We offer below three sources of information: Fr. Brocard's autobiography, My Dear Time's Waste, published by Saint Albert's Press in 1966; a history of the Press's development written by Fr. Brocard for the review publication Matrix; and a brief description of the Press by Joseph Jerome in Three Private Presses: A Concise History, a catalogue accompanying an exhibition (from the 15th July to the 4th August 1976) at the National Book League in London.
Portrait of Brocard Sewell by Jane Percival.
From My Dear Time's Waste by Brocard Sewell, O.Carm.
After ordination I could have been assigned to anyone of the Order's seven houses in England or Wales; but I was left at Aylesford 'for the time being'. At Aylesford there is no parish; during two thirds of the year the fathers are largely occupied with the pilgrims who come in great numbers to the shrine of our Lady and St Simon Stock; they also give retreats at the priory itself and elsewhere, and look after the various groups of the Carmelite Third Order which are established in different parts of the country.
In 1954 a new block of workshops was being built behind the monastery, and it was intended that one of them should house a printing office. My superiors wished me to take charge of this and install the necessary equipment. We bought a small second-hand power-driven press, and a large hundred year old Albion hand press, which was found in the attic of a firm off Fleet Street who had supplied presses to Hilary Pepler and Edward Walters before the war. We decided to use almost exclusively Eric Gill's Perpetua typeface, to which we added a few founts of Caslon Old Face. The new printing office was named St Albert's Press after St Albert of Vercelli. It was intended that our Press should do the monastery's domestic printing, and that it should print and publish small books and pamphlets on Carmelite topics. I hoped also that we should be able once a year or so to print a book by hand on handmade paper.
We now had a Press; but where were the printers? This vital matter seemed hardly to have been thought of. I had hoped that among boys and young men entering the Order as lay-brothers there would be several who would like to learn printing. But they failed to materialise, and from the first the Press was chronically understaffed. Our first apprentice, who took to the work with enthusiasm, left before the end of his novitiate; and the next one departed before he had even received the habit. There was a considerable interval before he could be replaced, and we had to fallback on paid lay workers, some of them decidedly past their prime. But with their help we began to get the work done, and even to take on some outside general printing. This we hoped to increase, so that the income it provided would help the Press to pay its way.
The superiors wanted also to start a new Carmelite magazine, and as printing and editing to some extent go together I was asked to look after this as well. It was at first thought of as a popular religious publication that would appeal chiefly to Tertiaries and friends of the Order. Since no better title could be thought of it was decided to call it The Aylesford Review, which reminded one, rather discouragingly, of the learned Benedictine quarterly Downside Review. The first number (actually printed for us elsewhere) came out in the autumn of 1955, and the only notable thing among its contents was a poem, Holy- Water Rondel, by Muriel Spark, who was at that time living near Aylesford; and it soon became clear that not only was there a dearth of writers in the Order, but also that its lay associates were not in general a reading body.
This meant that some kind of reorientation was necessary if the magazine was to continue, and, as is the way with such things, it seemed somehow to evolve for itself a new formula. Gradually it settled down into a review of literature and the arts, dealing also with questions of the day, as well as with religious topics. In the end the literary emphasis became predominant. There was no money available to subsidise the Review, and it was far from self-supporting (few 'little magazines' are.) It was kept alive on the profits of our general printing and from the sale of other St Albert's Press publications, as well as by the faithfulness and generosity of the subscribers.
A policy emerged of publishing special numbers devoted to some particular subject. Some of these attracted attention and were commented on in The Times Literary Supplement and others papers. The first appeared in the spring of 1957 and contained articles on the novelist Elizabeth Myers, author of a A Well Full of Leaves, The Basilisk of St James's, and Mrs Christopher. Later in the year we published a short memoir of the dead author, Elizabeth Myers by Eleanor Farjeon. The typography of this book was planned by Edward Walters, who came down to supervise the printing on our Albion press of one hundred special copies of the book on handmade paper. Waiters did a wood engraving of Elizabeth Myers for the frontispiece, and the book opened with Sara Jackson' s poem To Elizabeth Myers, written at the time of her death in 1948.
How can you, then, be gone? When you are here
Speaking with green-blade tongue, with full-leaved hope,
Miraculous secrets of the deathless air
You breathed, and breathe, while blindly still we grope.
