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Frans Masereel and His Woodcuts

Frans Masereel is above all a thinker. His art expresses ideas. He uses it to render thoughts and emotions which modern humanity has aroused in him. He is thus an enemy of Art for Art’s sake, of pure aesthetics. It is not only Beauty he pursues, but Truth. And he is an individualist: he hates standardization of human beings, of human thought. This attitude towards life he has admirably defended in his series of eighty-three woodcuts called: The Idea, its Birth, its Life, and its Death.

From this standpoint too, from his love of truth and justice, he attacks profiteers, industrial magnates, and warmongers, and on the other hand defends the submerged, the under-dogs, the weak, and the poor. This allies him to a certain extent with such artists as Kaethe Kollwitz and George Grosz, two other champions of the victims of our civilization.

Masereel, however, is more universal than Kaethe Kollwitz, who laments the distress of the labourer, or George Grosz, who castigates the bourgeois and militarists of Germany. Masereel deals with types of all classes and all countries, paints all the sufferings of humanity, not their social distress only. Even technically his work is distinguished from theirs: it looks, strangely enough, much more modern, although he uses quite primitive and well-known means. Kaethe Kollwitz’s art always suggests the technique of the German impressionists, especially that of Slevogt. His conception of the world resembles that of the great Walt Whitman, who, like himself, was a citizen of the world, rather than the child of his nation.

Masereel possesses two other characteristics: an astounding memory for all his experiences and impressions, and indefatigable industry. His whole, rich life is reflected in the works of this Fleming who was born in 1889 in Blankenbergh, where he spent the happy days of his youth — ‘playing much and learning little,’ as he himself says. For a short time he studied at Ghent and subsequently went to Germany, England, Tunis, and Geneva, in which latter town he remained during the war. From Geneva he protested, full of sorrow and indignation, together with his friends Romain Rolland, P. J. Jouve and René Arcos, against that indescribable massacre of mankind, publishing daily in the Genevan paper, La Feuille, satirical and anti-militaristic drawings and woodcuts.

For some years now he has been settled in Paris, high up on Montmartre, whence from his studio table he can overlook the sea of Paris houses. There he works quietly, day by day, and records with unremitting assiduity his experiences. As a result of this industry he has, apart from numerous drawings, oil-paintings and water-colours, already more than 1300 woodcuts to his credit, and he is only in his thirty-ninth year. I know no one who gives such an impression of richness and effortless spontaneity as does Masereel.

This boundless wealth of ideas surprises one, particularly in a series of sixteen cuts which he calls Memories of Home. In this series he often groups seven or eight little scenes round the principal subject, which elaborate it and strengthen the significance of the whole. In each of these pictures there are such a mass of notes, of contrasts which mutually enhance each other, that one never scans the pages of the book without discovering new details, hitherto overlooked.

This simultaneity of presentation has a dynamic force which only the cinematographic film can rival. Many of his woodcut series, especially his picture-novels, have terrific ‘speed’, which makes us turn from page to page almost breathless. This proves the great influence the cinema to which, incidentally, Masereel is passionately devoted — has had on his art. Under its influence were created his picture-novels, such as The Idea, The Passion of a Man, The Sun, My Book of Hours.

These books consist of a series of cuts without any letterpress, and are perhaps the greatest, certainly the most original, of Masereel’s creations. Superficially, these series, which he himself calls ‘Novels in Pictures’, remind us, by reason of their simple technique, of the primitive block-books of the fifteenth century and of the ‘Dance of Death’ series so popular during the sixteenth. Actually, however, they are entirely different. Instead of treating some religious theme, they describe the tearing speed of modern life and the pleasures and sufferings of modern city dwellers.

