Mary, Queen of Scots’ Book of Hours

IMG_2974This is such a delightful book, and being so small, is one where it is not difficult to imagine that the manuscript would have been often carried around and was a favourite of its royal owner, Mary, Queen of Scots (1542–1587). I had the privilege of studying this late fifteenth century manuscript which is in the John Rylands Library in Manchester. It really is a tiny book, see the picture below and how it fits into the palm of a hand. Here is a miniature of St Christopher carrying the Christ child on his shoulders across a turbulent river. The surrounding border is a complete contrast to the action painting, and shows red roses, insects and a peacock set on a shell gold background.

 

jrl1500619The book is now covered in dark green velvet. This picture gives an idea of the tiny size of the manuscript; the dimensions are 86 x 46 mm.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2971The text was written by a Flemish scribe in what calligraphers call Rotunda, a Gothic script. There are true Gothic elements such as the diamond serifs at the foot of the downstrokes, but the letters based on the letter o (eg b, d, p, q etc) are round rather than angular as in Gothic Black Letter/Textura. The script is competently done, but there is a slight movement in some of the downstrokes which could suggest either a tremor or skin that is not that well prepared. Having handled the manuscript I would suggest the former. Initial letters are red and gold Versals encased within black rectangles. The rubrics are in pale pink rather than red.

 

IMG_2965The fact that is was once owned by Mary, Queen of Scots, is reinforced by her writing on this page. The Queen writes in a firm Italic hand, and it is signed simply with an M with a horizontal line over the initial.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2963jrl022755trThere are certainly a lot of birds in the borders and often those birds are peacocks, as here. In mediæval times, the flesh of a peacock was thought not to decay after death, and the fact that the feathers are shed each year suggests renewal. And those feathers of the male look like eyes, which reflects an all-seeing God. Lastly, peacocks destroyed serpents, and a serpent represents the devil – so all of this indicated the links of peacocks to God and Christ. Here is shown the visitation of the Angel Gabriel to Mary. Note, too on the right-hand page, the snail, which surely all mediæval manuscripts should have!

jrl1500625

 

 

 

And here is another snail.

IMG_2979

 

 

 

 

 

 

This miniature shows King David with his ermine cape, red robe, and lyre by his side. There are no peacocks in the border this time, but chaffinches and beautiful violas as well. The gold background is slightly worn, which does suggest that the book was used.

Actually handling the manuscript is a treat not offered to everyone and I am so grateful to the John Rylands Library for giving me the chance to look at and handle such an historically important and wonderful book. You can see more pages yourself here.

Disappearing fore-edge painting

Columbus FEPIn May 2017, the Heritage Crafts Association launched the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts at the House of Lords. They listed over 170 traditional crafts and placed them in one of four categories (Currently Viable, Endangered, Critically Endangered, and Insufficient Data). There were seventeen Critically Endangered Crafts of which Disappearing Fore-Edge Painting was one; this is where a book seems to have an ‘ordinary’ gilded or patterned fore-edge, but when the pages of the book are fanned, a painting is revealed as if by magic.

Tennis 1903 bind3 17At the launch, Martin Frost, the remaining one disappearing fore-edge painter of which we are aware, demonstrated this craft, and all the images in this post are his. There’s more about Martin here. As I am posting this in Wimbledon month, the sequence of Martin’s painting of a tennis scene seems particularly appropriate. Here is the book as it looks normally with a gilded fore-edge.

 

 

 

IMG_3367The book is then carefully fanned and the pages held in a strong clamp. Martin starts the painting by creating the outline of the image.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3370More paint is added to build up the picture.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_3372And finally, the image is finished, with a 1920s-style tennis player with a rather nifty backhand!

 

 

 

 

One show FEPBrightonPav copyThe Heritage Crafts Association were able to get a feature about the Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts and Martin on the BBC TV’s The One Show. First he painted the fore-edge of a book for them showing the Brighton Pavilion.

 

 

Ade Edmondson ONE SHOWAnd then, because the actor and comedian Ade Edmonson was being featured and interviewed on the same programme, they asked Martin to create a fore-edge especially for him which shows Ade as the character he played in The Young Ones, and also an image from a book he has written.

 

 

 

 

Columbus BAnd, being Martin, he doesn’t just restrict his paintings to the fore-edge. That painting showing Columbus at the start of this post was only on the fore-edge. Here is the ‘head’ (top) of the book showing Columbus and native Americans, and there is a different scene painted on the ‘tail’ (bottom).

This is a craft that shows, as so many traditional crafts do, terrific skill, and one which we are in serious danger of losing. Please contact the Heritage Crafts Association for more information especially if you would like to support the work they do and contribute to ensuring that we don’t lose any more traditional crafts which are, after all, part of all of our shared heritage in the same way as heritage buildings and treasured landscapes.