The great illumination of your eyes
Is unextinguished; see, its light reveals
Flowers behind the fog, whose sweet surprise
Finds out that child the wounded heart conceals.
This our sight, your joyful innocence
Draughted with love, that found in stick and stone
Armoured delight and endless recompense
For the brief journey we must make alone.
So have you gathered in your harvest sheaves;
But left, for gleaning hands, a well of leaves.
In the autumn of the same year we published in The Aylesford Review a symposium of articles on Henry Williamson by William Gore Allen, Malcolm Elwin, and John Middleton Murry. In the spring number of 1959 there was a further article on Williamson by George D. Painter, in which he discussed Williamson's novel Love and the Loveless, the seventh in his as yet unfinished series A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight. In this article Painter says: 'Sooner or later . . . it will be among the accepted facts of English literary history that our only two great novelists writing in the second quarter of the twentieth century, after the deaths of Lawrence and Joyce, were John Cowper Powys and Henry Williamson; and that during the dark period of the treason of the critics they were recognised for what they were by an underground army of unknown readers.'
Concluding his article Painter said:
The Flax of Dream, Williamson's previous series of novels, was about divine truth, A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight is about human truth. Phillip Maddison is a divided man, sometimes cruel, cowardly and sinful, sometimes possessed of courage, kindness and insight, moving towards a still unknown salvation, and seen with complete clarity and charity by a man who has become whole. But this vast novel-cycle, the summer-harvest of Henry Williamson's life as a writer, is not only the study of an individual character. In art the universal is sometimes, perhaps best, revealed by a profound and minute examination of the particular. Here is an unrolling map of the labyrinth of three generations, our fathers, ourselves, and our children, and the thread leading to the mystery - monster or divinity? - at the centre. In my belief Love and the Loveless and its three predecessors constitute the only true English war novel, comparable in vastness and compassion to War and Peace or Zola's La Débacle: and the whole cycle will ultimately be recognised as the great historical novel of our time, its subject as the total experience of twentieth-century man.
At the end of 1958 the premises occupied by St Albert's Press were suddenly required for more urgent purposes, and in January all our printing equipment was transferred to St Mary's College, Llandeilo, the Order's house of studies in Carmarthenshire. Our staff now consisted of one lay-brother, who was a trained printer, a retired Maltese compositor of failing eyesight and uncertain temperament, and a young professional printer from our parish at Sittingbourne. The Press had now a wage bill to face, but in Wales the amount of general printing that we were asked to do increased and things seemed fairly hopeful for the future.
The Carmelite house at Llandeilo
In 1959 we published a collection of essays on Arthur Machen reprinted from the Aylesford Review. This got good press notices and sold out quickly. It was followed by Quatrains and Other Poems by The Lady Margaret Sackville. Margaret Sackville had been known as a poet of distinction since 19II, and she felt that this book might be her own swan song - as it proved to be. After Quatrains came another book of poetry, Nymph, In Thy Orisons by Wrenne Jarman. Wrenne Jarman had died in 1952 at the early age of forty-three, before she had fulfilled her great promise as a poet. After the war her first book of poems, The Breathless Kingdom, had been published by The Fortune Press and was highly praised by Edmund Blunden, Walter de la Mare, Montague Summers (her friend) and other good judges.
In 1960 Henry Williamson conceived the generous idea of helping The Aylesford Review, which was in financial difficulties, by allowing us to publish a book written by himself, and to retain the profits. This book, In The Woods, consisted of five chapters of an unpublished work of autobiography, a sequel to Williamson's The Story of a Norfolk Farm. In The Woods tells the story of a journey made by Henry Williamson and two companions, by lorry, from Norfolk to Devon during the war of 1939-1945, and of what happened when they got there. Just that. But as Maurice Wiggin said, reviewing In The Woods in The Sunday Times: 'With Williamson the circumstances hardly matter; he creates his own atmosphere of pervasive drama and sensuous experience if he is describing an event as superficially unexciting as kindling a fire. With every minute, in the woods and on the road, you live with him; every page tells you more about the intuitive, difficult writer, the tortured perfectionist - and the England of 1941.'