The Book of Hours is the most beautiful, the most varied, the most richly contrasted of Masereel’s works. This book was inscribed as a motto with Walt Whitman’s words: ‘Behold! I do not give lectures, or a little charity; When I give, I give myself.’ The hero of this novel, who resembles Masereel like a brother, arrives in a big modern city and finds himself thus suddenly surrounded by its roaring traffic. A stranger, he perambulates the streets with an observing eye; amazed, he looks at the motions of the machines; frightened, he sees the gaunt factory buildings and their smoking chimneys. Very touchingly expressed is the pure sensual joy of his first love adventures. His naive love, however, is derided by prostitutes, and he seeks refuge in the silence of a church. Then he leaves the city, laden with sorrow, and travels far and wide. Full of experience, he returns and would help his fellow creatures.

They, however, are too dull to understand him. In a true Flemish manner, Masereel describes the hero’s reaction against this dis- appointment. These cuts are full of life and movement, and powerfully suggest the Film. The hero is now seen making fun of everything, raves about, and does what he can to shock the Philistines. The end of this novel shows us Masereel in a new light; for he often loves to leave brutal reality in order to soften things in the air of poetic imagination. So here: the hero of the Book of Hour: leaves his fellows, seeks the solitude of a wood, and dies alone. Now at last freed from his body he stamps upon his all too human heart that has brought him so much sorrow, and wanders free through the limitless space of the Universe.
The woodcuts of this Book of Hours are, like most of Masereel’s, in black and white, with large spaces. This gives them a kind of monumental power. But as this style is too circumscribed in its possibilities, and inclined to clumsiness, and invites, on account of its apparent easiness, cheap effects, Masereel combines it with a discreet play of white and black lines.

He, however, never makes the mistake of producing tone by complicated cross-hatching, which confuses the lines: with Masereel each line remains clearly visible and retains its own character. The masterly manner in which he is able to render the most varied emotions in spite of his simple and primitive technique can readily be seen in the examples here reproduced.
Amongst these ‘The Lovers’ is an excellent illustration of another quality of Masereel’s genius: the originality of his inventions. How many ‘lovers’ have we not seen since the woodcut was invented! No other woodcutter, however, has treated this hackneyed theme in a manner at once so original and so true. And Masereel, too, sees his pictures from ever-varying optical viewpoints.

A few words must here be added concerning Masereel’s book- illustrations. For technical reasons his woodcuts are generally not very suitable for this purpose. It is impossible to produce an absolute harmony between Masereel’s cuts and the letterpress, since even the blackest and heaviest type-face produces a grey surface; Masereel’s woodcuts, however, are never grey in effect: there is always a self-contained harmony of black and white masses.

The best results, typographically speaking, were obtained by Masereel himself, with the illustrations for Les Pâques à New York. In this book, which was set up under the artist’s strict direction, large black type was used — the letterpress widely spaced, and the type-face of the page empanelled with a thick black rule. In this manner a balance was achieved between the letterpress and the illustrations. In his Owlglass (Ulenspiegel, published by Kurt Wolff), too, the result was satisfactory because it was printed in old German Black-letter. None of these illustrations, however, belongs to Masereel’s masterpieces, because his personality is too strong to be forced into the mould of another’s.

It took a long time before the work of this great artist received the attention it deserves. Now, however, his fame is spreading. In Germany and France enormous editions of his picture-novels are sold out; in America the circle of his admirers is steadily growing; in Russia his woodcuts are seen on the Government poster hoardings. And now his name is mentioned in the same breath with Callot’s, Daumier’s, and Van Gogh’s.

By Edmund Bucher – From Volume II — The Woodcut: An Annual by Herbert Furst.

Stay Put This Summer!

As the second world war broke out, the movement of supplies became paramount to winning the war effort. The control of the railways was passed to the ‘Railway Executive Committee’ who tried to put people off travel with this posters. The National Railway Museum put it better than I cold so below is some text from them:

Stay at home
Once the Railway Executive Committee took control of the network, hoardings were immediately cleared of most advertising material relating to leisure travel. The holiday resorts on the southern coast were effectively closed because of the threat of invasion, and the railway industry geared up for its essential role as part of the war machine moving men and material. Station names were painted out to confuse the enemy in the event of invasion and there was a universal black out removing all lighting which might attract bombers on night air raids.

