In January I visited Frances and Nicolas McDowall in the beautiful Wye Valley in Wales. And I was unable to leave - for the snow fell deeper and deeper around the house. But as the electricity petered out, and supplies of gin depleted, I was not short of reading-matter. I hunched by the fire, carefully cradling enormous hand-printed folios of works by John Donne, Dylan Thomas and many other writers. The purpose of my visit was to catalogue the prodigious output of the MacDowalls’ Old Stile Press during the last ten years.
The press was founded in 1979, and an earlier bibliography, The Old Stile Press in the Twentieth Century (compiled by Dorothy Harrop), covers publications up to the millennium. Since then the press has continued to issue titles prodigiously: the artist Rigby Graham notes that publications have grown ‘larger and more lavish’ with the passing years. The latest instalment, The Old Stile Press … the next ten years, surveys this recent work. It includes the stunning edition of Arthur Waley’s Chinese Poems with wood block prints by the wonderful Ralph Kiggell; the libretto of Benjamin Britten’s Christmas Sequence with woodcuts by Angela Lemaire, and The Abstract Garden, a ground-breaking collaboration between printer Nicolas McDowall, poet Philip Gross, and wood engraver Peter Reddick.
Frances and Nicolas McDowall are adamant that art is inseparable from life. These books arise from conversations with friends and shared enthusiasms. The wide variety of works collected together in this bibliography demonstrate what can be achieved when books are approached with passion and perhaps, on occasion, slight folly - qualities which are rarely glimpsed within the limits of commercially-driven corporations. Once my fingers had recovered from frostbite, I wrote a brief introduction to the work of the press, which is presented here alongside Nicolas' revelations about each book's genesis, and Frances' feature on the state of book collecting.
Above is the wonderful painting of the Old Stile Press demesne by Clive Hicks-Jenkins which graces the cover. The edition is limited to 1000 copies, and the first 250 come with a jeu d’esprit printed at the press, ‘Welcome to Spring’ by Gavin Douglas (c. 1510) illustrated with a border decoration by Eric Gill. The Old Stile Press … the next ten years is priced at £45 and is available (plus £4 p&p in UK) from the Old Stile Press.
Here’s to the next ten years!