In the summer of 1960 Williamson came to stay with us at L1andeilo for a few days, and one evening he read to our community his lecture on Richard Jefferies and W. H. Hudson, which he had given in London a few months previously before the Royal Literary Society. When Williamson returned to Devon he took me with him as his guest at the, forthcoming West Country Writers' annual conference which was to be held at Barnstaple, and we spent the weekend at the field at Ox's Cross, near Georgeham, where he mostly lives and works, although he has a small fisherman's cottage in Ilfracombe. He bought this field in 1928 with the Hawthornden Prize money which he received for his look Tarka the Otter. The field, which is on high ground overlooking the Braunton Burrows, with a view across Baggy Point towards Lundy Island, slopes steeply from north to south, and in it are Williamson's working and sleeping chalet and a wooden hut for guests, in which Lawrence of Arabia, Walter de la Mare, and many other famous men have slept. At the top of the field are a small orchard and vegetable garden, and a caravan which is used for meals.
One evening Williamson had other guests and read to us in the caravan from his forthcoming novel The Innocent Moon. His first look, The Beautiful Years, was published in 1921, and was written when he was only eighteen. Today, though only seventy, and physically vigorous, he is conscious of a slowing-down of his energies. As a writer he is now producing his finest work, but he feels the pressure of time and has bought his grave. His tall soldierly figure is as erect as ever, and he still works hard on his land.
I hope that somehow the future of his field will be secured against sale, compulsory acquisition, or development' after Williamson is gone. It would be his best memorial. But it should not be turned into a kind of museum. Perhaps during the summer it could be used as a camping site for boys and girls who are nature lovers and are interested in the study and protection of wild life. And in the winter perhaps it might be made available rent free to one or two young writers in search of quiet and willing to accept the simple living conditions.
After two years at Llandeilo I was recalled to Aylesford in January 1961. For financial and other reasons it was decided to cease our printing operations, at least for the time being, but to continue the publication of The Aylesford Review and of books whose sale would help to support it. The most notable of these so far has been Two Friends: John Gray and André Raffalovich, a volume of essays biographical and critical on these two interesting minor writers of the eighteen-nineties. Father John Gray and his friend Mr Raffalovich were often spoken of at Ditchling and Pigotts as they were close friends of Eric Gill's. I knew that they had been prominent in the Oscar Wilde-Aubrey Beardsley circle in London before religion claimed them for a life of quiet devotion in Edinburgh. But their story seemed wrapped in mystery, and no account of their lives, and no assessment of their writings, had ever been written. I was just in time to get the reminiscences of Canon Gray's sister, Dame Mary Raphael Gray OSB, and Lady Margaret Sackville, both of whom died shortly after the book's publication.
Studies of Gray's poetry and of his prose works were contributed by Mr Ian Fletcher and Miss Alexandra Zaina. The book was widely reviewed and well received. Writing in The Scotsman Moray McLaren said that the essays in Two Friends 'have answered our unspoken desires to know what the "exquisite" John Gray was like before he became "the Canon". Perhaps more important they have displayed to us the all but hidden poetic talent which Gray continued to exercise in private publication and a poignantly austere economy of words until the end of his life. It is a revelation.'
My work for The Aylesford Review and St Albert's Press has brought me the friendship of a number of writers, many of them young. It seems natural for me to speak first of Colin Wilson although, now that he is in his thirties, he is no longer a 'young' writer. Mr Wilson has fought his way through to recognition, as a writer against tremendous odds. He has not read everything but if he gives the impression of having done so it is because his range of reading is fantastically wide and because his phenomenal memory enables him to recall at will almost anything that he has read since the age of three and a half.
Colin Wilson has been a good friend to The Aylesford Review, giving it the royalties from his 'preliminary autobiography' Voyage to a Beginning, as well as contributing articles on Baron Corvo, Alexis Kivi, Heimito von Doderer, John Cowper Powys, Ernest Hemingway, Robert Graves, Henry Williamson, and Sir Oswald Mosley (à propos of Colin Cross's book The Fascists in Britain).
Two young artists who have done a great deal to help The Aylesford Review and St Albert's Press are Jane Percival and Nicola Wood. Miss Percival, who seems to have been one of the most popular students for many years at The Royal College of Art, has written articles and designed dust jackets for us; Miss Wood, who is a brilliant designer of textiles, has done the dust-wrapper for our new edition of John Gray's novel, Park, as well as a remarkable cover-design for the special Aubrey Beardsley number (1966) of our magazine.
