A look at Simon Lawrence’s The Fleece Press

{Ed. Note: A few weeks back Books and Vines reviewed Leon Underwood: His Wood Engravings from the The Fleece Press. This article, from Books and Vines contributor Neil, provides a broader overview of the The Fleece Press by looking at a wider range of what they have published.}

The Fleece Press, in Upper Denby near Huddersfield, England, is the imprint of Simon Lawrence. He is particularly well known for printing wood-engravings ‘from the blocks’ to a standard achieved by very few printers.  This isn’t surprising when you realise that he is the grandson of the famous boxwood blockmaker S.T.E Lawrence and his family have been making woodblocks (used by every engraver of note you, or I, have probably heard of) since 1859 until recently – it’s ‘in his blood’.  His press has produced many beautiful books over the years and published a number of stunning volumes that have immediately became the key works in their field. Among the books that Simon Lawrence has lovingly printed are monographs on wood-engravers with the images perfectly printed directly from the blocks including works on: John Buckland-Wright (a monumental study that is currently up to five volumes), Derrick Harris, Marie Hartley, Joan Hassall, John Nash, Gwen Raverat, Peter ReddickLeon Underwood and Ethelbert White.  There have also been volumes that have featured a mix of engravers.

Lawrence has also produced books on his Grandfather and the boxwood blockmaking business, bookplates from Simon Brett & Richard Shirley Smith, the wood lettering of Reynolds Stone, paper-marbling, a series of books about T.E. Lawrence, books of correspondence and some exquisite miniature books covering subjects as diverse as Baskerville, book-binding and postage stamps. There have been many others, all printed to the highest standards using traditional methods.

Recently Simon Lawrence has, alongside his on-going letterpress efforts, designed and published a number of wonderfully made books that have included large numbers of colour illustrations.  As a result of the requirements of this kind of book they have been produced by four and five colour offset lithography.  They remain designed to the highest standards that you find in books produced using more traditional methods.  This series of volumes have included works on:  Edward ArdizzoneEdward Bawden and His Circle (a stunning award winning book), Leslie ColeBarnett Freedman, two books/three volumes on Eric Ravilious (now the most compendious and standard work on the artist), and the most recent on Tirzah Garwood (the wife of Eric Ravilious).

For this article, I’ve picked four books that give a ‘flavour’ of The Fleece Press; one of the T.E. Lawrence volumes, two about wood-engravers (Gwen Raverat and Agnes Miller Parker), and Simon Lawrence’s latest publication, that being an autobiography of Tirzah Garwood, which is produced using offset lithography.  While The Fleece Press does produce ‘special’ editions for some of its books (vellum/leather binding, ‘designer bindings’, extra proofs/prints etc.) – the books I am featuring are all ‘standard’ editions. Below we will present one book at a time, first its details followed by pictures, then on to the next book, etc. If you are interested in any of these works, contact Simon Lawrence to check on availability and/or check with your favorite bookseller or AbeBooks.

About The Books

Book One: Precious Caskets : The Friendship of T.E. Lawrence and William McCance by Richard Knowles (2003)

This book is about the interaction of two diverse characters, T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) and the artist William McCance.  It is written by Richard Knowles who appears to be an interesting character himself – apart from being a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries and, for seventeen years, the editor of The Journal of the Church Monuments Society and the owner of a lovely old bookshop (Rickaro Books in a village in West Yorkshire).  He has also authored other books including a Fleece Press publication about T.E Lawrence’s motorbikes – part of his qualification for this was hammering around the Isle-of-Man TT circuit on a twenties vintage motorbike and I can assure you that is not for the faint hearted.

I’m not going to attempt to add anything to what has been written about Lawrence!  William McCance was a Scottish artist who was married to Agnes Miller Parker and besides painting, was also an accomplished book designer, illustrator and printer.  Prior to spending a number of years as controller at The Gregynog Press in Wales, McCance lived in London and it was there that he ended up learning the craft of book-making by being half of the printing team for the famous first privately printed limited edition of Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom.  Following this and during his time at Gregynog with Agnes Miller Parker, a book he designed and illustrated was The Singing Caravan by Robert Vansittart – who was a distant relative of Lawrence and his book was recommended to Gregynog by Lawrence.  (McCance took his book designing seriously – if you look at a colophon of a Gregynog book you will find his name spelled Mac.cance, because he thought that was typographically better!)