By November 1939, the British railway network was seriously preparing for war. It was moving extra food supplies, equipment and troops essential for the logistics of conflict. The materials to build the new war factories, the raw materials to make the munitions of war and the men and women who fashioned them all had to be carried on the railways. 

From June 1940, East Coast shipping was heavily cut back, and much of this freight was transferred onto the East Coast Main Line. On some sections, traffic rose by 500 percent.

The public were urged to spend their holidays at home, as the running of additional trains during the summer months and bank holidays were now a thing of the past. Travel for pleasure was discouraged throughout the war, as the railways were now the lifeline of both the military and public services.

Dead Greenhouses

In Cambridgeshire there is a ghost town of glasshouses in a field, they have been replaced with a vast new set of tall metal glasshouses some miles down the road, what is left decaying are there shells from the 1930’s and 40’s — home grown boom.

In the later days of their life with cheap imports, from the plastic covered hills of the Almería region in Spain. The greenhouses in Cambridgeshire where used mostly for garden centre boarder plants until left to die, glass falling into itself like flesh and the skeleton remaining.

Walter Hoyle’s Letter to the editor.

From Private View: The Journal from the Cambridge School of Art. Spring 1986.


Walter Hoyle – Dieppe Harbour, 1986

I thought this letter was so colourful and a rare insight into the world of Walter Hoyle. Sadly little is known online of Hoyle as books are yet to be penned. But this is a rather funny view on his last days at the Cambridge School of Art and Hoyle’s quest for a coast house.

First a brief biography of Walter Hoyle. Painter and printmaker, Hoyle was born in Lancashire. He studied at Beckenham School of Art from 1938 alongside Bernard Cheese, then moved on to the Royal College of Art in 1940. There he was mentored and educated under Edward Bawden, they became close friends and Hoyle later moved to Great Bardfield to live and work alongside Bawden. Hoyle wrote a book called ‘To Sicily with Edward Bawden’ with Olive Cook and also illustrated editions for the Folio Society. After moving to Bottisham, Cambridgeshire, he taught at the Cambridge School of Art, placing great emphasis on printmaking. Hoyle worked amassing the Collection of Original Works for Children in Cambridgeshire, an art project for City of Cambridge Committee for Education. Hoyle retired in 1985 to move to Hastings and Dieppe.

A personal note from Walter Hoyle.
The new editor of ‘Private View’ (Warwick Hutton) has requested a personal note on my activities since relinquishing my commitment to the Cambridge School of Art (and ‘Private View’) in July, 1985.

I spend most of the summer with my family in Dieppe where we have a flat in the old part of town, near the harbour. As usual, I enjoyed Dieppe and spent my time drawing, painting and recovering from the cool flatness of Cambridge. However, I think that it will take more than one summer to regenerate the energy I spent and lost over the years at Cambridge School of Art. I do not regret the time spent with students — that was very worthwhile — but I do regret the time and energy waster on trying to justify art to the almost blind administration and national authorities, and as somebody said — in the land of the blind the one-eyed is King — or something like that.

At the end of the summer I returned to Cambridge, my faith strengthened by Dieppe and my romantic ideals partially restored. We had decided to sell our Cambridge (Bottisham) house and move to the south coast — it would be easier to commute to Dieppe.


So we cleaned up the house and put it on the market and to my surprise it sold quickly, within three or four days. The prospective buyers who vied the house were fascinated by my studio and etching press — I do not wear a beret or smock, nor do I sport a beard but I think they also found me a curiosity and to top it all, my wife is French and they loved her accent — obviously the right combination for selling property.

We had to dash off to the south coast to look for a house. We started at Brighton — too brash, polished and pretty, Newhaven — a depressingly ugly place, Eastbourne — alright for Aunty, and then Hastings — interesting, rather shabby, a town that has seen better days, very hilly, amazing architecture and many charming Victorian houses for sale. So Hastings it is, a Victorian house with marvellous views above the Old Town.

