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.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Work, my workroom and ‘Landlove’ magazine, December 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was very pleasantly surprised and delighted when brilliant journalist Kerry Fowler contacted me about being featured in the popular lifestyle magazine Landlove. This was not the first time that I’ve been in a magazine, but that was usually just half a page or a page. This time it was 6 pages, a whole 3 double spreads. I had bought the magazine before and was most impressed by their focus on crafts and makers – not at all ‘token’ treatment as in some other publications. However, the other makers they had featured usually had large workshops, and often more than one person making the craft. Here, it’s just me and my workshop is not much wider than a large cupboard! (when we had this part of the house built, I wanted the width of the room to be where I could sit at my sloping board and simply swivel round to wash my pens out in the sink behind without getting up – it all just fits, but it’s a squash for more than one person at a time!)

Layout 1Kerry said that the editor had particularly requested ‘a festive piece’ as the feature was due to be in the December issue. This was September, and Christmas wasn’t exactly front of mind. However, a walk in the woods gave me inspiration, and you can read more about the piece I produced shown on the right here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_021

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

And here is the photograph Sussie Bell, the wonderful photographer, took of me putting the finishing touches to this piece.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

My workroom is a bit of a squeeze and so everything is crammed in. I didn’t have anywhere to remove all the stuff to, but before Kerry and Sussie came, I did have a bit of a tidy round and blew the dust off the tools and surfaces (and just for clarification, I make a lot of dust because I sand vellum skins!). I have an artist’s trolley (now well over 30 years old!) on my left-hand side which has paints, pen rests, the pens in current use, ink and sharpening stones on the top, and then other tools and materials in the drawers below. I’ve looked online for something similar, as I know that some of you may contact me and ask where I got it from, but it seems that ones exactly like this aren’t now available. There are others, though, so put ‘artist’s trolley’ into a search engine for the range. This trolley really has been invaluable for me and the way in which I work. Feathers for quills and then cut quills are also to hand in pots, and for those of you who are interested, the very first Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set is on the window sill. There is a special offer for subscribers to my newsletter on this, so if you want a set for £60 instead of the usual £96, subscribe to my newsletter (home page of this website) and then look here.

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the part of the trolley top closest to where I work with pens ready to use; Arkansas stones are piled up to sharpen nibs (never done this? The difference it makes to the sharpness of your letters will probably amaze you. Look here at the free Calligraphy Clip on sharpening nibs). I use small crucibles a lot for paints as these are perfect for the amount of paint needed by calligraphers. Again for the free Calligraphy Clip on inks and paints for calligraphers, click here. Find crucibles by putting ‘small white porcelain science crucibles’ into a search engine. Look around because some are very much more expensive than others!

 

 

Calligrapher_016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Other tubes of Schmincke paint are in the drawer in the trolley. There is no system here, so I rummage round to find particular colours if I’m being lazy about mixing them! If you are interested in how to mix the paints of the Schmincke Calligraphy set to create no end of colours, again I have a free Calligraphy Clip here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_011

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Tools are all in jars on the right hand side. In my tidying up, I hadn’t noticed that I was cramming pens into the pen pot and one was sticking up rather a lot! I use pen holders that are quite small as my hands aren’t large; they are also a bit like using quills. I found these old wooden pen holders being chucked out by a school many years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_010

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

The rest of the tools I use most often are also in pots – erasers and sets of dividers, odd pens and a heavy duty knife nearest, brushes, ‘weird’ pens, brushes, quill knives etc further back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_020

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was photographed finishing off polishing some shell gold on a vellum piece I had written using an agate dog tooth burnisher. Shell gold is in the crucible and in the little glass jar, and the green felt burnisher’s sleeve is at the top.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Kerry and Sussie seemed to love the copies of animals I had done from the Ashmolean Bestiary – using the traditional tools, materials and processes of mediæval manuscript miniatures. We shall be creating these and similar ones on the three-day intensive course I’m teaching in Kent, UK, on Saturday 27th May, Sunday 28th May and Monday 29th May 2017. Contact me through my website for more details. There is more about the previous course I ran here.