By using the correspondence between the various parties involved, Knowles creates a compelling narrative around Lawrence, McCance and Vansittart and the story of the production of one very famous and two very beautiful books. As with all Fleece Press books it is produced to the highest standards and the text is enhanced with ‘tipped in’ photographs and illustrations – there are facsimiles of the notes made by McCance after visiting bookbinders in relation to binding The Seven Pillars of Wisdom and a cheque from Lawrence paying for binding in a pocket at the back of the book.

About the Precious Caskets Edition

  • Published by The Fleece Press in 2003
  • 310mm x 230mm, 56pp
  • Printed in Van Dijck type (cast by Peter A. Sanderson at Whittington) on Magnani Velata Avorio ‘Biblos’ paper with Monadnock Dulcet used for the photographs and facsimile of William McCance’s notebook, which were printed by J.W. Northend in Sheffield
  • Bound by Smith Settle in quarter cloth with Enrico Ricciardi marbled paper sides
  • 240 copies

Pictures of the Precious Caskets Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Cover and Spine
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Macro of Title Page
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Sample Pages #1
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Sample Pages #2
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Sample Pages #3
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Sample Pages #4
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Sample Page #5
Precious Caskets, The Fleece Press, Colophon

Book Two: Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, 1895-1980 by Ian Rogerson (1990)

Agnes Miller Parker was a Scottish artist who’s early work shows the influence of Vorticism and Cubism (the ‘Daily Chronicle’ wrote in 1925 about Miller Parker and her husband William McCance as ‘that clever couple from Scotland who believe in Cubist methods’).  Although she was an accomplished artist in different media, she is chiefly remembered for her wonderful wood-engravings, especially as book illustrations.  Her introduction to wood engraving was through close friends Gertrude Hermes and Blair Hughes-Stanton writing to Hermes later in life, “I feel I’m in your debt and can never make up for just everything you and Blair did for me by giving me all the gen about wood engraving – something I thought then I could do when the daylight was not good enough for painting.”

Agnes Miller Parker is one of my favourite wood-engravers.  Her technique is breathtaking, using delicate cross-hatching and varying thicknesses of flowing lines to bring a shimmering light and shade to her images that is full of life – she gives forms a solidity that makes them appear three dimensional.  She was the illustrator for two of the books from The Gregynog Press that are regarded amongst their best, The Fables of Esope and XXI Welsh Gypsy Folk Tales.  She also illustrated books for the The Golden Cockerel Press and George Macy’s Limited Editions Club where the Miller Parker illustrated edition they published of Thomas Gray‘s Elegy in a Country Churchyard is wonderful and the Thomas Hardy volumes rank with the best (particularly Jude the Obscure) .

Agnes Miller Parker engraved and illustrated all kinds of fictional and factual books throughout her life with her images appearing in as many ‘trade’ books as fine and private press editions.  For instance, outside of the rarefied world of the private press, Miller Parker illustrated two ‘trade’ books for Victor GollanczThrough the Woods (1936) and Down the River (1937), both by H.E Bates in 1937.  These were well produced and designed books packed full of fantastic Miller Parker engravings – 156 between the two books!  These were the books that brought her engravings to the wider public’s attention.

This Fleece Press book contains an essay by Ian Rogerson about Miller Parker and her art from her time as a student in Glasgow, to her marriage to William McCance and their time spent in Chiswick, London as part of the ‘Chiswick Set’, then at The Gregynog Press in Wales and all of the years after until we finally find her back in Scotland.  (Professor) Ian Rogerson has written many books and essays and a lot of them have been about wood engravers and illustrators.  He has written about Agnes Miller Parker on a number of occasions.  His expertise, knowledge and love for his subject comes across in his beautifully judged essay in this book.