From the Hastings house I can look out of the window at the sea, this same sea that fills the harbour at Dieppe, and yet Hastings and Dieppe could not be more different, and this variance I find interesting and entertaining. Also, the sky here in Hastings often looks like a Turner or Constable, but viewed from Dieppe it reflects French painters — however, my aim is to work on my own observations and ideas and make both sides of the channel look Hoylish.


 Walter Hoyle – St Catherine’s with Acanthus ,  1966

This I found difficult to do in Cambridge, Its so complete and correct and no doubt the University and its architecture are partly to blame. There is a strong smell of education like sour wine and a lack of effervescence and creative activity, and a feeling prevails that education is the end product rather than the means.

I will now be crossing the channel frequently and I welcome the immediate stimulus of the two sides of La Manche.


 Walter Hoyle  – Senate House Cambridge , 1965

The Father, Son and an Abbey; the story of Fonthill Abbey


 Fonthill Abbey by Ed Kluz.

This is the story of the rise and fall of Fonthill Abbey, the houses before it and the men who changed a house to live in their own ideas of grandeur.

The Father:


 William ‘Alderman’ Beckford (19 December 1709–21 June 1770)

William ‘Alderman’ Beckford, born in Jamaica to a plantation family, was sent to England in 1723 to be educated where he studied at Westminster School.
He worked in the trade of Sugar (the family plantation) in the city of London and in 1744 Alderman bought an estate at Fonthill Gifford, near Salisbury called Fonthill Antiquus, pictured above. Pictured below: the estate after some improvements to the house and gardens.


 Fonthill Redivivus

Sadly these improvements were of no use as the main house was mostly destroyed by fire in 1755. Announcing that “I have an odd fifty thousand pounds in a drawer: I will build it up again” . Below are the plans for the now Georgian design of the house. He finished the newly named Fonthill Splendens off in the early 1760’s.


 Fonthill Splendens

Resented by local gentry for his Caribbean accent, Alderman spent most of his time at 22 Soho Sq – London, his city home, forging his political and sugar interests and collecting art. Laughed at by some for faulty Latin, his wealth and social power obliged people to respect him. He hosted sumptuous feasts, one that cost £10,000 or £1 million pounds in today’s money. He died in 1770.

The Son:


Born in 1760 in the family home at 22 Soho Sq, William Thomas Beckford at the age of ten, inherited a fortune from his father William ‘Alderman’ Beckford, consisting of £1 million in cash or £117 million as of 2014. 

He was briefly trained in music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, but his drawing master, Alexander Cozens, was a greater influence. At 20 years old he wrote Memoirs of Extraordinary Painters (1780). He then went and journeyed in Italy in 1782 and promptly wrote a book on his travels: Dreams, Waking Thoughts and Incidents (1783).

William Courtenay
On 5 May 1783 he married Lady Margaret Gordon, daughter of the fourth Earl of Aboyne. Beckford was bisexual, “indiscreetly attracted to boys” and had a disastrous affair with William Courtenay, later 9th Earl of Devon. Although the pair met when Courtenay was 10, it is believed the affair started when Courtenay was 13 and Beckford 18. In 1784 with a visit to Powderham Castle, the Courtenay’s family home; letters were intercepted by the boy’s uncle, who advertised the affair in the newspapers. London newspapers were talking of the “detestable scene lately acted in Wiltshire, by a pair of fashionable male lovers.” The scandal blossomed and Beckford retreated to Switzerland with his wife and their baby daughter. In May 1786, in Switzerland, his wife died of puerperal fever after giving birth to a second daughter.

It was at this time Vathek (1786), written originally in French was published; he boasted that it took a single sitting of three days and two nights, though there are letters between Beckford and Samuel Henley that show this to be untrue. At the time of his wife’s death, Beckford also learned that Vathek, which he had given to the Reverend Samuel Henley for translation, would be published anonymously, with a preface in which Henley claimed that it had been taken directly from the Arabic. Beckford remained abroad for many years.

The Abbey:


 Fonthill Abbey

After a return to England and becoming more reclusive, it was the opportunity to purchase the complete library of Edward Gibbon, author of The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire that gave Beckford the basis for his own library, and with the architect James Wyatt built Fonthill Abbey in which to house this and Beckford’s art collection.