The Siege of Caerlaverock

IMG_2834Caerlaverock Castle is distinctive in many ways – for a start it is triangular! It is also distinctive in that it was the site of a siege between the attacking King Edward I of England and the defending Scots in 1300. In the grand scheme of things, this battle would be relatively insignificant but for the fact that the campaign was recorded in a poem in French by a herald, and this text has come down to us. When I was learning the craft, some years ago now, I wrote out this poem in translation and bound it into a book.The first page here shows Edward I’s seal with him depicted as a knight brandishing a sword. The title lettering is in Lombardic capitals and written and painted in shell gold.

 

 

IMG_2839I then wrote out the poem and painted in colour all the coats of arms of the participants according to the blazon (word description) as in the text. The first line of the verse on the right explains that Henry Tyes’ banner was ‘lily-white with rose-red chevron’, and this is shown at the end of the top row of banners. The background is white with an inverted ‘v’ – the chevron. I was very much into diapering at the time (creating a background pattern) so the white has a grey swirling design. William Lattimer’s banner, though, was ‘crimson a cross paty or’, and this is a red background with a cross with fleur-de-lis ends, and in ‘or’, the Norman-French for gold. I used shell gold throughout the book, which is why it is a bit thin in places (it required a lot of gold!).

IMG_2835On this page, Earl de Grey’s banner was ‘in pieces six of silver and blue’, well actually the ‘pieces’ are stripes, as can be seen in the second banner from the left along the bottom row. And the banner of Robert de Monhaut ‘high spirit him to heights of honour urged – raised aloft an azure banner with a silver lion charged’ (the English translation of the poem can be a bit contrived!) is to the right – blue with a white (silver) lion.

 

 

 

IMG_2841Here is an enlargement of a section of one of the pages, with Roger de Mortaigne’s banner of a gold background and six blue lioncels (little lions) ‘double-queued’, or with two tails. And also ‘Handsome Huntercombe’ had an ermine background to his shield (white with the black ermine tails inserted in slits for decoration) and two red ‘gemelles’ – horizontal double lines.

 

IMG_2838The actual design and layout of the book was a real challenge in that I had somehow to marry up the paintings with the text, and this wasn’t always easy, which is shown here. A whole page giving details of the battle but no shields actually described. The shields are, of course, for those who were below in status to those who could bear banners. And the humble foot soldiers, who no doubt did most of the fighting, were not recorded in any way!

 

 

 

IMG_2836 2The lettering is in Chinese liquid ink, which is a dense black, and the writing style a sort of upright Italic. I wrote the names below the shields and banners in vermilion Chinese stick ink, which I ground on a slate inkstone and mixed with water. The actual names in the text were written with the same ink but in Gothic Black Letter which made them stand out (perhaps a bit too much, but I was learning!).

As my course also included book binding, I bound the book myself in black leather, and gold stamped the title on the spine.

 

 

caerlaverock-gatehouseThe castle can be visited by the public now and although it is in ruins it is possible to see how much of a challenge this must have been to the English, although the Scots, despite their seemingly impregnable castle, were defeated. There’s more about the poem here.

 

Medieval and Renaissance Interiors

IMG_2879 2Medieval and Renaissance Interiors is a brilliantly colourful book published by the British Library and is generously illustrated with many high quality manuscript images. Eva Oledzka, the author, takes us beyond what we usually see – the figures – to the room that the people are in, their surroundings, the furniture, walls, ceilings, windows, and the glimpses we sometimes get to rooms beyond.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2875 2The book is comprehensive in that it covers the context of architecture and interiors, doors, stairs and windows, floors, ceilings and walls, furniture, heating, lighting and hygiene, and displays of wealth. This calendar page for February, painted by the Limbourg brothers for Jean, Duc de Berry, shows a peasant’s cottage with a family warming themselves by the open fire. The author notes the rod attached to the wall to hang clothes and the mattress or bed in the background, probably for the whole family. This is the earliest depiction of a snowy landscape in the history of art.

 

 

IMG_2876 2One of my favourite manuscripts is the Sforza Hours, particularly the pages painted by the court painter Giovan Pietra Birago; the book was made for Bona Savoy, Duchess of Milan. In this miniature the author notes not only the paintings on the wall – spalliera – typically Italian – showing St Peter and St John looking for the house where the Passover is going to be celebrated, but also the plate on the table and the glass tumblers being filled with wine by the two boys in the foreground.

 

 

IMG_2877 2The scribe Mark is shown here with his lion very conveniently peeping over the scribe’s sloping board with a pen case and inkwell in his mouth (as lions are known to do!). However it is the washing facilities in the foreground that are noted. There is a wash stand on a beautifully carved pedestal, a jug of water above it, and tucked into this, a towel. How often when I have inky fingers would I appreciate such a convenient way of washing my hands!

 

 

 

IMG_2878 2And here is King Henry VIII praying in his bedroom, with a painting of a very elaborately carved four poster bed draped with ultramarine blue cloth decorated with gold – how fitting for a king! Notice too the patterned colourful tiles on the floor, and the view through the open door to a garden and buildings beyond.

