The ‘Countryfile’ Experience

PL and tom HeapIt was quite a shock to answer the phone when travelling by train up to London and have a researcher from Countryfile on the other end of the phone. They were doing a feature on endangered crafts, linking to the Heritage Crafts Association/Radcliffe Red List of Endangered Crafts (see here) and were looking for someone from the Heritage Crafts Association to interview. I made some suggestions and also explained the challenges that heritage crafts face. I was rather surprised then when Maria, the researcher, said that she would like me to be the one they interviewed.

PL CountryfileApparently they have only two days for filming for each programme, and needed to be in Devon the next day, so, although I have been filmed in my workroom more than once, they decided that they should film in the workshop of Heritage Crafts Association member Sarah Goss, a wood carver, from Midhurst, Sussex. Taking my sloping board with me, a few props and a black cloth (always wise!) we arrived to find that my requirement for ‘a table and a chair’ was actually a rather rickety table, but we managed to stabilise it. The crew were, as they so often are, fantastic, and Polly the Director was very kind. Tom Heap, the interviewer, was an absolute gentleman, and so professional. I fluffed lots of times, but he didn’t once.

Extinct. CountryfileI hadn’t been told what questions they would ask, but had thought about possible answers. The first one was what crafts were extinct, and I told them the four which included gold beating, a craft close to my own heart because of the gold leaf I use in my own work and in the Illumination courses I run. I can’t now use English gold leaf because the market was flooded by cheap imports – and that’s at least 2,000 years of craft skills in the UK gone in the last few years.

PL explaining CountryfileI really did feel the weight of heritage crafts on my shoulders, and although everyone was very kind, the challenges of craft continuing into the future are more complicated than the short sound bites they really wanted. The fact that we are one of only 22 countries out of 194 in the world not signed up to the UNESCO Convention of Intangible Cultural Heritage was cut out, although I was allowed to mention the Convention itself. (Tangible Cultural Heritage are the things you can see like the buildings and objects; both are reasonably well looked after. Our Intangible Cultural Heritage are the things you can’t see which includes craft skills, and they are supported hardly at all, apart from what the Heritage Crafts Association tries to do.)

Currently viable. CountryfileThe other point that I wasn’t able to go into in detail is that there is little government funding available for apprenticeships because the funding follows qualifications and not training. Qualifications Agencies in the UK will not offer qualifications for niche subjects. In fact their minimum number of entries is 100 per year – in a number of heritage crafts that wouldn’t be the number even in 100 years – so no qualifications! Then for the 80% self-employed, 100% of the costs of training someone are born by the trainer, and, as I explained in the interview, if, over the course of a week the trainer spends a day a week passing on the skills (and it’s usually much more) they can’t make and their production goes down by 20% and that’s their profit margin; so they can’t even afford to pay themselves, let alone someone else!

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 12.39.46And although I made the point, I couldn’t go into detail and it was somewhat overshadowed by the woman running a map company who came on after me. If a unique heritage building, the only one of its kind in the country was going to be knocked down to make way for a roundabout, or a wonderful meadow with the sole remaining species of a very rare flower was about to be tarmaced over for a car park, people would be up in arms and these could even reach the national news. Yet we are losing craft skills and they get barely a mention anywhere. The question also that we’re always being asked is ‘is this craft viable?’. But no-one asks if that unique building or that beautiful meadow is viable, and they, like heritage crafts, are all part of our rich cultural heritage.

Some thought that the interview and approach of the programme gave the impression that the Heritage Crafts Association were backward thinking and only interested in the past. This couldn’t be further from the truth! What we’re interested in is ensuring that craft skills get passed on into the future. I did say: Traditional crafts are part of our heritage, they exist in the present, and they should be in our future – but it didn’t make the cut.

PL To be continued. CountryfileThey wanted to use my calligraphy so I prepared all the words and phrases they asked for, and also had lots of spare paper to write them out if they wanted to film me doing that, which they did. The item ended with ‘To be continued…’ so we hope that Counytryfile pick up the topic again in the future.

 

Screen Shot 2017-09-11 at 12.33.31If you want to support heritage crafts then please do join the Heritage Crafts Association (here). Unlike contemporary crafts we receive no government funding so our members and those who donate are particularly valuable to us because without them we could not do what we do, and we need to do so much more.

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.

 

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.

Making pigments at Guédelon

Guedelon paint (1)The building of a mediæval castle at Guédelon in France involves much more than simply the construction of the building. They are also looking into how the rooms would have been decorated and how the pigments were made. Jill Robertson, from Australia, who subscribes to my free online monthly newsletter (join here), has visited the site and supplied these photographs of pigments being made and used. I am very grateful indeed to her for doing this and allowing me to share them. PLEASE NOTE: All photographs on this page are © Jill Robertson.


Guedelon paint (10)
Pigments may be made from ground stone.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (3)Or vegetation and flowers can be mix with water and heated until the colour is released, or pigments, such as cinnabar, can be made ‘by alchemy’.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (2)The water in some pigments is then allowed to evaporate leaving the pigment to dry to a powder, which is much easier to carry around than wet paint. It is then reconstituted with an adhesive, and finally mixed with water to a suitable consistency.

 

 

Guedelon paint (5)This one has dried so that it looks a little like milk chocolate curls – better not taste it though!

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (9)Then the pigments are mixed again…

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (8)… and are ready to be used.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (6)Walls in many mediæval buildings, particularly ones like castles which may have housed a noble family with money, could be quite colourful.

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (11)Patterns and floral decoration were painted freehand.

 

 

 

 

Guedelon paint (13)The walls would certainly brighten up what could have been a rather dull life!

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!