 Fonthill Abbey

Fonthill Abbey was built a mile south-west of Fonthill Splendens, in deep woodland and away from public roads. He demolished large parts of Fonthill Splendens for building materials on the Abbey. Building a 12 foot high wall to enclose his new structure and the 524 acres around it.

Wyatt was often accused of spending a good deal of his time on women and drink, causing him to miss many meetings and the overseeing of construction on the Abbey. Beckford thus took it upon himself to direct the construction of the Abbey.

Beckford’s 500 labourers worked in day and night shifts. He bribed 450 more from the building of the new royal apartments at Windsor Castle by increasing an ale ration to speed things up. He also commandeered all the local wagons for transportation of building materials. To compensate, Beckford delivered free coal and blankets to the poor in cold weather.

The first part was the tower that reached about 90 metres (300 ft) before it collapsed, apparently from having a large flag upon it, with strong winds. When informed of the mishap, Beckford, merely regretting that he had not seen it fall, gave an immediate order for the construction of another. The new tower was finished six years later, again 90 metres tall. It collapsed as well. Beckford immediately started to build another one, this time with stone, and this work was finished in seven years.

The abbey part was decorated with silver, gold, red and purple. Four long wings radiated from the octagonal central room. Francis Eginton painted many windows in the property with his realistic style of reproducing oil paintings and the front doors were 35 feet (10 m) tall. It was declared finished in 1813. Beckford employed a dwarf as a doorkeeper to those massive doors.


 The massive west doorway.

Beckford lived alone in his abbey and used only one of its bedrooms. His kitchens prepared food for 12 every day although he always dined alone and sent other meals away afterwards. Only once, in 1800, did he entertain guests when Rear Admiral Lord Nelson and Emma, Lady Hamilton, visited the Abbey for Christmas.

Once he demanded that he would eat a Christmas dinner only if it would be served from new abbey kitchens and told his workmen to hurry. The kitchens collapsed as soon as the meal was over. In 1822 when he lost two of his Jamaican sugar plantations in a legal action. He was forced to sell the Abbey and it’s contents for £330,000 (£25,460,000 in 2014) a year later to John Farquhar, a gunpowder contractor from Bengal, India.


Within 2 years of this sale the tower at Fonthill Abbey fell down for the last time and Farquhar tried to sell all his land but died in 1826 intestate. The rest of the abbey was later demolished. Only a gatehouse and a small remnant of the north wing remained.

The remaining part of Fonthill Splendens was bought by Haberdasher, James Morrison who’s family went on to rebuilt, restyle and in 1971 practically erase the recognisable parts. 

Beckford moved to Lansdown Crescent, Bath and began constructing another tower on a hill. Designed by Henry Goodridge and completed in 1827, Beckford used the tower as both a library and a retreat. At 120 feet tall, Beckford’s Tower still stands.


 Beckford’s Tower

The Hogarth Press Early Works.

The early books from the Hogarth Press between 1917 and 1925 where beautiful items, regardless of the content within. They were home made, pamphlet style booklets with bright covers of marbled or hand-painted paper.


The Hogarth Press was founded by the married Leonard and Virginia Woolf. It was set up as a hobby for Virginia whom suffered depression when writing and needed a distraction. They named it the Hogarth Press after Hogarth house, the Woolf’s London residence.

The plan for the Woolf’s was to enrol at St Bride’s School of Printing, but they where not members of a trade union. So instead had to buy the printing machines, paper, type and a booklet on how to set it all up.
The first publication was ‘Two Stories’ with a story by both Leonard and Virginia. ‘Two Jews’ by Leonard and ‘The Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia followed. These were limited to 150 copies. The designs for these books where rather formal.


In 1919, with the Omega workshops shutting down, it is likely that Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant saw the Hogarth Press as a new medium to work with. It was in the same year that Kew Gardens by Virginia Woolf was published with woodcuts by Vanessa Bell. This being one of the more beautiful pamphlets they made.


