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History of Gwasg Gregynog and the Gregynog Press

THE GREGYNOG PRESS was the brainchild of two sisters, Gwendoline and Margaret Davies. It was established in 1922 at their house, Gregynog Hall, in rural mid-Wales. During the next eighteen years the Press gained a reputation for producing limited edition books of the highest order and ranked alongside the leading Private Presses of the day.

Re-established in 1978 under its Welsh title Gwasg Gregynog, the Press continues the traditions of its forebears, and was registered as a charity (No.1090060) in January 2002.

The traditional crafts of hot-metal typesetting, letterpress printing and hand-binding carried out by time-served craftsmen; illustrations by leading contemporary artists; printing on handmade and mould-made papers, and the use of the finest binding materials ensure Gwasg Gregynog books are among the best being produced by today's Private Presses. Whilst the intricate bindings of the specially-bound copies present a stunning visual feast, the books themselves reveal a beauty and harmony in the printed pages and are designed not only to be read, but to be a delight to all the senses.

Gregynog Press 1922-1940

Gwendoline and Margaret Davies

Gwendoline and Margaret Davies

NEITHER THE PLACE NOR THE TIME was potentially propitious for the creation of a private press producing editions de luxe. Wales in 1922 had little experience of such things and, so soon after World War I, the general focus had been deflected away from luxury. The founding of the Gregynog Press by the Misses Davies came about largely by happenstance, printing being the only craft to survive of the many they had envisaged at Gregynog. Neither Gwendoline Davies, the older and more pro-active of the two, nor her sister, Margaret, nor their distinguished confidant and adviser, Dr Thomas Jones, could have forseen the eminent position it was later to assume as one of the foremost presses in the British private press movement.

Guided and nurtured by so great a mind as that of Thomas Jones and propelled by the energy and enthusiasm of its small board of directors, it was to be served by equally fervent printers and artists of undeniable quality. Robert Maynard and Horace Walter Bray, during the period 1922-1930, established high standards of typography and illustration. Their successors from 1930-33, William MacCance and Blair Hughes-Stanton, were to take the press to new heights in the field of wood-engraved illustration, their activities sadly curtailed by economic recession. They were succeeded by Loyd Haberly, an eccentric but talented young American Controller who was engaged only part-time and directed operations mainly from a distance. His most interesting contribution was the introduction of a special type face which was adversely criticised by typographical pundits of the day, and used only for one book, Eros and Psyche. From Haberly's time on there was to be no resident artist at Gregynog. The last pre-war Controller was James Wardrop, appointed in 1936, who also worked only part-time for the press. Wardrop was strictly a traditionalist the best of whose works was The History of Saint Louis.

Home of Gwasg Gregynog
Gregynog Hall
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The Gregynog Press was unique in that everything was created under one roof - design, typography, illustration, printing and binding. Its fine printing owed much to the incomparable skill of Herbert John Hodgson, pressman from 1927 to 1936, and his successor, Idris Jones. It was fortunate also in the employment of one of the great twentieth-century bookbinders, George Fisher, who joined the staff in 1925. Fisher was responsible for inaugurating special bindings in full leather for part of each edition. Though many of these were designed by the Press artists, Fisher undertook the major part of their making himself. They were superbly executed and noted particularly for the quality of their tooling. Among private presses, only Gregynog paid attention to the quality of its bindings which were to enhance the value of the books among collectors.

From 1939, the male staff were called into active service, George Fisher remaining at the press alone until 1945 finishing the special bindings. In 1940 the press was forced to close, having printed forty-two books, three for private circulation and well over two hundred pieces of ephemera. For eighteen years it had enjoyed a deservedly distiguished reputation in the world of fine books, but the first phase of printing at Gregynog was over.


Gwasg Gregynog 1975-

When the old company went into voluntary liquidation in 1965, the University inherited the goodwill, some equipment, paper and type. After a period of considering how best to make use of all this, whether as a museum or a working Press, the University Council gave a grant to enable the appointment of a Printing Fellow for a year, with the task of producing a book. Michael Hutchins, from Camberwell College, spent 1975-6 hard at it printing R.S.Thomas's Laboratories of the Spirit in an edition of two hundred, on a small Albion handpress and dampened paper. The ambitious venture was a success, and the Council therefore authorized an approach to the Welsh Arts Council for assistance in reopening the Press, and for nearly twenty years a creditable annual subvention helped to achieve this.

Eric Gee, former Head of Birmingham School of Printing, was appointed as Controller and David Vickers (the present Controller) as his assistant. Between them they established a firm foundation of meticulous and classical craftsmanship. Over the years additional equipment has been acquired, including a Heidelberg cylinder press and a Monotype caster.

Until recently the Controller has been handicapped by texts not being ready in time for printing, and thus the first book, the autobiography of Thomas Olivers, the hymn-writer from Tregynon, was a last minute effort.

The general pattern established after this was that of the pre-war years, namely illustrated volumes (as often as not with wood-engravings), in an edition of some two hundred or more, with fifteen, or at the most twenty, in a special binding. For many years, however, the new Press had no resident binder, until Alan Wood came from the University of Southampton in 1990, but in 1982-83 another celebrated binder, James Brockman, was appointed a Gregynog Arts Fellow and he was responsible for the special bindings of several publications. The Press, though, continued to expand its horizons by choosing other binders, illustrators and, on occasion, designers to meet the requirements of specific volumes.

On Eric Gee's retirement in 1985 he was succeeded by David Esslemont, artist, printer and binder and, of the successful volumes produced under his controllership, one, Giraldus Cambrensis (1989), won the highly regarded Felice Feliciano prize. The Press has always published in both languages; one of the earliest productions was Cerddi Robert Williams Parry (1980). Selections from Welsh poets and hymn-writers followed. These continue and the latest in the series is Emynau Morgan Rhys (2001).

The annual grant from the Welsh Arts Council ceased in March 1998 and, as a consequence, it became necessary to shed staff, including David Esslemont and Alan Wood. There was much prophesying that the Press was doomed, or that, at best, it would linger on with spasmodic and inadequate productions. On the contrary, the new Controller, David Vickers, succeeded in maintaining standards, producing volumes that reputable critics regard as standing comparison with those of the past.

In 2002 the Press was registered as a charity, and it has benefitted from the generosity of a number of organizations and individuals, notably the late Sir Kyffin Williams, illustrator, author and designer (with David Vickers) of the volume Cutting Images published in 2002 and now out of print.