 

 

 

 

This book is a treasure-trove of image and information – sumptuously illustrated with a readable and informative text. If you enjoy manuscripts and want to know how people lived, you will love this!

More Glittering Gilders

IMG_2768 2Another group of budding illuminators gathered at my studio to learn how to cut quills, make and lay gesso, treat vellum for painting, and the craft processes of the mediæval illuminator. I am always delighted when a random group of people get on so well – perhaps it’s that all those who want to learn these skills are so nice!

 

 

IMG_2790Everything was ready for their arrival as I supply all the tools and materials, so students need to bring nothing but a pen and notebook (no expensive outlay if participants decide that it’s not for them, but how could they not?). As well as teaching the skills and techniques, I always try to instil elements of best practice and ways of working in my classes so tools and materials are placed carefully around the work station, and also care of tools and preparation and use of materials are explained as the class progresses.

Here is a beautiful white horse from a student who declared that she was ‘definitely not an artist’! Yet look at those fantastic fine white lines and the decorated border!

IMG_2799This student decided to tackle a large and complicated image. The burnish on the gold and smoothness of gesso is great, but she wasn’t able to finish in the time the three-day course allowed. This does give some indication of how long a miniature like this would take to complete, as there were no stops for chats!

 

 

 

 

IMG_6611And here is the image complete. What a great achievement! Certainly something to frame and put on the wall! And look how that gold shine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2787Here a rather blue ram (as in the original) which has the most impressive woolly coat! The expression on the face is particularly good as well as the fine lines depicting the wool and the white hairlines.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2781These little ducks or geese (we weren’t quite sure in the original!) are surrounded by a very well laid, smooth gesso which has been beautifully gilded – I haven’t quite captured the shine in this photograph.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2783And this is a very proud peacock with its colourful tail which is well matched by gold leaf on gesso everywhere in the background! The advantage of copying and making the miniature your own is that you can take liberties like this!

 

 

IMG_2793Miniatures from bestiaries are not always quite what students want, so this white hart was from a couple of paintings, the hunters with spears were omitted, an extra tree inserted, and the hart made white not brown. The brilliant shine on the gold is evident in this image.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2797The chameleon is certainly multi-coloured, and has a cute little owl sitting on a tree noticing everything. The gesso is well laid here and has a good depth of burnish with very fine painting.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2778And these three little hares are chasing one another’s tails, with very fine lines, particularly the white ones in the patterned border.

 

 

 

 

The next course will be in 2019, and subscribers to my free online monthly newsletter will received the dates first and have priority booking.

 

 

 

 

Patricia Lovett: Exhibition at Sevenoaks Library 2017

Patricia Lovett and Lord Sackville 7oaks Library-1I was delighted and honoured to be invited by Sevenoaks Museum to put on a small exhibition of my work at Sevenoaks Library. It is small because there are but two shelves in a display case. However, I was thrilled when Lord Sackville kindly came to see a piece I had done on stretched calfskin vellum with leaf gold on gesso of the Sackville family coat of arms which is on display (Photo kindly taken by Roger Lee).

 

IMG_0521Because there is restricted room, many of the pieces are small, and these certainly are! Two dice, about an inch long on each side. Here’s more about them in a previous post.

 

 

 

CIMG2505This piece came about in a way because of a large new Roll of Honour I had been asked to do by Plaxtol village, more details here. I loved painting the cob nuts and hops at the base of this panel and did this again to decorate this poem by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2794Many subscribers to my free online monthly newsletter will know that I love using colour in a pen. This is what I did here, combining red and blue, to indicate the two people in this piece, one finding ‘in this shadowland of life one true heart’ and the other being that true heart. Those phrases that I found particularly poignant, I wrote in one colour and added shell gold background to the letters (powdered gold in gum Arabic base) for emphasis.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0563This butterfly and caterpillar piece is on stretched calfskin vellum, with the writing in shell gold. The caterpillar, feeling that its world is at an end, is sheltering under the shape of a hill, whereas the butterfly, which the caterpillar turns into when that world doesn’t end, is flying free from a valley-shape.

 

IMG_0523I know that some people may think this a little weird, but I had wanted to make a flagellum since I saw one on display in the British Library. Flagella were often used during Lent to ‘beat’ the devil out of a sinner’s body, the strips of the flagellum having biblical texts written on them. This seemed rather archaic, but I do hate the way business-speak contorts the English language.

 

IMG_0525So I wrote out all those phrases and words which I find so annoying – faux=fake, compact=small, I hear what you say=I’m not actually listening, economical with the truth=lying etc. and figured that these were beating the living daylights out of the language we love! With Chinese stick ink and vermilion ink on strips of vellum, with the phrases separated by gold leaf dots on gesso, it seems a fitting combination of new words and old techniques. here‘s more.

 

 

CIMG0596This is a simple copy of David as Psalmist from the Westminster Psalter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2912And this one I wrote about recently in a blogpost – again combining colours in the pen as I write, ‘controlled random’ writing. It is a verse from Rabindranath Tagore’s poem Gift, and worth reading in full. More about it here.