There is also an essay by that great typographer and ‘man of books’, John Dreyfus, who designed five of the books that she illustrated for The Limited Editions Club, entitled Recollections of Agnes Miller Parker, a valuable section giving details of the books illustrated by Miller Parker and one on editioned prints. There are ‘tip-ins’ of photographs and a reproduction of one of her paintings and, of course, a selection of her wood-engravings printed from the blocks by Simon Lawrence.

About the Agnes Miller Parker Edition

  • Published by The Fleece Press in 1990
  • 290mm x 233mm, 92pp
  • Engravings printed by hand on an 1853 Albion hand press on dampened Zerkall mould made paper
  • Text set in 11 & 12pt Garamond type and printed on a Heidelberg Cylinder Press on Zerkall mould made paper
  • Bound in quarter cloth with paste paper sides by Claire Maziarczyk
  • Photographs and colour reproduction printed by Smith Settle, who also bound the main edition
  • 300 copies – this is one of 241

Pictures of the Agnes Miller Parker Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Cover, Spine and Slipcase
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Photo and List of Illustrations
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Text #1
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Text #2 with Photograph
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Text #3 with Device
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Text #4
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustrations #1
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #2
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Agnes Miller Parker: Wood-engraver and Book Illustrator, The Fleece Press, Colophon

Book Three: Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver by Joanna Selborne and Lindsay Newman (1996)

Gwen Raverat (1885-1957), born in Cambridge, England, was part of the Darwin family (granddaughter of Charles Darwin).  Her training as an artist had been at the Slade.  She was one of the first ‘modern’ wood-engravers, standing a little apart from the main groups gathered around the likes of Eric Gill and Noel Rooke.  The Slade had taught her how handle light and it was with the eye of a painter that Raverat approached wood-engraving (a craft which she taught hersef).  The light she brings to her engravings is the light of Impressionism. Raverat loved France, marrying a Frenchman, Jaques Raverat (they had two daughters), and living in France before and after the First World War. Jaques Raverat suffered from multiple sclerosis and died in 1925 and following his death she spent the rest of her life in and around Cambridge.

She made many engravings for her friends and exhibited at every annual exhibition of The Society of Wood-Engravers from 1920-1940.  Her engravings that appear in books stretch from 1911 to 1950.  Most of her book engravings date from the 1930s, with many being printed with care at The Cambridge University Press.  A significant proportion of her engravings appeared in children’s books which she loved illustrating.  Her biggest commission from a private press was for The Ashendene Press edition of Les Amours de Daphne et Chloe by Longus which is a beautiful book.  She had to give up wood-engraving following a stroke in 1951. Gwen Raverat began to write her classic memoir Period Piece when she was 62.  It was illustrated with her own line drawings and published in 1952 and has been in print ever since.

The first half of this book consists of eight chapters under the main heading, Gwen Raverat, wood engraver, written by (Dr) Joanna Selborne.  Selborne writes about Raverat’s technique, single wood engravings, book illustrations, colour wood engravings and gives her overview of Raverat as an artist accompanied by a select bibliography.  Joanna Selborne catalogued the important collection of twentieth century wood-engravings at The Central St Martins School of Art and is the Curator of Prints at The Courtald Institute.  She is an accomplished writer and her book, British Wood-engraved Book Illustration 1904-1940: A Break with Tradition, is the standard work in its field.  She brings all of her passion, experience and skills to her essays in this book.

The second half of the book is given over to very detailed appendices covering the books illustrated by Raverat, her prints on wood and lino, and an index.  This has been researched and written by Lindsay Newman and is a model of its type.

The text is, again, supported by ‘tip ins’ and seeded throughout are beautifully printed wood-engravings printed from the blocks.  The design of this book is wonderful and the standard of printing is of the highest level – in the colophon Simon Lawrence writes, “There are some books by which I hope my publishing career will one day be judged, and this will be one of them.” – his reputation is safe!

(A number of important Fleece Press books have been published as ‘trade’ editions – this is one of them and a ‘trade’ edition was published by The British Library/Oak Knoll. There will be a later look at that trade edition under the Books and Vines ‘Affordable Pleasures and Treasures’ series.)

