Having been printing books by letterpress (or ‘as god intended’, according to Revd Bernard Roberts – so the opening paragraph of their website goes), in the Gloucestershire village of Whittington since 1971, the presence and influence of the Whittington press is hard to ignore. For almost as long as they’ve been printing, the Press, run by the Randles, have also been throwing open their doors and inviting people – from printers and collaborators, to locals and enthusiasts – to their ever popular open days. So, it was with much excitement one half of The Counter Press (the other was busy supporting the impressive Team GB at the Paralympics) headed to this years open day, aka Presstival.
Having seen photographs of the Whittington Press, I had some idea of what to expect, but I still wasn’t quite prepared for the rambling warren of rooms and annexes. Once past the beautiful tribute to Caslon carved in stone outside the front door, you were greeted by a rather large Heidelberg and an even larger stack of paper. From there each room revealed another press or caster and precariously stacked cases and cabinets of type.
An impeccable welcome carved into stone by the fantastic Fergal Wessel.
Every inch of space is filled with printing equipment. And precarious stacks of paper.
The press is a maze crammed full of treasures, all happily still in use, with clippings, postcards and prints of all shapes and sizes lining the walls. So crammed is the building that the ceiling has been cut away above the glorious Columbian (tightly nestled next to a gigantic Wharfdale) to make way for the eagle perched on top. It makes it more impressive that such fine printing comes out of the press, seeing the charming melee in which it’s produced.
The Columbian, with the eagle carefully tucked into the ceiling...
One of the more organised areas, full of light, type, binding and…umm…plants growing through the walls (not unlike our new studio).
And of course one of the real treats of the day was being able to leaf through the most exquisitely printed and bound books. Admittedly not all of them were to our tastes, but the care and craftsmanship, alongside the elegant typography was inspiring to see. Especially when so many of them use the most beautiful cut of Caslon, cast at the press.
A page of stunning Bodoni printed in a special Whittington Press specimen book.
A large Caslon specimen, demonstrating the wonderful outside characters the press cast themselves.
72pt Caslon on the monotype casters.
Not satisfied with elegant book typography, the press is experimenting with laser cut and mounted lettering as a way of pushing letterpress.
Outside in the sunshine there was an eclectic selection of people and printing on offer. A lot of fine and traditional typography rubbing shoulders with some thoughtful, experimental printing, which seemed to reflect the scope of the press itself. And then there was the plain mad – Dennis Gould printing decorative type onto whatever he could find, for those that wanted a slice of nostalgia and the pink printing milk float...
A fully functioning print shop on a pink milk float. What more can be said!
All in all it was a great day. I finally got to put some faces to names of the twitter crowd, which we’ve become friends with over the last two years but never actually met: the northern contingent; Print for Love of Wood and The Print Project, along with the more local(ish); Muttons & Nuts, Mandy Horton, Justin at Typoretum, Inkspot Press, Ian Knight Printmaking (aka Print Monkey), and, of course, Pat Randle of the Nomad Press. Not forgetting old friends that it’s always nice to see again: Simon Goode, Andy Taylor and the chaps at Hand & Eye.
I came away feeling inspired by the press itself and the mixture of old and new, classical bookmaking and progressive experimental printing that the Randles’ manage to combine seamlessly at Whittington. A big thank you to them for their hospitality and calmness of having such hordes of people poking their noses in. Looking forward to next year already... Whilst saving up for the next Matrix.
More photos can be seen over on our Flick page.