 

National Schools’ Handwriting Competition 2017

Class A Winner, age 5

Class A Winner, Age 5

At the recent All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design in Education meeting, a number of us who did not have close links with teacher training were shocked to hear that over the three or four years of teacher training, a number of students received just two hours of art, craft and design teaching – often only a lecture and not in any way practical – and most not much more than that.

 

 

Class B Winner, age 7

Class B Winner, age 7

 

 

 

 

 

Class C Winner, age 9

Class C Winner, age 9

Class D winner, age 11

Class D winner, age 11

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4 and under

4 and under

That teachers were then expected to put across such subjects with confidence and enthusiasm with so little help and support is truly staggering. One secondary teacher asked her class how much art they had done in primary school and was told ‘none, because my teacher didn’t like it’.

 

 

 

Age 5

Age 5

This is desperately sad but not a surprise. How unfair for all children who should be experiencing creativity, and the joy of making. These practical creative subjects also, of course, develop hand-eye co-ordination and so much more.

 

 

 

 

Age 6

Age 6

In light of this, I was speaking to some young teachers recently and asked them how much training they had received in teaching handwriting. Their response was even more shocking – none! Detailed training is given in English, Maths and Science, but absolutely none in how to record those subjects – handwriting!

 

 

 

Age 7

Age 7

There are explicit curriculum requirements at Key Stages on what children should be achieving (http://www.teachhandwriting.co.uk/national-curriculum-england.html) but it seems that there is no guidance for teachers in how to teach this to children.

 

 

 

Age 8

Age 8

As one young teacher put it: ‘It’s like putting a maths sum on the board and expecting children to be able to work it out themselves without understanding numbers and their relationship to one another’.

 

 

 

 

Age 9

Age 9

In further conversation I was told that in one school, when they teach handwriting they are told to pass on to children that all letters start on the base guideline so that they can be joined.

 

 

 

 

Age 10

Age 10

So centuries of constructing letter-forms have been thrown out of the window because the head teacher does not understand letter construction, and a whole generation of children will have real problems making their letters legible when they start to join and speed up.

 

 

 

letter mI noticed this recently with a five year-old’s writing, who had started school last September. The letter m had no downstroke, and the letter d went all around the houses to get back to where it should end. The teacher had not corrected
this.

 

 

 

letter dWhat a disservice we are doing to our children, who will have either to work out for themselves how to construct letters properly, or will lose marks in exams and tests because their letter-forms are so poor that when they speed up they will lose legibility.

 

 

 

 

 

Age 11

Age 11

Fortunately many of those who are winners and finalists in the National Schools’ Handwriting Competition will have far fewer problems because their good letter formation and handwriting skills already put them on the front foot.

 

 

 

Age 12

Age 12

The standard of the four year-olds this year was particularly impressive, and this continued with the five and six year-olds. For the first time the challenges of choosing a winner and finalists from vast numbers of excellent entries from those in years seven, eight and nine did not arise, but all finalists here were of a very high standard.

 

 

Age 13

Age 13

Points to bear in mind for next year are that paper can be used either way, portrait or landscape. Some poems sit better on the page when landscape, particularly in the own choice class. It would also be helpful if teachers were able to emphasise ‘by doing’ the importance of writing carefully and well, as almost all do. However, the entries on paper torn (and not always carefully) from a pad with a serrated edge did not really send out this message to the children who had to write on that paper. There were three prize-winners whose entries were on a lovely card-weight paper, but there was no post code on the back, so they could not be considered. Someone in ‘Admin’ was also a winning entry, an adult, but with no post code, so could not be considered. Some schools print ‘Name’ (with a gap to be filled in), age (to be filled in) and also the school’s post code on the back of the paper used which then avoids this problem. And I sometimes struggled to work out the children’s names on the back when the teacher had written it!

Staff

Staff

But overall the standard is still high and it is to be hoped that those schools that are not serving our children well look at these entries and see what can be achieved by the finalists in these various age groups.

 

Patricia Lovett MBE

April 2017

Art and History of Calligraphy

IMG_2440The Art and History of Calligraphy, published May 2017 by the British Library, does pretty much what it says on the tin! It covers writing from what is thought to be the earliest known writing by a woman in Britain in the first century, to the present day (as much as a book published in 2017 can do that!). Here is a sneaky peak inside the book.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 8What I love about the design is that images of manuscripts are large and so it’s possible to get up close and personal to the letters. Here a page from the Luttrell Psalter has been spread over two pages at the beginning of the book. I chose this page for its wonderful trumpeter – his instrument long enough almost to extend right across the whole column of text!

 

FullSizeRender 7The first chapter is called, surprisingly enough, the Art and History of Calligraphy, and, after defining the way in which calligraphy is going to be regarded in the book, traces writing through the ages. A number of manuscripts will be familiar, but there are some new ones here, including this lettering by Bembo and a delight of chrysography on dyed black vellum.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 6Then a chapter is devoted to how the manuscripts were actually made, including quills, vellum brushes, pigments and gold.

