In early february of this year my friend Rob Pratley and I got in contact with The Whittington Press and were invited down to take a look around for a few hours. After a dark and early start we drove the 4 hours from Coggeshall (where we were both working at typoretum) to Cheltenham and arrived down just after 9 am. From the outside the press is incredibly unassuming and it would be very easy to pass by and not realise the incredible facility that lies within. We were welcomed in by Pat Randle and immediately handed the first cup of tea of the day. There would be many more. Pat gave us an in depth tour of the press and as we walked through he explained about where original doors and boundaries used to be and that the building had expanded greatly since Pat’s father John started the press in 1971.
It’s difficult to convey all the treasures that are found inside but here’s a taster; hundreds of cases of metal type, dozons of cases of wood type, hundreds of original wood engravings, huge mid century linocuts, a Wharfedale stop cylinder press, a Heidelberg Cylinder, a Columbian hand press, a table top albion, a Western proofing press and several FAG proofing presses, three Monotype composition casters, two Super Casters with hundreds of matrices and dozens of keyboards for them. And books.
There have been over 2o0 titles printed and published at The Whittington Press since 1971 (!). All printed letterpress, all printed on interesting papers and all finished by hand in bindings that range from simple and understated to lavish and intricate. We were lucky enough to land down when Pat was printing the final impressions of the dust jacket for the latest edition of Matrix, the renowned periodical of all things ‘fine press’. There was a slight issue with the mast-head position and it was interesting to get an insight into the process of resolving it. The 700 editions or so of Matrix is printed on the Heidelberg Cylinder press and nothing else.
Behind where the Heidelberg was drumming out Matrix dust-jackets we wondered back to where Neil Winter was busy casting some beautiful Caslon. Neil runs the three Monotype composition casters and two Super Casters in a room quite a few degrees warmer that the rest of the press. The collection of diecases ‘is one of the most comprehensive anywhere, and which includes the collection from Oxford University Press’. I could have spent the day down here investigating every corner.
In November 2011 I attended the FPBA Oxford Book Fair at Brookes University and it was here that I first saw the work of The Whittington Press. They had just released an incredibly beautiful book which was based on the linocuts of Andrew Anderson and they were also selling some large linocuts by the late Geoff Millar. The Geoff Millar I bought (printed on Korean handmade paper) is hanging at the foot of my stairs since the moment I returned home. I didn’t get to have a good look at that incredible book that day so I was delighted to be able to have a careful look through it while at the press. A Vision of Order is possibly one of the most accomplished linocut books I’ve ever held. The skill of the artist and the enormous amount of work that is required to produce such a body of work is immediately apparant. I enjoy illustrating through linocuts. Andrew Anderson has taken it to another level, one of the works (the Rock of Cashel) measures about three feet by four feet and is on nine different sheets of paper which have been superbly held together with tape. Tom Mayo who helped print the book gave me some further insight into the challenges he had to overcome to print from a collection of linocuts which spanned 40 years.
With so much to see and learn from this great press, the few hours we intended staying for turned into quite a long day and we left again about eight in the evening, incredibly energised and inspired to produce work. Pat, John, Tommy and Neil were great hosts and great fun to be around for the day. Having had my fill, I don’t think I had another cup of tea for a few weeks afterwards.
On the first Saturday of each September The Whittington Press holds their annual open day. Although I’ve not yet been I have it on good authority that it’s a great day out where you will find lots of printers, booksellers, engravers, marblers and others associated with the book arts. I’ll be going this year for sure.
Here’s a little info for your GPS!
The Whittington Press
Whittington, nr Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL54 4HF