These two friends have studios in the same house in London WII. When Montague Summers: A Memoir was published by Cecil and Amelia Woolf in February 1966, Nicola Wood had intended to hold the customary reception, but because of her absence in hospital it was taken over by Jane Percival. It was held on February 11th, an auspicious day because not only was it the Feast of our Lady of Lourdes, but on this February 11th the bill amending the Criminal Law Amendment Act of I886-under section two of which Oscar Wilde was convicted in I890's-passed its first reading in the House of Lords. To Montague Summers this conjunction would have been very pleasing.
Brocard Sewell, 'Saint Albert's Press: Aylesford and Llandeilo 1955-1961',
Matrix: A Review for Printers & Bibliophiles, Number 3, Winter 1983, pp. 98-104.
In the autumn of 1954 the then Prior of the restored Carmelite friary, founded c. 1242, at Aylesford, in Kent - a volatile Irishman of varied projects and enthusiasms - was hoping to make the monastery a centre of craftsmanship in the monastic tradition: a laudable ambition, which in the end came to nothing. Part of his plan was to set up a small printing office, to take care of the community's many printing requirements. Because of my experience - twenty years previously! - at Hilary Pepler's Saint Dominic's Press, I was asked to supervise the inauguration of this enterprise.
My first step was to discuss the matter with René Hague. His advice was to keep the press quite small, because of the cost of plant, and to avoid the employment of secular staff, since this would necessitate conformity to Trade Union regulations, with the consequent possibility of disputes, 'industrial action', etc. René said that the success of our project would depend largely upon the work being done by Carmelite laybrothers as part of their vocation. We should, he advised, acquire a second-hand, electrically driven power-press - cost about £200 - and an old-fashioned hand-press, to be used for printing on hand-made paper.
Another essential would be the acquisition of really good founts of type: founder's type, not Monotype or Linotype. To keep the work of a consistent and recognisably distinctive character, one typeface should be used; or at most two: either Caslon Old Face or Baskerville, and possibly one of the modern Gill typefaces as well.
René thought that the cost of setting up a small printing office on these lines would be in the region of £600.
These particulars, and others, I set out in a memorandum to the Prior, in which I emphasised the need to secure temporarily the paid services of a master-printer to train our first laybrother-apprentices.
The memorandum emphasised that some little time must be allowed before the press would become economically remunerative. (It was intended from the first that it should, to the extent that might be possible, supplement its programme with jobbing work for any customers who might come along.) It was also suggested that perhaps a small bindery might be started, since it would be within the Press's capacity to produce small books: service books, short lives of Carmelite saints, and monographs on the history of the Order, which could be offered for sale.
Our enterprise was named Saint Albert's Press, after St Albert of Vercelli, patriarch of Jerusalem, who wrote the Rule regulating the lives of the early medieval hermits on Mount Carmel. The choice of name was also intended as a respectful gesture to the memory of the illustrious Saint Dominic's Press. Saint Albert's Press was established amid many expressions of good will, and several offers of advice and help. Beatrice Warde, of the Monotype Corporation, and Erica Marx, of The Hand and Flower Press, were foremost among our benefactors. We received helpful guidance from Rowley Atterbury, of the Westerham Press, and from Edward WaIters, who was to work closely with us over the next three years.
When it came to equipping the Press, I was fortunate in discovering, in an attic at Messrs Braddick's, in Fetter Lane, off Fleet Street, a splendid folio Albion hand-press, which we were able to acquire for £75. To this we added a second-hand Autovic power press, to be supplemented later with a second-hand Wharfdale. By kindness of his grandson Lawrence Pepler, we had on loan Hilary Pepler's famous Stanhope press of 1790. And Edward WaIters lent us a small Albion, which later passed into Reynolds Stone's ownership.
The workshop began to be set up early in 1955. On an unused plot of ground close to the monastery our enthusiastic Prior had built a large block of semi-detached workshops, in brick. The block was built around the four sides of a concrete courtyard which he had laid down. The building had two storeys, the upper storey being divided into small rooms to afford overflow accommodation for our guesthouse. On the ground floor, to begin with, there was a carpenters' workshop, a pottery, and Saint Albert's Press, which occupied two large interconnecting rooms, light and airy: excellent premises.
It had been decided that the typeface mainly to be used should be Gill's Perpetua, to be supplemented by some founts of Caslon Old Face. To these we added some Albertus; chiefly because the name appealed to me, but also because of its merits, especially for titling purposes. This was all founder's type, from the firm of Stephenson Blake; later we added a quantity of Riscatype. Finally, repeating, but at greater speed, the history of Saint Dominic's Press, we had some books set for us in Monotype, which we hired from the typesetters, and returned to them after printing.