 

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 5This is followed by a section on Writing the Letters, based on Edward Johnston’s 7-point analysis.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 4And then there are full page double spreads of over 70 manuscripts from the second century AD to right up to the present day. In many cases, as here, there is an enlargement of a couple of lines to show the lettering really closely. The Bosworth Psalter is on the right.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 3Here is the Lacock Cartulary with wonderfully flourished letters.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And this is one of the first times that Edward Johnston’s Scribe, given to Dorothy Mahoney, has been shown this size in full colour.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderAnd the book is brought as far up to the present day as a publishing schedule will allow. A stunning piece by Stephen Raw of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy is shown on the right.

 

 

 

I really enjoyed writing the book, sharing information that I have learned from others and researching the manuscripts, and I do hope that others will enjoy reading it. It’s available from the British Library Bookshop, and I am also selling it through my website. If you order a copy from me here then I shall happily write a name in the book calligraphically to make it really special.

 

 

 

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament III

This is not one of my usual blog posts. There are no pictures as what has happened is, in my view, very serious and needs no illustration. A clear decision taken by MPs in the House of Commons has been overturned by 3 members of a committee. The result is that Acts of Parliament will no longer be printed on vellum, despite a clear and substantial majority of MPs, and, it seems, the view of almost all of those interviewed in the media. What a shocking state of affairs for the Mother of Parliaments and democracy! 

We were all so thrilled when on April 20th 2016 the debate in the House of Commons on vellum and Acts of Parliament resulted in a resounding majority vote of 117 to continue printing Acts of Parliament on vellum, with only 38 against (see the full debate here in Hansard). It seemed that the campaign we had been running since November 2015, whereby many people who had never had any advocating or lobbying experience and who had probably never before contacted their MPs, had succeeded. I remember going home in the train after that debate and phoning William Cowley (the company that produces the vellum used in parliament) to tell them the good news, and almost dancing a little jig in delight!

Obviously it was going to take a little time for the decision to be enacted, but we had won and we were patient. However, early this year we heard quietly that there had been a meeting of the Commons Administration Committee, chaired by Tory MP Paul Beresford. Apparently, despite various options researched by the Clerks of the Commons, Beresford allowed no debate of the issue and simply proposed a vote on whether to continue using vellum or not for printing Acts of Parliament. There were 7 people attending that committee, 5 voted to discontinue the use and 2 voted to continue. So by a majority of only 3 people, the clear wish of those MPs was overturned; many of those MPs had been contacted by their constituents with strong arguments as to why vellum should be used.

When we heard this, Adrian Visscher whose family owns William Cowley wrote this letter to Mark Lancaster, the company is in his constituency (I have permission to use the text of each of these letters):

Dear Mr Lancaster,

Supply of vellum for record copies of Acts
by William Cowley Parchment and Vellum of Newport Pagnell.

My two brothers and I are owners and partners of William Cowley Parchment and Vellum, who as you know have supplied vellum for record copies of Acts for a very long time. It is with a real sense of urgency that I now write to you on behalf of the Partners in support of the campaigning work on this issue by our excellent Manager Paul Wright. May I first take the opportunity to thank you for your assistance to date supporting the strong advocacy of James Gray within the media and parliament during the past year and not least in the Commons debate on 20 April 2016.

The William Cowley Partners ask for your immediate assistance in challenging the apparently undemocratic decision of the House of Commons Commission on 23 January 2017 when the minutes state “The Commission endorsed the provision to the Lords of front and back vellum covers for record copies of Acts”. Consequently, on 30 January, the Clerk of the House then wrote a letter to Paul Wright declaring the House’s intention to order “front and back covers” in due course.

Our dismay and concern at this turn of events is because hitherto we had always supplied two larger sheets of manuscript vellum on which the two copies of each Public Act were actually printed. The 117 – 38 Commons vote on 20 April 2016 supported a motion specifically stating the House’s wish to continue the traditional printing of public Acts on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The subsequent Commons Commission’s decision disregards these wishes, choosing to use archival paper after all, with a token gesture of using vellum for front and back covers which we understand would also be of smaller size and lesser quality resulting in a serious loss of overall business for William Cowley. These facts were confirmed when Common’s representatives went to speak with Paul Wright following our receipt of David Natzler’s letter. This is of great concern to us, but may I say, so is the apparent failing of the democratic process in parliament which threatens to ride roughshod over proven practical considerations and centuries of British parliamentary tradition, as were well aired in the 20 April debate.