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_022

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

This is the little miniature that I took with me when I went to teach and talk at Harvard in October 2016 to show the various stages in creating a mediæval miniature. Here I’m about to apply a piece of loose gold to the pink raised gesso. More on how I did this here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_019

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I use quills a lot, and also demonstrate how they are cut to conferences and at talks, so I have quite a few! There are goose and swans’ feathers here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_008I also have rolls of vellum in store ready to be used. For the difference between parchment and vellum and lots more information, and another special offer on vellum and parchment for subscribers to my newsletter, click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Calligrapher_018

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

Although I don’t teach egg tempera painting in classes any more, I do still demonstrate how to change the powdered pigment as here into usable paints with egg as the adhesive. Cornelissen in London stock traditional powdered pigments in cute little jars. The colours are amazingly strong! If you want to know how to make egg tempera paint from pigments then it is shown and written about in my DVD on Illumination and also in my book Illumination – Gold and Colour. More details here. The one at the front right is orpiment. For more on a pigment that glisters but isn’t gold, see this blogpost.

 

 

 

Calligrapher_029

Photograph © Sussie Bell 2016

I was about to teach a course at the Fitzwilliam Museum when Kerry and Sussie visited, and always aim to take with me the names of the people on the course written out calligraphically so they have a memento to take home with them from the day as well as the work they’ve done. As I was writing out the names for the course, I included one for Kerry and Sussie too as a thank you to Sussie for making what I do look so wonderful, and to Kerry for writing such a fantastic piece on me. And Hurray for Landlove and their inspired editor!

 

 

Making little boxes

fullsizerender-2There are occasions when you need a suitable container for a gift and there is nothing available. If the gift is small, why not make your own ‘wrapping’? These little boxes are really easy to make involving simple folding. They are so easy that children can make them if they are shown how.

 

You will need:

img_1932i. Suitable paper: photocopying paper is good – the boxes above were made with red and green 100 gsm photocopying paper on which I had printed the ‘Happy Christmas’ that I’d written out in Gothic Black Letter in a repeated pattern. Stiffish gift wrapping paper is good too.

 

 

img_1933ii. Paper should be cut into two squares, one with sides 11 cm long (the lid) and one with sides 10·5 cm (the base).

 

 

 

 

iii. A pencil and ruler. Scissors for scoring.

iv. Errm – that’s it!

How to make the boxes:

img_1934i. Use the pencil and ruler to draw lines marking the diagonals from point to point on the reverse of the patterned side, creating a cross.

 

 

 

img_1935ii. Fold in each corner so that the tip touches the point where the lines cross.

 

 

 

 

img_1936iii. Then fold over again, making sure that you hold the tip at the point of the cross and don’t let it slip. Repeat this for all four sides. Open out the folds so the paper is flat. The large middle square is the top (or bottom) of your box so make sure that it doesn’t get creased.

 

 

img_1938iv. In the middle of each side of the square is a small diamond.

 

 

 

 

img_1939v. Turn over to the other side and use the tip of the scissors to score a short line from tip to tip as shown.

 

 

 

 

img_1942vi. Fold in one side ensuring that the tip goes to the centre, and then fold the paper up again to make the side.

Now repeat this for the opposite side.

On the third side, push in two diamonds that you have scored as shown here.

 

img_1943vii. Then bend this side over to secure the other two adjacent sides. Use your fingernail to ensure that the top folds are sharp and smooth.

 

 

 

 

img_1944viii. Now repeat this for the last side and the box is secure. If necessary, you can use a dab of glue to secure the base.

 

 

 

 

img_1945ix. Repeat this for the other square making a base (or a lid).

 

 

 

 

img_1946You can do this again and again with smaller squares, making boxes that fit inside one another – a great idea for a very special surprise (perhaps something really really expensive!!). Reduce the sides by 5 mm each time.

Cut squares out using a sharp knife and straight edge, then children can easily make these boxes with a small amount of help.