The Woolf’s managed to hand-print 34 books before Virginia relinquished her interest in the press, leaving it in the hands of Leonard Woolf and John Lehmann. In 1946 Chatto and Windus took control.

Vanessa Bell and Roger Fry went on to design dust jackets for the Press. With the styles founded in the Omega Workshops, they helped set a tone, stylistically for the Press for many years to come.

The Ariel Poems

To my bias opinion, Faber & Faber have always seamed a more artistic publisher based on the work in the 1930’s and 40’s. The typesetting of the poetry to the beautifully illustrated dust jackets always seam to be ahead of other publishers when it came to literature and how to employ artists.

The Ariel poems were a series of 38 pamphlets that contained illustrated poems published by Faber and Gwyer and later by Faber and Faber.
Faber and Faber began as a firm in 1929. However, its roots go back further — to The Scientific Press, owned by Sir Maurice and Lady Gwyer and derived much of its income from the weekly magazine the ‘Nursing Mirror’.

The Gwyers aimed for trade publishing and this led them to Geoffrey Faber. The partnership was then founded in 1925 and known as Faber and Gwyer. It was at this time In 1925 that T.S.Eliot left Lloyds bank to join the publishing firm Faber and Gwyer, as an editor.

The partnership of Gwyers and Faber didn’t last for long, four years later in 1929, the Nursing Mirror was sold and Geoffrey Faber and the Gwyers parted company. Searching for a name with a ring of respectability, Geoffrey hit on the name Faber and Faber, although there was only ever one Faber.

In 1927, Eliot was asked by Geoffrey Faber, to write one poem each year for a series of illustrated pamphlets with holiday themes to be sent to the firms clients and business acquaintances as Christmas greetings.
This series became the “Ariel Series” and would amass 38 pamphlets from a selection of English writers and poets from 1927 through 1931. It was a mark of considerable taste by Faber & Faber as they paired their authors with modern artists.

 A detail of the wood engraving by Gertrude Hermes for Ariel Poem #23

The first editions of the Ariel Poems where released in numbers of 3000–5000 printings per copy. A set of limited editions where also issued in various printings of 250–500 copies each. These were signed and numbered by the authors and bound with thicker hand cut paper. Both versions of the editions had an illustration on the front cover, then a frontispiece by the illustrator that was sometimes coloured. Then the poems text. The pamphlets were bought back in 1954, when eight new publications were released in the New Series. These came with a colourful envelope from when they were posted.

The pamphlets, in order, are as follows:

  • Yuletide in a Younger World by Thomas Hardy, drawings by Albert Rutherston
  • The Linnet’s Nest by Henry Newbolt, drawings by Ralph Keene
  • The Wonder Night by Laurence Binyon, drawings by Barnett Freedman
  • Alone by Walter de la Mare, wood engravings by Blair Hughes-Stanton
  • Gloria in Profundis by G. K. Chesterton, wood engravings by Eric Gill
  • The Early Whistler by Wilfred Gibson, drawings by John Nash
  • Nativity by Siegfried Sassoon, designs by Paul Nash
  • Journey of the Magi by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
  • The Chanty of the Nona, poem and drawings by Hilaire Belloc
  • Moss and Feather by W. H. Davies, illustrated by Sir William Nicholson
  • Self to Self by Walter de la Mare, wood engravings by Blaire Hughes-Stanton
  • Troy by Humbert Wolfe, drawings by Charles Ricketts
  • The Winter Solstice by Harold Monro, drawings by David Jones
  • To My Mother by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
  • Popular Song by Edith Sitwell, designs by Edward Bawden
  • A Song for Simeon by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
  • Winter Nights, a reminiscence by Edmund Blunden, drawings by Albert Rutherston
  • Three Things by W. B. Yeats, drawings by Gilbert Spencer
  • Dark Weeping by “AE”, designs by Paul Nash
  • A Snowdrop by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Claudia Guercio
  • Ubi Ecclesia by G. K. Chesterton, drawings by Diana Murphy
  • The Outcast by James Stephens, drawings by Althea Willoughby
  • Animula by T. S. Eliot, wood engravings by Gertrude Hermes
  • Inscription on a Fountain-Head by Peter Quennell, drawings by Albert Rutherston
  • The Grave of Arthur by G. K. Chesterton, drawings by Celia Fiennes
  • Elm Angel by Harold Monro, wood engravings by Eric Ravilious
  • In Sicily by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
  • The Triumph of the Machine by D. H. Lawrence, drawings by Althea Willoughby
  • Marina by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
  • The Gum Trees by Roy Campbell, drawings by David Jones
  • News by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Barnett Freedman
  • A Child is Born by Henry Newbolt, drawings by Althea Willoughby
  • To Lucy by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Albert Rutherston
  • To the Red Rose by Siegfried Sassoon, drawings by Stephen Tennant
  • Triumphal March by T. S. Eliot, drawings by E. McKnight Kauffer
  • Jane Barston 1719–1746 by Edith Sitwell, drawings by R. A. Davies
  • Invitation To Cast Out Care by Vita Sackville-West, drawings by Graham Sutherland
  • Choosing A Mast by Roy Campbell, drawings by Barnett Freedman