In support of my request to you and my remarks above may I remind you of the following:

Re: The House of Commons debate “Record copies of Acts” on 20 April 2016

The motion that day began as follows:

“That this House disagrees with the conclusion of the House of Commons Administration Committee in its First Report of Session 2015-16, and regrets the decision by the House of Lords to discontinue the use of vellum for printing Acts of Parliament;

 The motion further noted that

“the Second Report of the Lords Select Committee on House of Lords Offices, published on 25 May 1999, clearly states that when the Parliament Rolls of Acts of Parliament were discontinued in 1849, it was resolved by both Houses that two copies of every Act should be printed on vellum and that resolutions of both Houses would be needed to give effect to a recommendation to discontinue the use of vellum;”

 …and called for…

“the House of Lords to reverse its decision to use archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament”

 Furthermore, Hansard shows the Commons resolution following the debate:

“instructs the Clerk of the House to convey to the Clerk of the Parliaments that the House of Commons has withheld its consent to the use of archival paper rather than vellum for the printing of record copies of public Acts of Parliament.”

 I note that the Clerk of the House was present at the Commons Commission’s 23 January meeting.

Does his letter of intention to William Cowley not conflict with the above instruction to him by the House following the April debate. Is he not placed in a directly contradictory position with the Commission’s decision to now use archival paper for the printing!

The continuing actions of the House of Common’s Commission, (chaired by the leading opponent to continuing vellum Sir Paul Beresford), appear wholly undemocratic and we believe must be challenged. I further note that of the 11 Commission members attending the 23 January meeting, Hansard shows that only one, Valerie Vaz, had voted in favour of the motion on 20 April.

In strongly supporting this motion the House clearly advocated actually printing on vellum and specifically not on archival paper. The earlier Commons Commission’s report of 12 October 2015 had requested the assent of the Commons to a change to printing on archival paper rather than vellum. That request was overwhelmingly rejected by the Commons vote, so on what basis is the will of the Commons now being ignored we ask?

House of Lords reaction to the Commons debate vote:

The recently published Commons Library briefing paper ‘Vellum: printing record copies of public Acts’ reveals that the ‘House of Lords House Committee’ met on 3rd May 2016 to consider the implications of the Commons vote. As a result the Chairman of Committees of the House of Lords wrote to the Chair of the House of Commons Administration Committee on 4 May 2016 saying;

“As you know, this House agreed in 1999 to move to printing Acts of Parliament on archival paper instead of vellum. We are persuaded that printing on archival paper is a more appropriate use of public funds, and that the case for continuing to print on vellum is not made. If, in the light of the debate, the House of Commons wishes to arrange a contract for printing record copies of Acts on vellum then the House of Lords Administration will gladly share experience of managing the legacy contract to assist you in making such arrangements. I am sure you will appreciate that this House does not wish to contribute financially to any future printing on vellum. It is also important that we ensure the longevity of any public acts, as the Clerk of the Parliaments must certify a record copy of them.”

This statement shows that the House of Lords would not stand in the Commons way of continuing to print on vellum and indeed would actively assist them in the process. Nevertheless, I would still question whether the Lord’s actually have the right to relinquish their funding responsibility as confirmed by answers to parliamentary questions put late last year.

Funding

The source of ongoing funding of traditional vellum use is clearly another key factor affecting this whole issue. The William Cowley Partners would be grateful for your intervention to clarify the funding issue. During the 20 April debate, the then Paymaster General, Matthew Hancock, said;

“Should the House carry the motion today, I hope that we can work with the other place to find a path forward that both Houses find satisfactory. In that spirit of pragmatism, the Government have offered financial support from other savings, without further burdening taxpayers, to ensure that this tradition, which is of great symbolic and practical value, is not irrecoverably broken by a lack of funding on this small scale.”

We are encouraged that Matthew Hancock’s successor, Ben Gummer, also voted in favour of vellum retention. Can you ascertain that he will honour the Government’s commitment made by his predecessor?

Printing

The facts behind the actual printing on the vellum are factors that appear to have muddied this whole matter. We have heard many misconceptions and inaccuracies quoted. Rather than the actual cost of the vellum itself, we suspect that it was printing costs and the perceived availability of suitable printing were major influencing factors in the House of Lords Committee’s request to discontinue vellum usage. It has emerged that the TSO printers were tied to exorbitant traditional contracts negotiated by Sogat. A clarification of their position would be welcome. From a technical stand point William Cowley (Paul Wright) will be able to recommend suitable alternative printing firms if needs be.

We sincerely hope that you will not only be able to defend William Cowley’s interests but we also reiterate our belief that there is a democratic principle to be defended here. We further genuinely believe that the National public interest is at stake both in practical terms of long lasting protection of our laws and in a traditional and historical sense.

I look forward to hearing from you as soon as possible and perhaps meeting with you and Paul in due course.

This letter was answered by James Gray, MP, who championed the use of vellum, and arranged for the motion to be put in the House of Commons:

20th March 2017

Dear Mr Visscher,

Thank you for copying your letter to Mark Lancaster on the subject of supply of vellum for recording copies of Acts of Parliament to me. Your letter is quite correct. In a Backbench Business Committee Debate on April 20th called by me, the House voted by a substantial majority to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. However that motion was not of itself binding, particularly since the instruction was simply to write a letter to the Clerk of the Parliaments informing him of our view. The House of Lords despite that declined to continue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament and returned the matter to the House of Commons Administrations Committee that vellum should be discontinued. I personally resigned from the Administration Committee because of it, and because of what I view to be bad handling. Like you I took the view that the House of Commons had voted to maintain vellum and was disappointed that a combination of the House of Lords, the Clerks in both Houses and the Administration Committee and House of Commons Commission, had apparently reversed that decision.