About the Gwen Raverat Edition

  • Published by The Fleece Press in 1996
  • 329mm x 235mm, 150pp
  • Printed in Scotch Roman on Zerkall paper by Peter J. Sanderson at Whittington
  • Bound in quarter cloth with Ann Muir marbled paper side by Smith Settle
  • 300 copies – this is one of 260

Pictures of the Gwen Raverat Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Spine, Cover and Slipcase
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Sample Text
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #3 with Text
Gwen Raverat: Wood Engraver, The Fleece Press, Colophon

Book Four: Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, her autobiography, 1908-43.  Edited, and with biographical notes on the period 1943-51, by Anne Ullmann (2012)

The artist Tirzah Garwood (1908-1951) was born in Gillingham, Kent, the daughter of a lieutenant-colonel of the Royal Engineers.  She was raised in a comfortable, middle class world that was to be the subject of much of her art which portrays it gleefully with a lovingly satirical eye.  Tirzah was a nickname (her name was Eileen Lucy) – her father had started to call her ‘Tertia’ soon after she was born which became Tirzah, the name that she was known by throughout her life.

She was a pupil at wood-engraving classes given by Eric Ravilious at The Eastbourne School of Art from the age of eighteen.  By 1927 she was exhibiting at The Redfern Gallery and over the following years she was widely recognized as one of the most promising engravers of her generation.  Examples of her work appeared in The Woodcut of 1929 and The New Woodcut in 1930.  Commissions came from The Curwen Press, The Golden Cockerel Press, The Kynoch Press and The BBC.

She moved to London in 1929 and continued her studies at The Central School of Art.  All of her engravings were made between the ages of 19 and 23. She married the great English artist Eric Ravilious in 1930 and they lived in Hammersmith, London for two years. Between 1932 and 1934, and before moving into their own home, the Ravilious’s lived with the artist Edward Bawden and his wife in their home ‘Brick House’ in Great Bradfield, a village in Essex, England that was home to a thriving artistic community.   During this period Tirzah made a series of beautiful marbled papers in collaboration with Charlotte Bawden.

Eric Ravilious was a war artist and a Captain in the Royal Marines during the Second World War.  He was lost on an air-sea rescue mission over Iceland in 1942. Tirzah had developed breast cancer and heard about her husband’s death as she was recovering from a mastectomy. She was left as a war widow with three children and no pension (as Eric was classed as a ‘non combatant’).  Despite suffering these personal tragedies, those who knew her remember her as vibrant and life-enhancing.  Olive Cook, a friend, is quoted in an article in ‘Matrix 10’, “After an absence of close on forty years her presence remains extraordinary and poignantly clear.  Light boned and quick moving, she had the figure of a Botticelli Angel, a pale, mobile, rather long face framed in wavy brown hair, a wide mouth and dark vivid eyes, shining with intelligence and full of half mocking humour.”  Between 1946 and 1951 she was married to Henry Swanzy.

In the introduction to The Fleece Press book Anne Ullmann (Tirzah Garwood’s daughter) quotes Tirzah’s reason for writing her biography, “I hope dear reader that you may be one of my descendants.”   Anne Ullmann goes on to tell us that Tirzah began writing in March 1942 with a graphic description of the hospital ward where she was recovering from a mastectomy operation for primary cancer and that she wrote throughout her convalescence and finished the first draft by the end of May and had typed up most of the manuscript by February of the following year.  Anne Ullmann tells us that Tirzah must have had doubts about exposing her personal life and it was not until fifty years after Tirzah’s death that Henry Swanzy gave Anne her original handwritten notebooks enabling her to fill in the missing storyline.

I have only recently purchased this book and spent the first few hours browsing through the copious illustrations, ‘tip ins’ and photographs.  The parts of the text I have read show Tirzah Garwood to have been a very perceptive observer and her large circle of friends and acquaintances, particularly the artists resident, or passing through, Great Bardfield, have given her much to write about alongside her own very interesting life.  Anne Ullmann is an accomplished writer and as Tirzah Garwood’s daughter is the perfect person to introduce and edit her mother’s biography.