Sixteen months later, in April 1956, a second memorandum was submitted to the Prior, in which the policy of the Press was reformulated as follows: (1) To print and publish all matter supplied for that purpose by the Prior General of the Carmelite Order; (2) to print the quarterly Pilgrims' News Letter for the Prior of Aylesford; (3) to print the small quarterly magazine which the Prior General wishes to be produced.'
Of this programme item (2) was not fulfilled. This was because the Prior insisted on his News Letter being produced in a curious 'concertina', or 'pull-out' format, and we had no machine big enough to do this. Item (3) was achieved from the autumn of 1955 until the summer of 1960, after which the Aylesford Review, as the magazine was called, had become too large (in its number of pages) for us to handle.
This second memorandum notes that in deference to the wishes of the Prior the Press had been inaugurated without a qualified master-printer, and with only one apprentice, not two; in consequence, the amount of work that could be undertaken would for some time be very limited.
So labour problems were with us from the outset. For a time we had the services, in return for board and lodging and a nominal wage, of a retired Maltese compositor. He was succeeded by a delightful eighty-year-old compositor, Mr WorIey, who was glad to be rescued from a dull retirement in Nazareth House, Portobello Road, London. We became very fond of Mr WorIey, but sadly, when his failing eyesight led to increasingly erratic distribution of type, he had to recognise that he was no longer equal to the task.
Mr Worley was succeeded by another, more elderly, Maltese. An old riddle asks: 'How do you make a Maltese cross?' The fact seems to be that, once out of his native environment, it takes very little to make a Maltese cross. The Maltese temperament proved a stumbling-block to more than one of our young lay-brothers, who requested to be assigned to other work. Two left the Order altogether; but a third did better. We supplemented his training by sending him to evening classes in the department of printing at the Maidstone School of Art, where he did well. In time he became a very competent printer; but then he too left, to become a solicitor's clerk and leader of a 'rock'-band in his native Widnes.
But in spite of these problems things seemed to go on reasonably well. The Prior General's needs were looked after, and a fair amount of jobbing work was done. Our first publication, issued in 1956 - though the title-page says 1955 - was a chapter from Sir Thomas More's Dialogue concerning Tyndale. For this small Demy Octavo book the type, Gill's Perpetua, was set by hand, with 'unjustified' lines, and with headings in Stephenson Blake's Blackletter, the original orthography being retained. Edward Walters supplied two fine wood-engravings of More and Tyndale, after contemporary portraits, and himself came down to supervise the printing, on our folio Albion. Two hundred copies were printed, on Barcham Green's Medway hand-made paper, and were offered for sale at ten shillings and sixpence.
In the next year, 1957, Walters collaborated with us in the printing of the first edition of Eleanor Farjeon's memoir of the novelist Elizabeth Myers (Mrs Littleton Powys). This was set in Perpetua, by Prudence Tegetmeier and myself, and WaIters supplied as frontispiece a wood-engraving of Elizabeth Myers. One hundred copies were printed by hand on Barcham Green's Charles the First paper. A further one thousand copies were machine-printed on machine paper, and for these WaIters prepared a new cover-design, with a floral emblem engraved on wood.
Two other items appeared in 1957: Blessed Baptist of Mantua, a monograph on Battista Spagnoli, the celebrated Renaissance poet - sometimes called the Christian Vergil (but Scaliger did not think much of him) - who was prior-general of the Carmelite Order; and Saint Teresa, Twelve Poems. This was a selection from the poems of Teresa of Avila, in Spanish, with an English verse-rendering on the facing page. These little books were machine-printed, on machine-made paper, and had cover-designs from drawings by Sister Mary of the Compassion (Constance Mary Rowe, A.R.C.A.), an English Dominican contemplative nun living in the United States. Baptist of Mantua and Saint Teresa were set in Linotype Baskerville; a sign, I fancy, of a shortage of workers in the Press.