The 1954 series was as follows:

  • Sirmione Peninsula by Stephen Spender, drawings by Lynton Lamb
  • The Winnowing Dream by Walter de la Mare, drawings by Robin Jacques.
  • The Other Wing by Louis Macneice, drawings by Michael Ayrton.
  • Mountains by W. H. Auden, drawings by Edward Bawden.
  • Nativity by Roy Campbell, drawings by James Sellars.
  • Christmas Eve by C Day Lewis, drawings by Edward Ardizzone
  • The Cultivation of Christmas Trees by T. S. Eliot, drawings by David Jones.
  • Prometheus by Edwin Muir, drawings by John Piper.

John Piper Ceramics


John Piper, most famous for his stormy skies and paintings of bombed Coventry. Here are some quotes on his designs for pottery:

John Piper — Tate Gallery
Pottery decorated by Piper was first seen publicly in Marlborough Fine Art in 1972, when a considerable number and variety of pieces was included in an exhibition of large paintings and gouaches.

They are a collaboration between decorator and potter, and began when the opportunity arose for Piper to work with Geoffrey Eastop, who made earthenware to his design and taught him the techniques of moulding and glazing.

These decorations were mostly heads or decorative abstract designs, but another large group made in 1982 in association with the Fulham Pottery included landscape variations after old masters, some of them on obelisks and candlesticks, The playful mood of the decorations recalls at times English slipware, Renaissance maiolica Picasso’s painted ceramics.
John Piper — Tate Gallery p137


From: John Piper: The Robert and Rena Lewin Gift to the Ashmolean
The opportunity for Piper to decorate ceramics came from his meeting with the potter Geoffrey Eastop, who agreed to set up a pottery next to his house in 1969. Eastop worked independently and with Piper. He had also been a painter, and was interested like Piper in modern French art, though from the point of view of a generation younger, and not for his own ceramics.

Piper designed and decorated plates, jugs, vases and obelisks. The body of the pots was made by assistants, and Eastop always advised and worked with him.


Piper’s attitude was that of a painter — impulsive, intolerant of technical limitations and extreme in colour. As with the making of stained glass and screenprints, his designs set a challenge to his collaborator, which he was left free to interpret. John Piper: The Robert and Rena Lewin Gift to the Ashmolean — 1992 — David Fraser Jenkins p20


The GPO and Postman’s Park

Running alongside Little Britain and King Edward Street is Postman’s Park, it’s a hub of history. Opened in 1880 it was the site of the former graveyard for St Botolph’s Aldersgate church. The name Postman’s Park came from the neighbouring GPO (General Post Office) building on St Martin’s Le Grand.

The General Post Office:
Demolished in 1912 the GPO building was an impressive Grecian styled building with ionic topped columns forming a portico frontage, construction started in 1825 and it was completed in 1829. It was designed by Robert Smirke, a leader of Greek revival architecture. He designed the facade and main block of the British Museum.