 

An unknown book by Graily Hewitt


CIMG2727
Graily Hewitt was a truly great craftsman. Not only did he write the ‘Illuminating’ section in Edward Johnston’s seminal work ‘Writing & Illuminating, and Lettering’ but his work is astonishingly fine, particularly his gilding on gesso. The gesso is usually laid exquisitely, with spine-tingling serifs, and the burnish of the gold leaf enviable. I have been shown and have been given permission to feature this book which has been previously unknown.

 

 

 

CIMG2734The book is a hand-written copy of the poem ‘John Gilpin’ and was written for the granddaughter of Dr R A Holmes (see right). He was a student of Graily Hewitt and they corresponded until the Dr’s death. Because his granddaughter had shown an interest in what the Dr did as a hobby (although a very competent ‘hobbyist’!) he left his desk and all his tools, materials and equipment to her. During the war, vellum, parchment, gold and pigments were scarce, and the granddaughter was asked if Graily Hewitt could have some of the calligraphy materials that had been left to her. She agreed and this book was sent to her as a thank you.

 

CIMG2735The accompanying letter written by Graily Hewitt is delightful, and starts ‘Dear Little Maid’. It explains that the book is ‘mere writing’ but what ‘your grandfather and I used to love and practice together’. He goes on to say that her grandfather ‘was getting on famously, though his profession kept him too busy to enjoy doing it often’.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2737Graily Hewitt then says that it is in thanks for her ‘unselfishness in parting with all his beautiful parchment and gold and most of his pens, that I, who loved him very much, might have them to continue in the work we both so much cared for … I can hardly get such things nowadays; and I shall be so glad to have them for their reminder of him and the craft he loved, as well as his continued kindness to me’.

 

 

 

CIMG2728 (1)The illumination is just perfect, even looked at under magnification.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2729The poem is written on parchment, not vellum, being Graily Hewitt’s preferred writing surface (for the different between the two see here), and so the writing isn’t always as sparklingly fine as it can be on vellum, but it shows the hand of a great master nevertheless.

 

 

 

CIMG2723The book is bound in fine red leather on raised bands, evident on the spine. The title is gold blocked and there is a simple narrow gold border around the front and back covers.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2725At the back of the book the name of the binder is recorded as ‘W H Smith’. This is now a newsagents, bookseller and stationers in the UK. It may seem strange to think that they once did such a fine binding. Dr Christopher de Hamel of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge has told me that Douglas Cockerell used to do most of the binding for W H Smith, so perhaps this slim volume has a link with another great man.

Cobblers and cordwainers

220px-Cordwainer_statue_Watling_StreetThe nursery rhyme says it all ‘Cobbler, cobbler mend my shoe’! It is cordwainers, not cobblers, who make shoes from new leather, and although the name is slightly archaic, it is still used by the Worshipful Company of Cordwainers, who received their first ordinance in 1272. There is even a Cordwainer ward in London which is where most of the cordwainers lived, and where this statue is now situated. The Cordwainers’ College in London existed as a separate entity until the year 2000 when it was incorporated into the London College of Fashion.

 

 

Cordwainers-crestThe name comes through Anglo-French ‘cordonnier’ as a corruption of cordouan leather from Córdoba in Spain. This leather was made from Musoli goatskin which was tawed with alum; it was in demand throughout Europe for the best shoes, particularly the red leather. In fact images of the goat are on the shield of the Cordwainers’ Company and as their crest.

 

 

 

 

Paris_psaulter_gr139_fol7vThe high-grade status of the red leather of skin from Córdoba is emphasised in this Byzantine image of King David. Only someone wealthy and really important such as a king would wear red leather shoes.

 

 

 

 

 

220px-Lohgerber_1880Making shoes today follows a similar pattern. Leather is first soaked in water to clean and soften the skins. The hair was then removed and the skin ‘bated’ by pounding dung into the skin or soaking in dung, urine and animal brains. For this reason tanneries were usually on the outskirts of towns as this was a stinky business! Vegetable tanning uses bark, often oak bark, and the hides are used mainly for luggage and furniture, strong shoes and belts.