In discussion with Dr David Natzler, the Clerk of the House of Commons, he then made plain that if we were to seek to reverse that decision it would be necessary to have a full and substantive vote in the House of Commons since we would be asking for money to be spent which the Clerk himself would not be able to do. He was of the view, and I suspect he was probably correct, that any such full and substantive motion might well have been defeated by the Whips and we would therefore have been in a worse position than we are today. He and I therefore cooked up this compromise which is that rather than the Act be recorded on vellum, there should simply be back and front covers in vellum. This preserves the tradition and use of vellum although of course it does not give William Cowley and Sons anything like the business which they previously had.

…I fear that, under the circumstances there was nothing else that we could do about it and that we have achieved the best we possibly could. I recognise that is very regrettable from the point of view of William Cowley’s business, and I am sorry that I was not able to achieve more.

Jon Elliott of the Archives and Records Association of UK and Ireland worked with me on the campaign and in fact we were both in the House of Commons listening to the debate with Adrian Visscher. John Chambers who is CEO of ARA sent this letter to John Bercow, the Speaker of the House of Commons. He has not yet had a reply.

Dear Mr Speaker

VELLUM

I write on behalf of the ARA, the lead professional body representing archivists and archive conservators in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, to express the profound concerns of our members about the handling of what we understand to be a recent decision by the Administration Committees of the Lords and Commons to discontinue the use of vellum for recording Acts of Parliament. I say ‘understand’ because the only information we have is a series of brief reports in the media.

You will recall a debate in the House of Commons on 20 April last year and its clear majority in favour of urging the Lords to reconsider a 1999 decision it made to discontinue using vellum. You may recall that the Administration Committees had decided to try again in 2015 to implement a 1999 Lords decision, despite a Commons vote in the early 2000s not to recognise it. The fact that this latest, expressed view of the Commons appears to have been ignored and overridden, in manipulatory fashion behind closed doors, damages the credibility of Parliament and undermines its stated aims of openness and transparency. We have heard that the April 2016 Commons debate was ‘merely’ advisory so can be ignored. Its standing should be irrelevant. What is clear is that certain members of the administration committees in question have decided that their opinion is more important than the chamber’s. To members of the public, such behaviour looks like small-print, bureaucratic chicanery of the worst sort.

A number of speakers in the Commons debate last year debunked comprehensively arguments that had been advanced by the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, Sir Paul Beresford, in pressing for ending the use of vellum, specifically that:

  • –  Switching from recording Acts on vellum to ‘archival paper’ would result in a saving to Parliament of £103,000. This was, and remains, nonsense. The sole remaining supplier of vellum in the UK, William Cowley (also Parliament’s supplier), revealed that it received an average of £47,000 a year to supply the vellum to print Parliamentary Acts. Presuming that the £103,000 for the overall costs is correct, this means that Parliament has in effect been paying £56,000 to have Acts printed, ie the same whether for vellum or any kind of high-quality paper. Sir Paul’s assertions about the likely ‘savings’ are evidently based on mis-reporting of financial data and/or a false understanding of economics.
  • –  Switching to ‘archival paper’ would represent a substantial saving to Parliament and the public purse. Despite being asked, Sir Paul did not reveal the basis for this calculation, including what specific ‘archival paper’ he was referring to. I also asked for evidence of any detailed cost-benefit analysis that the Committee did before reaching its conclusions; I received no response on that point either. Our own research suggests that the difference between using vellum and the higher-end qualities of archival paper is small, and not likely to result in any meaningful savings. Sir Paul’s failure (or worse, an express feeling that he did not need) to answer the above questions suggests to us that he had not actually bothered to research specific paper options (or their costs) independently. Further, unless he can be precise about what paper he has in mind, he cannot guarantee the longevity of any printing done on it. The only conclusion we can draw from this inability to provide basic information is that Sir Paul and his team did not do a proper due diligence or cost-benefit analysis and that their decision to dispense with vellum was prejudicial.

– Printing on vellum requires some kind of special printing machinery that needs to be maintained and/or replaced at great expense. This is nonsense. Yet we saw the argument being advanced by an unnamed ‘Westminster source’ in an article in The Telegraph last week. There are a number of specialist presses in the UK, including the Westerham Press (which printed the Magna Carta facsimiles in 2015) and the Gregynog Press which also prints high quality books on both vellum and paper, using the same presses. I and others made this point to Sir Paul in correspondence last year and it was also raised in the parliamentary debate, so he and his colleagues cannot claim to be unaware of it.