During 1958 the Irish-American prior-general of the Order made a canonical visitation of the Carmelite houses in England and Wales. When he was at Aylesford he called me aside one morning to tell me that our Prior - who happened to be his own elder brother - wanted to convert the premises occupied by Saint Albert's Press into a tea-room for tourists and pilgrims. To make this possible the Press was to be transferred to St Mary's College, a Carmelite house of studies (since closed) at Llandeilo, in Carmarthenshire. In one way, in spite of the inconvenience involved, the news was not unwelcome. Since the opening of the Press, relations with the euphoric Prior had not been easy. He was something of a romantic visionary, and had little knowledge of the normal ways of human life. Of the running and management of workshops he knew nothing, and could imagine, if possible, less. Hence his question to me one day: 'Why can't you keep your machines running all night, printing holy pictures for me?' My explanation was received with evident scepticism.
Also, we had suffered a good deal from the curiosity of pilgrims and tourists, who seemed to think that the workshops were all 'part of the show', so that we had to whitewash the windows of the Press, and even lock ourselves in. In a remote area of South Wales there was not likely to be an excess of visitors (one of the factors that had driven Eric Gill out of Ditchling in 1924). But on the other hand, we should not be likely to see many customers either. At Aylesford, close to Maidstone and the Medway Towns, and within an hour or so from London by road or rail, we had begun to build up what might have become a nice little income from jobbing work.
Early in 1959 the move was carried out. At Llandeilo we found ourselves installed in the outbuildings of an agreeable small manor house, Tregeyb - since demolished - well outside the small country town of Llandeilo, which already had three Welsh printers competing with each other for work. The situation was impossible; but we staggered on, and actually achieved some of our best work. For staff we now had one employed secular journeyman printer, who proved a tower of strength, one trained laybrother, and an elderly Maltese compositor, of failing eyesight. Our Maltese friend, a devout little man who had been entirely at home in the more sociable and monastic atmosphere of Aylesford, took neither to the Welsh climate, all fogs and mists and rain, nor to the Welsh. It was only too understandable. I think his main trouble was loneliness. In the end he returned to his native island.
Up till then we were able to keep going. We even secured a certain amount of jobbing work. In this matter our chief supporters were Richard Rhys (now Lord Dynevor) and his Merlin Theatre Group, the late Monsignor Francis Cashman, Provost of the cathedral chapter of the diocese of Menevia, and Mr Timothy d'Arch Smith (in connection with the Antiquarian Booksellers Association's Third Antiquarian Book Fair). But in the main we were able to concentrate on book production, and in this final year, 1960, we produced five new titles.
The first of these was, most appropriately, Arthur Machen: a Miscellany, a symposium of essays, reprinted from the Aylesford Review, with some additional matter, on the Welsh writer Arthur Machen. I had once met Machen, in 1943, when I spent a fascinating hour or more with him in a public house in Old Amersham, where he was living in retirement. I remember that he downed a large number of glasses of gin, which seemed to have no noticeable effect on him; and that his mode of discourse was very much like that of the literary hermit in his wonderful book Hieroglyphics: a Note upon Ecstasy in Literature. Among the contributors to this miscellany were C.A. and Anthony Lejeune and Henry Williamson. 350 copies were printed on Grosvenor Chater's Basingwerk Parchment, of which 300 were for sale. It sold out quickly.
This was followed by Nymph, in thy Orisons, a book of poems by Wrenne Jarman, a poet who had died young, in 1948, after publishing a first book of verse, The Breathless Kingdom, with the Fortune Press. This had won her praise from Clifford Bax, Edmund Blunden, Montague Summers, and other good judges. Nymph, in thy Orisons, was designed by Harriet Cole, a young typographer who later settled in the United States. Set in Monotype Bembo, 250 copies were printed, on our Wharfedale.
Nymph, in thy Orisons, which sold quite well, paved the way for Quatrains and Other Poems by an established poet, Lady Margaret Sackville, who was now an old lady, and aware that this would be her last book. She was especially anxious that it should be, typographically, a distinguished production. I travelled to Cheltenham, where she was living, to talk to her about it. The type chosen was Monotype Perpetua. A very young artist, just out of art school, Margaret Wilcockson, prepared a grass-and-flower design, which was printed in green on the title-page, and repeated on the cover; five smaller flower-designs were printed in a delicate pastel shade, with the text of the poems printed over them in black. The edition was of 275 copies, numbered and signed by the author, of which 250 were for sale.
