The Fleece Press is the one-man enterprise of Simon Lawrence, whose family made woodblocks for wood engravers from 1859 until quite recently. I started to print in 1980, having visited John Randle's Whittington Press. John had agreed in late 1979 to print a book of wood engravings by leading engravers, in secrecy, to celebrate my grandfather's 80th birthday the following year. When I walked through the Press door, my life changed and from that moment in April 1980, well over thirty years ago, I have sought to make a living from printing and publishing hand-made books, usually illustrated by or about wood engravers and printmakers, though with healthy interests in the official war artists, collections of letters, miniature books and T. E. Lawrence (but with a decided and almost complete absence of poetry – simply because it's published expertly by many other presses and I like to forge new directions). I publish what I am interested in, and by extension, what many of my customers will want to read and see. Writing in The Spectator in 2009, Paul Johnson assessed the Press as 'the highest quality private publishing firm in the country, the Fleece Press of Huddersfield.'
Letterpress books are still printed here, by hand (and by machine but controlled by human hand). Yet in 2014 the fact is that letterpress supplies – machinery and typesetting in particular – are becoming difficult to rely on; and so, because of my occasional desire to design and publish substantial books illustrated profusely in colour, a few years ago I also began to make some books which are printed by four or five-colour offset lithography; these are books that are equivalent to any hand-made ones in the care and attention to detail as well as their physical feel, and which in any case couldn't be made by letterpress means because of the requirements for so many colour illustrations. The two sorts of books co-exist happily enough in my hands, and I'm pleased to say still meet with public approval. In 2011 a reconditioned Heidelberg cylinder press was installed, ready for two forthcoming books: letterpress very definitely survives here.
There is often discussion about what constitutes a Private Press. I think there are two parts to the definition: a publisher and/or printer who has absolute control over all aspects of book production (almost non-existent in the modern publishing world), and secondly a press making books which also include something of the character of their creator. I hope my books meet these criteria healthily.
Ravilious at War, published in October 2002, displayed all of his 110 wartime watercolours (ships, defences, planes and so on) made as an Official War Artist, and included most of his highly engaging correspondence from the last three years of his life. It also showed just about every other painting, engraving, cotton and ceramic design he made during this time. His daughter Anne Ullmann edited the text, and there was a perceptive Foreword by the London Evening Standard Art Critic Brian Sewell. Running to nearly 300 pages, with over 200 illustrations (mostly in colour), and a text of 80,000 words, this was a substantial, important book which immediately went out of print; copies now fetch £650, and while not all private press books rise in value in this way, it is gratifying when everyone wants a particular book now and again.
A massive amount of work went into the preparation for the more recent publication of Ravilious' selected pre-war correspondence, which Christopher Whittick, Anne Ullmann and myself brought to publication during 2008; Eric Ravilious: Landscape, Letters & Design runs to 528 pages in two volumes housed in a slipcase, with 180,000 words of text and 300 images, all in the same format as Ravilious at War. The final few copies are now available; see Recent publications (1)
Generally two or three books each year are published. The hand-printed ones (see the following pages for forthcoming books and those few still available from stock) are mostly set in metal type, the illustrations printed from the original engraved boxwood blocks to the highest standards, by hand, on dampened fine papers. Binding is executed out-of-house at the Fine Book Bindery, Wellingborough. About eighty carefully-made books have emerged since 1980, and most go out of print soon after publication. Catalogues or single prospectuses are usually issued for each book, and for those books still in print, shortened forms of their prospectuses are included under each book on subsequent pages here. Do e-mail me for any questions you may have. As I still believe in human contact (and knowing my customers), orders can be left here by e.mail which will be acknowledged, or by telephone, but payment cannot be taken directly through the website.
For a perceptive review of the recent book about Edward Ardizzone (see next page) and assessment of the Press' books, see the Spectator review by Paul Johnson here: http://www.spectator.co.uk/the-magazine/columnists/3454556/and-another-thing.thtml
Available soon (see the separate page with that title) involves the wood engraver Edward Walters' work; Emily Sutton's watercolours in an 8-metre-long accordion-fold book; and Mr Kilburn's Calicos, which publishes for the first time 62 wonderful fabric patterns by the great fabric designer and printer William Kilburn. There are also books on Douglas Percy Bliss; Albert Rutherston; Tirzah Garwood's art; the engravings of Yvonne Skargon; the colour woodcutters of the first half of the twentieth century – on which subject no book has yet been made.
The Fleece Press Bibliography is now postponed.
Do support the Press in its single-minded work to continue making important books on these fascinating subjects!
Simon Lawrence, The Fleece Press, 95 Denby Lane, Upper Denby, Huddersfield HD8 8TZ .
Telephone 01226 792200; email as below.
Payment may be by cheque or credit card (Visa or Mastercard), or if really necessary by Paypal.