual open day at Whittington (40 miles west of Oxford) on the afternoon of the first Saturday of each September, which all our friends and subscribers are warmly invited to attend. Several other printers, booksellers, engravers, marblers and others also exhibit their wares. It is also the Whittington village summer show, and the historic Whittington Court (whose gardener’s cottage has been home to the Press since its inception) is open to the public. Hélène Guillaume made a short video of the event in 1995. The Press has printed a poster for the village show each year since 1974, and the 2009 poster had a pochoir illustration by Miriam Macgregor.


 
Our staff has always been minimal. John Randle does the printing, Rose Randle the administration, and Miriam Macgregor is compositor and wood-engraver (now more usually the latter). Neil Winter looks after our three Monotype composition casters and two Super Casters, and our collection of diecases which is one of the most comprehensive anywhere, and which includes the collection from Oxford University Press which we took over in 1986 when the Press closed its printing division. We are casting up some of our rarer founts for sale, and currently have available Caslon in 18-, 22-, and 24-point, roman, italic and small caps. Centaur will be next on the list.

Patrick and Francis Randle and Tom Mayo are occasional helpers; and our ever-vigilant proof-readers are Anthea Steel and Jenny Stringer. All the printing is done at Whittington, and the running of the business at our home at Risbury in Herefordshire. Few of the Press’s books have remained in print for any length of time, and, making a virtue out of necessity, they have nearly all been issued in limited editions of between twenty and a thousand copies, the average probably being around 300 copies. Prices range from £17.50 upwards. The titles that are still available are described here, and our forthcoming titles are described here. Many out-of-print titles can be found on abebooks.com and similar websites, some are illustrated here.

All our binding, from 1988 until its sad demise in 2008, was done by The Fine Bindery in Wellingborough under the direction of Maurice Edwards. The superb quality of the work of this three-man and three-woman team was a vital element of our books, and could generally equal or rival the work of the one-off ‘designer-binders’. To our great relief the same team has been re-established in larger premises in Wellingborough as The Fine Book Bindery by Patrick Roe and Frances Fineran. Some of our books have also been bound by Brian Settle and Paul Kidson at their Ludlow Bookbinders.

Another important element of our work is posters. They are done for no particular purpose except as relaxation from the discipline of bookwork, and usually to celebrate some event or publication, and often as an excuse to use the larger sizes of our types, particularly Caslon. Sold for a pound or two on our open days, many have become collectors’ items, particularly since the publication of our elephant-sized A BOOK OF POSTERS in 1996. Posters are the only printing the Press does apart from its books.
 
The only complete collection of the Press’s books in every edition which it will probably ever be possible to assemble is at the Elmer Andersen Library at the University of Minnesota at Minneapolis, which also houses all our working material and proofs. Other major continuing collections are at New York Public Library, The University of California at Los Angeles, the Lilly Library at Indiana University and the University of Iowa. There is also a large collection of our books at the University of Gloucestershire in Cheltenham, and some at Merton College, Oxford.
 
A new generation of Whittington Press books is now in preparation. With the publication of Ebble Valley, HOWARD PHIPPS superb engravings of this south Wiltshire valley in 2007, we finally came to the end of the books we had announced in BOOKS FROM THE WHITTINGTON PRESS in 1999. This has given us a useful incentive to update our website with details of the new titles which been at the planning stage since then. PORTMERION, LETTERS FROM MYFANWY, MATRIX 28, MATRIX 29, A VISIT TO THE WHITTINGTON PRESS, LOST AND FOUND, A TALENT FOR FRIENDSHIP AND A VISION OF ORDER have already been published and are still available.


An account of the origins of the Whittington Press can be found in an interview by John Neilson with John Randle in Forum, the journal of the Letter Exchange, March 2008.

John Randle at Gregynog, April 2011, photo by Barbara Henry.

 

This website has been designed and constructed by Patrick Lawson-Thomas, himself a skilled letterpress printer who helped us with the printing of the colour blocks in  john o’connor’s The English Scene (2004). Patrick is now learning to operate the Monotype casters and, with the help of Neil Winter who for a decade ran the casters for the Libanus Press in Marlborough, plans in due course to offer founts and setting to other printers.