In 1960 the Aylesford Review was in financial difficulties. To help us to keep it afloat Henry Williamson generously suggested that we should print and publish a chapter of unpublished autobiography by him, and retain the proceeds from its sale. (Later this chapter appeared in 'fictionalised' form in his novel Lucifer before Sunrise.) Set in Monotype Baskerville, In the Woods is a compact little book of 7 x 5 ins. It was published in a limited edition of 950 copies, with a further thirty - I think - copies printed on special paper, bound in hard covers, and signed by the author. It was prominently reviewed in some national papers, and became Saint Albert's Press's best-seller. Even though, at ten shillings and sixpence, the book was badly under-priced, the Aylesford Review benefited considerably.
The 'ordinary' edition of In the Woods was issued in a stiff white card cover, under a stiff blue wrapper. This wrapper exists in two states. The first has on the front, printed from an electrotype, a Bewick engraving of a swan on a pond. By accident, too few copies were printed, and when we wanted to do some more, the block had been mislaid. Hence the wrapper in its second state lacks the engraving.
In the same year, 1960, we received, via the prior-general in Rome, a commission to print a Ceremoniale for the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, an American religious congregation, with one house in Ireland. This, again, was designed by Harriet Cole. It is a book of fifty pages, Demy Octavo, printed in Monotype Ehrhardt, with the rubrics in red. It contains the rites of Clothing (conferring the religious habit), Simple Profession (the taking of temporary vows), and Final Profession (the taking of perpetual vows). The Latin text on the left-hand page faces an English version on the right. Typographically, this is probably the best book printed at Saint Albert's Press. I do not remember how many copies were printed, possibly two hundred. All the copies were sent, in unbound sheets, to the Carmelite Sisters' motherhouse in the United States. Since it was not published in this country no copies were sent to the British Museum, the Bodleian Library, or the other statutory libraries. Probably the only copy now to be found in England, Wales, or Scotland is the set of unbound folded sheets that I have before me as I write. Harriet Cole's title-page, in black and red - Latin text in black, with the English equivalent in red below - seems to me admirable in its dignified effect.
The Ceremoniale was the last book to be printed at Saint Albert's Press. Soon afterwards the enterprise was wound up, a casualty to financial difficulties and labour problems. Nevertheless, I felt that the effort had been worth while, and that it had been a good experience, frustrations notwithstanding.
Saint Albert's Press continued in being as a publisher's imprint, and between 1961 and 1968 a number of interesting titles were issued, some printed at The Roundwood Press, some by Hammett and Company of Taunton, and two at the private press of Alan TarIing. Its last publication, a biography of Cecil Chesterton, appeared in 1975.
Three Private Presses: A Concise History
An Exhibition of the work of Saint Dominic's Press, Ditchling 1916-1936, The Press of Edward Walters, Primrose Hill 1920-1939, Saint Albert's Press, Aylesford and Llandeilo 1955-1960.
The National Book League, 7 Albemarle Street, London, W1
15 July - 4 August 1976
Saint Albert's Press
The Carmelite Order established this Press at their Priory at Aylesford, Kent, in 1955. Its director, Father Brocard Sewell, had worked before the war both with Hilary Pepler and Edward Walters. Their influence is to be seen in much of this press's work. But from the beginning St Albert's Press had two power-driven machines, an Autovic and a Wharfedale, and availed itself of the facilities of Monotype and Linotype. For certain publications founders' type, usually Eric Gill's Perpetua (from Stephenson Blake Ltd) was set by hand, and printed by hand either on a folio Albion press or on Hilary Pepler's Stanhope (said to have belonged earlier to William Morris), on loan from Ditchling. The Press's first book, Eleanor Farjeon's Elizabeth Myers, was designed by Edward Walters, who superintended the printing of the limited edition on handmade paper. In 1958 the Press was transferred - a mistaken decision for which its director was not responsible - to Llandeilo, a small town in South Wales with its own jobbing printers. As a result, the Press's income from work done for local customers vanished overnight, and could not be regained. However, some of St Albert's Press's best work was done at Llandeilo. Quatrains and other poems, the last published verses of Lady Margaret Sackville, is a particularly attractive small book; Wrenne Jarman's poems, Nymph, in thy Orisons, designed by Harriet Cole, has a more austere elegance. Henry Williamson's In The Woods, a chapter of autobiography, is another sound example of machine-setting and printing.
The Press was closed in 1960, the end of an experiment that did not quite succeed, but which remains, nevertheless, a pleasant and not unmeritorious episode in the history of British monastic printing.