 

Clicking-Image-1bThen the hides are taken to the clicker who cuts the uppers for the shoes, This is a skilled job because thin and damaged areas of skin need to be avoided, and the best sections of the skin used for the appropriate parts of the shoe. The craftspeople are called clickers because of the sound of their knives against the metal edged-binding of the patterns for the shoes.
hqdefaultThe uppers are then closed or sewn together, a process which includes decoration, punching holes and fitting eyelets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

imgresThen the soles and heels are cut from leather, the heels being built up from a number of layers.

 

 

 

2.aaCJ1187The next stage is lasting, where the tops of the shoes take shape over a wooden last, and are attached to the inner sole.

 

 

_benchmade_04After a number of other processes finally the uppers are attached to the soles and heels, the shoes finished, polished and packed ready to be sold. This is a short film of how shoes are made.

Plaxtol Roll of Honour

IMG_1110The vast number of people involved in the First World War is being highlighted during these centenary years. This huge number is perhaps particularly exemplified  in the small Kentish village of Plaxtol. Over 150 men, all former pupils of the local village school, went to the front, as well as four members of staff. I was asked recently to prepare a Roll of Honour on vellum recording the names of these men.

 

 

CIMG2464I was given a typed list and the requirement that there would be a decorated border of cob nuts and hops, as these were local to the area, and so set about designing the panel. I experimented with the styles and sizes of text, spacing between the lines, placing of the blocks of text and so on.

 

 

CIMG2468I decided on Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand for the text, as it was this style, and Roman Capitals, again championed by Johnston, that MacDonald (Max) Gill used as his lettering design for all the First World War Memorials; Max being a student of Johnston. As always, everything was written out in rough first, and then positioned where it was to go. In the typewritten version the letters ‘RIP’ were written without fullstops, which I copied for two of the columns, and then inserted the fullstops for the other two – we all agreed that the latter looked better. I also used the traditional colour scheme for such panels of red and black.
IMG_1108Then it was deep breath time, the vellum was prepared, ruling up done, and I had to start the writing. I tacked the four columns of names first to get the body of the panel done, writing all the names and then returning with the same size nib and red paint to insert the words ‘Wounded’, or ‘R.I.P’ where appropriate. However, I used a compressed Roman form for ‘Wounded’ so that the columns weren’t too wide.

 

CIMG2630I left painting the border until last. My original design had the hops and cob nuts entwined but this was not was wanted. The suggestion of having separate blocks of the two plants would have made this part of the panel very disjointed, so I drew a long wavy line along the whole border, with the cob nuts growing up from the ‘valley’ and the hops hanging down from the ‘hills’. The width of border was about an inch (2–3 cm) high. The hops are about 1–2 mm each in size and each have about 5 different colours on them.

CIMG2617The panel was too large for me to stretch the vellum first around a board as I couldn’t then reach the top of it, so I had to do this after it was all done. The need for stretching is obvious from the way in which the skin is bumpy in the picture on the right.

It was a huge job and difficult to cost at the beginning – I spent far more time on it than I charged for, and now it hangs in Plaxtol Village Memorial Hall. It would be nice if more people knew about it and were able to see it.

Vellum and Acts of Parliament II

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Great news! There was a vote in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20th April 2016, on whether to continue to print Acts of Parliament on vellum or not. This is the record of the debate in Hansard. The vote was overwhelmingly in favour of continuing to print Acts of Parliament on vellum. This was a wonderful reward to all the hard work many people had done in writing to their MPs and publicising the campaign. However, this decision lasts only for this parliament, so the question may well be raised again.

February 16th 2016: I had started to write this blog with a heavy heart. On Saturday 7th February 2016, we heard that the printers of Acts of Parliament on vellum had been given 30 days’ notice, and that printing was due to stop on April 1st (what an appropriate date I thought!). This was a surprise as we understood from James Gray MP’s Point of Order last November that there would be a debate in the House of Commons. This was what happened in 1999 when the Lords decided to stop using vellum and a debate and vote in the House of Commons decided to continue, so vellum was still used. So this time there was no debate and the decision had been taken.