It is certainly true that some printers would rather not use vellum and would prefer to use paper in all their operations. They can make more money that way. But that does not necessarily make it good value for Parliament or the public purse. I asked Sir Paul to tell me when the contract for printing Parliamentary Acts was last put out to public tender, ie to see who could do the job – with vellum – at a more competitive price than the current providers. Needless to say, I got no response on that point either.

Separately, we understand that the current printers of Acts, Williams Lea, won a huge central government contract in 2011 (for four years) to do all official printing. What is the current status of that contract with regard to Parliament? Is it the case that Parliament is obliged to use Williams Lea because of this central contract, even if it represents bad value for money? Is the real reason that the Committees want vellum thrown out because Williams Lea would rather not have to deal with the material and the Administration Committee would rather not argue with Williams Lea and/or Whitehall departments? We remain having to reach our own conclusions on this until Parliament provides meaningful information.

The several thousand mere members of the public (and taxpayers) in our ranks find the way this matter has been handled both underhand and damaging to Parliament’s reputation. Parliament and its various committees should – by default – strive to be open in their decisions with the public and transparent and respectful of the will of our representatives in how it reaches them. In addition, I should not have to write to you because Sir Paul Beresford will not answer straight questions fully and properly. We should not have to initiate a formal Freedom of Information request to find out how the Administration Committees in both Houses conduct themselves on such matters.

All the above explains why I urge you to initiate a thorough, impartial investigation into the handling of this matter and to set aside the Commons Administration Committee’s recent decision to agree to dispense with vellum until it is completed.

Our position remains unchanged. Vellum remains both the best material for recording the most important decisions made in the name of the British people and also the best long-term value for money. Its storage flexibility, risk- mitigation, low-maintenance and research benefits – along with its easy accessibility – far outweigh its modest cost, compared to even the highest-grade of archival paper.

I will happily supply copies of previous correspondence if that would help. I am copying this letter to David Natzler, Clerk of the House (since we understand that he had a role in this matter) and a side copy to Sir Paul Beresford, for his information.

Many thanks in anticipation of your agreement to look into this matter and your reply.

So we shall see if Beresford, through the Speaker, answers the questions that challenge the due diligence that should be applied in all decisions, particularly where the public purse is concerned.

A single shivering fleck of sunset-light

Layout 1How fortunate we are as calligraphers not only to be moved by the words of authors and poets, but also to be able to interpret that text visually. I had the task of creating a number of pieces of the same artwork for a special occasion – what to choose, and how to interpret the text? As it’s what I do, I homed in on vellum and quills, and had some lovely classic-finish skin which hadn’t been bleached too much so still had many of the characteristics of the animal such as darker areas, veining and specks of hair follicles.

 

 

 

IMG_2163I wanted something that would be a bit of challenge as I had to write it out over a dozen times and I do tend to get bored rather easily (!), but I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of that challenge when I started! As it was a special occasion I chose my favourite verse of my favourite poem, Gift, by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this poem he writes about what he could give to show that he cares. Tagore considers a flower – it will fade, a jewel – it could get lost, a candle in the darkness – it will get blown out. So he chooses a moment – that point when, wandering in a garden, a hidden flower’s scent ‘startles you into sudden wondering’. Or when, at dusk, a ‘single shivering fleck of sunset-light turns your daydreams to gold’ (I get a shiver up the spine whenever I read that). I tried the verse in various formats, portrait, landscape, in Italic, in Foundational hand, and in the end decided to go for Compressed Italic Majuscles (Capitals) with the words and phrases that meant to most to me in wider Roman Capitals. Rather than using the same colour, I chose three – bright yellow, a bright green and an olive green as I felt these reflected the colours in the verse, and fed these into the pen as I wrote. This is technically quite challenging to do as you can see here and here. So the first thing to do was to see how the lines would fall, as on the right above.

IMG_2162Having determined the line endings and seen how big the piece was, I realised that I needed to go down a nib size, as on the right, but even this was too big, so I then went for the smallest nib size – a size 6 – this was turning into quite a challenge! I did have the basic layout of the poem though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2155I don’t usually use lines for these pieces, relying on eye and the balance of the text, but to do this number, I appreciated that I did need some sort of guide. The great thing about vellum is that usually you can just about see through it. So I worked out the line spacing, length of lines, beginnings and endings and the balance of the artwork and ruled up a piece of paper to use as my guide on which I placed the prepared cut pieces of vellum ready to write.

 

 

 

IMG_2152Pieces that are completely evenly centred often cause a problem as the eye is taken by the shape the edges of the lines make, so in my view it’s better to have the lines based on a central line. For this, to ensure that there is a balance, use a plastic ruler and place the narrow edge down the vertical central line of the piece. Half close your eyes and there should be the same amount of text on the right-hand side of the line as there is on the left. It can take some adjusting of individual lines  to achieve this. What is important is that some part of all the lines must go through this central line; if they are flying off to the right or left without this the piece has no cohesion, no spine.

 

IMG_2153So I was ready to go, and hope that the recipients are pleased with their original artworks, each one different.