The book contains an Introduction by Anne Ullmann, The Autobiography, a chapter on Tirzah’s life from 1943-1951 by Anne Ullmann and appendices on the Garwood, Corry and Ravilious families. The book is beautifully designed in double columns with many of the illustrations integrated into the text.  It is bound in quarter cloth with Garwood designed paper covered sides (not dissimilar to the paper she designed for the Golden Cockerel ‘guinea’ series).  A nice touch is the reproduction of Tirzah Garwood’s bookplate inside the front cover.  There are illustrations throughout the book by many different artists of paintings, photographs, engravings, papers, invitations etc.  One of the ‘tip ins’ are reproductions of Tirzah’s ten engravings, ‘The Relations’, which are among her best, another is of some her lovely marbled papers. Simon Lawrence has a habit of publishing beautiful books with texts that are deserving of such treatment – this is one of them.

About the Tirzah Garwood Edition

  • Published by The Fleece Press in 2011
  • 328mm x 235mm, 300pp
  • Printed by Northend Creative Print Solutions on PhoeniXmotion Xantur paper
  • Book designed by, and Miller Display type set by, Simon Lawrence
  • Fabriano Tiziano endpapers
  • Bound by The Fine Book Bindery in quarter cloth with paper covered boards adapted from a design by Tirzah Garwood
  • 550 copies

Pictures of the Tirzah Garwood Edition

(All pictures on Books and Vines are exclusively provided to highlight and visualize the work being reviewed.  A side benefit, hopefully, is encouraging healthy sales of fine press books for the publishers and fine retailers that specialize in these types of books (of which Books and Vines has no stake or financial interest). Please note that works photographed are copyrighted by the publisher, author and/or illustrator as indicated in the articles. Permission to use contents from these works for anything outside of fair use purposes must come directly from the copyright owner and no permission is granted or implied to use photo’s found on Books and Vines for any purpose that would infringe on the rights of the copyright owner.)

Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Spine and Cover
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Inside Front Cover
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Frontispiece and Title Page
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #1 with Text
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustration #2 with Text
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustrations #3 with Text
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustrations #5 with Text
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Sample Illustrations #6 with Text
Tirzah Garwood: Long Live Great Bardfield & Love to You All, The Fleece Press, Colophon

2 thoughts on “A look at Simon Lawrence’s The Fleece Press

  1. Warning! These books are addictive and pose a serious hazard to one’s financial health and well being. This is not because they are egregiously overpriced (they are decidedly not). Rather, it is because they are produced to such a high standard that after one’s initial purchase of a Fleece Press book it is difficult not to purchase others.

    Neil has given a wonderful overview and sampling of what the Fleece Press is about. These books are not going to be to everyone’s taste nor are they intended to be. The Fleece Press editions pay homage to many of the great British wood engravers and artists of the first half of the twentieth century, many now forgotten and unjustly overlooked. Given Simon Lawrence’s background as the grandson of one of Britain’s greatest wood engravers (S.T.E. Lawrence) this singular focus is hardly surprising. These are livre d’artiste books which contain supplementary material and commentary regarding the artist’s techniques and aims as well as pertinent biographical material. The only deviations from this focus are a series of books about the life of T.E. Lawrence (‘Lawrence of Arabia’) and several books featuring artists who were primarily involved in watercolours.

    What cannot be overstated is that the reproductions of the wood engravings, as illustrated by Neil’s photos above, are unsurpassed by any other private press I have collected or encountered. Simply put, no one else comes close to this standard. If any of these artists and their work are of interest to you these books become a “must have” item. Aside from the generous number of superbly reproduced illustrations the books themselves are stunning, using some of the finest hand made papers for text and beautiful hand-marbled papers for the boards.

    Personally, the books I have been drawn to are those with an historical focus in addition to the biographical focus of these artists. Specifically, ‘Surreal Times: John Buckland Wright” and “To War With Paper & Brush, Captain Edward Ardizzone, Official War Artist”, books which give a fascinating first hand glimpse into various aspects of World War II and its aftermath are the first Fleece Press books I have added to my book collection.

Leave a Reply to dlphcoracl Cancel reply