35910.jpgI contacted the great Sharon Hodgson MP, Shadow Minister for Children, and she raised a Point of Order on Tuesday 9th February and the Speaker advised her to look into an Early Day Motion so that MPs could register their views on this.

However, the decision had clearly been made. Sir Paul Beresford is the Chair of the Commons Administration Committee, and Lord Laming is the Chair of the equivalent in the House of Lords. James Gray is a member of the Commons committee and he, and two other MP members who said that they had been ‘misled’ were not in favour of using paper instead of vellum. So who took the decision, when and where?

_88273692_vellum-making-lovettFollowing Sharon’s Point of Order there was a bit of a media circus and I was interviewed by Radio 5 Live, Radio Scotland, and was on BBC News at 10. I was also interviewed for a piece on the BBC website. They used my photo of Lee Mapley (right) scraping a skin, which is featured in my Illumination – Gold and Colour book.

Sharon was on a number of programmes too and Paul Wright of William Cowley on even more.

We made the case as well as we could but knew it was bolting the stable door …!

Then on Monday 15th March we all woke up to the news that Matt Hancock MP has stated that the Cabinet Office would cover the cost of vellum. Hurray! He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘Recording our laws on vellum is a millennium long tradition, and surprisingly cost effective. While the world around us constantly changes, we should safeguard some of our great traditions and not let the use of vellum die out.’

There were many newspaper articles as a result – the Independent, the Daily Telegraph, the Guardian, and the Daily Mail being but some.

The campaign has been run by the Heritage Crafts Association; this is their press release.

As I write this all is not quite safely delivered in that the process still has to be gone through, the decision reversed, as many MPs as possible to sign the Early Day Motion which James Gray is leading. I am positive but also know that ‘there’s many a slip …’!

I’ll update this blog when everything has been confirmed – in the way we hope it will be!

 

Vellum and Acts of Parliament

Parliamentary archives - Acts of Parliament (4)Vellum has been used for printing or writing Acts of Parliament almost since they were first recorded. In 1999 there was a move to print these Acts on paper, which was defeated. However, on 14th October this year, William Cowley, who are the last vellum and parchment makers in the UK, heard from their MP, Mark Lancaster, that there was to be a House of Commons meeting where the end result could well be that printing on vellum would cease.

 

 

 

imagesI was actually at a committee in the Houses of Parliament when I got this message, and went on to a meeting just after with one of the Heritage Craft Association’s patrons, Lord Cormack. He kindly agreed to write a letter in support of the continuation of the use of vellum, and also gave me invaluable advice.

 

A phone call with Paul Wright of William Cowley that evening, and a further conversation with Lord Cormack clarified the situation. The House of Lords agreed in 1999 to discontinue printing on vellum, however the House of Commons disagreed and so the use of vellum has continued. The discussion and vote was to be by the Administration Committee, chaired by Sir Paul Beresford MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/sir-paul-beresford/103).

I wrote to Sir Paul Beresford and contacted as many people as I could who worked in conservation, museums, libraries, as book binders, and also other practitioners. I explained the situation briefly, and asked them to contact Sir Paul themselves.

There are three main points about paper and vellum and then one about the craft:

codexsinai_lg

  1. Vellum lasts. We have vellum documents that are over 2,000 years old, and whole books from around 350 AD (see right: Codex Sinaiticus in the British Library) which can still be consulted and used, pages turned etc. If vellum had not been used, the new Archbishop of Canterbury would not be able to kiss the St Augustine Gospels (brought over in 597 with St Augustine) when enthroned, we wouldn’t have the Domesday Book (1086), nor be celebrating 800 years of the Magna Carta with all the significance of the rights of people. Paper does not last anything like as long. Archival paper lasts for about 250 years; it may last longer if it is stored in special conditions, but no specialist will actually guarantee the ‘500 years’ that has been suggested. In any case, this is not 2,000 years!
  2. vellum makingWe have been told that the cost of printing Acts of Parliament is about £103,000 per year. We know from William Cowley that they receive about £47,000 per year for supplying vellum. This means that printing and other costs are £56,000. These costs will apply whether printing is on vellum or on paper, as there are no extra costs for printing on vellum nor any different inks needed. So the saving would be the cost of vellum, £47,000, minus the cost of archival paper, which we have been told is about £20,000. The saving is, therefore, £27,000. This relatively tiny amount is what the decision rests on!
  3. CIMG1640Vellum isn’t only green but green-plus, as it is a byproduct of the meat and dairy industry. Male calves are killed for veal (veal and vellum have the same derivation) when they are a certain size if they aren’t selected for breeding and as they can’t produce milk. Once processed, their skins go to be tanned for the leather industry, more than we think go to landfill as we produce more skins than are required, and a few are used for vellum. No forests are cut down, no harmful chemicals are used, no energy-using machinery is required to produce vellum. The only energy is that of the parchmenter, who has taken 7 years to learn the craft skills.
  4. images-1William Cowley is the last vellum and parchment maker in the UK, and takes the passing on of skills seriously. It takes 7 years to train an apprentice to journeyman level, and they have one being trained at the moment. Supplying skin to parliament considerably boosts the sales of vellum and the effect cannot be over-estimated. It will have a serious effect on William Cowley if this supply stopped. We are losing too many of our heritage crafts by default and many of them are, like Cowleys, currently thriving businesses. (for the difference between parchment and vellum etc see:  http://www.patricialovett.com/vellum-and-parchment-and-a-special-offer/)

b6994e70-79b8-11e5-_999169cOn Saturday 24th October, there was an article in The Times*, and also a piece in their ‘comment’ section. Both were broadly positive, although there were errors. First, the cost of vellum is nothing like the £80,000 per year quoted, and secondly, no calves would be ‘saved’ by not printing on vellum, simply more calfskins would go to landfill. I sent email a letter to the Times correcting these facts but sadly my letter wasn’t published!  *(http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/politics/article4594895.ece)

Screen Shot 2015-11-02 at 15.53.57During that Saturday, I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC World Service, the PM Programme, and Radio 5, which I did. During Sunday I was asked if I would be interviewed for BBC2’s Daily Politics programme on Monday (http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b06myj7x/daily-politics-26102015) . I was able to make all 3 main points on vellum vs. paper, and also raise the fact that William Cowley were the last makers of vellum producing a world-class product. Wonderfully, the two MPs also being interviewed agreed with me, the Labour MP pointing out that we were the sixth richest country in the world and were arguing over such a small sum. To round off this ‘media frenzy’ (!) I was interviewed a few weeks later by Jeremy Vine on Radio 2, where we had half an hour, interspersed with music, to flesh the debate out more.

select committeeThe House of Commons committee, meanwhile, had voted ‘unanimously’ to discontinue the use of vellum. One member of the committee, James Grey MP (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/james-gray/261) was slightly delayed to the meeting and would have voted against the proposal to print on paper. In the House of Commons later that day, James Grey made a Point of Order where he said that it was recorded that the vote of the committee was unanimous, when in fact he had objected to it, and also that this vote should be one needing a vote of the full House. He went on to say that he thought this ‘a disgraceful piece of heritage vandalism’.

So it is likely that there will be a debate in the House of Commons, with a free vote.

In addition, Sharon Hodgson MP, who is also Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Art, Craft and Design Education has taken this matter up, and has tabled a series of excellent and pertinent questions. (http://www.parliament.uk/biographies/commons/mrs-sharon-hodgson/1521). These relate to the actual cost (we have queried the £80,000 figure), how much would be saved by not using vellum, how much it would cost to create a special storage environment, what the advice is from archival experts in terms of the longevity of paper, how much it would cost to reprint the Acts of Parliament when the paper has deteriorated, and so on.

So the matter is not closed and I would urge everyone in the UK to write to their MP to point out that the cost implications are not the only thing to bear in mind when the continued supply of vellum and parchment is questioned, and the cost of the conservation of paper and re-printing of the Acts of Parliament at some time in the future need also to be taken into account. Many thanks to those of you who have kindly already written to your MPs. It is important and it does matter!