General Post Office

The GPO Building (East) was the UK’s first purpose-build post office and sorting unit, it was said to have had 1000 gas powered lights. It had it’s own Pneumatic railway from 1869 installed by the London Pneumatic Despatch Company. Unlike the vacuum tubes of today, these where underground pipes with a small railway open topped wagon inside. A line was set between Euston Station and the General Post Office, however it was not as efficient than cart, so it was terminated in 1874.

It was due to the General Post Office Building that when the Underground station opened on 30th July 1900 it was called ‘Post Office’ station. When the station, then called ‘St. Paul’s’ was renamed ‘Blackfriars’ in 1937, the underground station for ‘Post Office’ was renamed ‘St. Paul’s’, as the GPO building was long gone at that time.

Postman’s Park:
The graveyard belonged to three parishes, all with a section to bury their congregations. During the construction of the park in 1880, the designers found that many of the graves where buried in shallow plots, stacked on top of other deeper graves. It was due to this that the ground level of the graveyard was higher than street level. The graves were cleared for gravel paths and flower boarders and the headstones stacked on the sides of the park.

George Frederic Watts suggested a memorial commemorating ordinary people who died saving the lives of others and who might otherwise have been forgotten. A painter and sculptor, George Frederic Watts and his second wife Mary had long been advocates of the idea of art as a force for social change. As the son of a piano maker, who reportedly despised the wealthy and powerful and twice refused a baronetcy, Watts had long considered a national monument to the bravery of ordinary people.

The monument was a covered shelter against a wall, with seating and, above head level, plaques to the heros to be fitted to the wall. The plaques where designed by William De Morgan. Work began in 1899, and on 30 July 1900 the ‘Watts’s Memorial to Heroic Self Sacrifice’ was unveiled by Alfred Newton, Lord Mayor of London in an unfinished state, with only four of the plaques completed.

Watts was an acquaintance of William De Morgan, at that time one of the world’s leading tile designers. The idea of designing on tiles was a great saving to the project as engraved stone and the time to obtain, carve and install it, was a great expense.

A William De Morgan tile set.

The subjects of the 13 initial tiles had been personally selected by Watts, who had for many years maintained a list of newspaper reports of heroic actions potentially worthy of recognition.

On 1 July 1904 George Frederic Watts died at New Little Holland House, aged 87. He was hailed “The last great Victorian”, and a memorial service was held in St Paul’s Cathedral, 300 yards south of Postman’s Park, on 7 July 1904.

The project was continued by his wife Mary Watts. De Morgan designed eleven more tiles to complete the first row at £62 (about £6,000 as of 2015). De Morgan was unwilling to compromise on quality or embrace the trend towards mass production, and by this time his work was significantly more expensive than similar works by other designers. Consequently, his ceramics business was becoming increasingly unviable financially for the monument and it’s Trust. In 1906 De Morgan’s first novel, Joseph Vance, was published and became a great success, prompting De Morgan to close the ceramics business in 1907 to concentrate on writing. Mary Watts attempted to replicate De Morgan’s tile designs at Watts’s pottery in Compton but was unable to do so, and investigated other tile manufacturers.

A Royal Doulton tile set.

All 24 tablets of the fourth row, designed and manufactured by Royal Doulton, were added as a single batch in August 1908. A single Royal Doulton tablet to PC Alfred Smith was added in June 1919, followed in October 1930 by similar Royal Doulton tablets to three further police officers, and a replacement tablet with the correct details of the East Ham Sewage Works incident of 1895. A single tablet made by Fred Passenger in the original De Morgan style, honouring schoolboy Herbert Maconoghu, was added in April 1931 to fill the gap in the centre row left by the removal of the original, incorrect tablet to the victims of the East Ham Sewage Works incident.

In 2009 a 54th tablet was added, in the style of the Royal Doulton tiles, to commemorate print technician Leigh Pitt, the first addition to the wall for 78 years.