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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Pressing Onwards

With the season to be Jolly now behind us, and my various projects and strands of business from last year ticking along nicely in this, I decided last week to push forward with one of my "If not Now, When? " list.

As an artist in my own right, I was keen to reproduce more of my work , but not in the standard modern digital way, but by way of one of my other loves, that of engraving, lithograph, and print. There is something inherently beautiful in the individuality of a hand made print, something of the human, in the inked imperfections, and textures of the woven paper that make it so compelling.

Ideally I'd like an actual Gutenberg press... but of course they no longer exist, Modern One-Pull Presses are very expensive for a beginner hobbyist, and antique book-presses are hard to come by.

Looking at the pictures of modern presses, I was struck by how like they were to the antique washing wringers my Mom used to use, the key ingredient of wooden rollers sprung together to squeeze, would I surmised, with a carefully designed flatbed, do the same job, for a fraction of the cost.

Wringers too are hard to come by, but I found one on the Net,

for $100 at an Architectural Reclamation yard, in Leominster on the Welsh Border, not two hours away, so as this last Saturday was due to be very fine, I planned a driving adventure up the "lost" corridor of fertile sunny Uplands caught between the mountains of Wales on one side, and the south to north Motorway the M5, a main artery in the UK that seems to mark the start of the Industrial Midlands.

Setting off just after dawn, I tracked due West to the lower end of the corridor around Monmouthshire, and swung North to Leominster. I was endeavouring to take in as many of the Castles and old sites that are round every twist and turn of road, in a part of England, that far away from the Commercial centres has been almost left to organically grow in its own slow ways.

Key to this was an ancient manuscript I had found in the Oxford Bodlien Library archives, called the Red Book of Hergest, one of the most important surviving Medievel Welsh Manuscripts,

which documents many of the features still around today..

I started at Pembridge Castle, a late 12 Century to early 13th century castle, which is oddly thirty miles south of Pembridge. It falls into that classic castle design that we would all love to own, and sadly this one is, so I could get no closer than to Photograph it.
Still onwards and upwards, along snaking tight, rural roads to Pembridge village itself, which appears to be a Tudor Village lost in time. Every one of the hundred or so houses is of the original Black and white Tudor style, most of them without a straight line amongst them. The houses, by dating the tree rings in the beams date back 800 years. Simply a hidden gem.

Further west to the very Welsh Border, I find my goal, Hergest, amid the towering high pointed hills of Hergest Ridge (The name of Mike Oldfield's second album, after Tubular Bells was an overnight success, he came here to isolate himself). I decamped from the van, and rucsac on my back I took to the Hills, striding towards the Summits, and beaming brightly at the views that lay before me.
Behind me the agricultural valleys of Herefordshire, before me, woolly and mountainous Wales. The Composer Elgar strode the Malvin Hills whose dinosaur backs I could see in the haze to the east. I could easily see how Mike, too, had been so inspired.

Refreshed, I sped on my way the last 24 miles to Leominster, to purchase my wringer, then spend a further hour in the huge reclamation yard, looking at Architectural fitments rescued from demolished buildings from across the Island. Tudor Tiles, Victorian Fireplaces, Gothic stained glass windows, and Georgian bathroom porcelain...the list went on. I asked the owner to email me if he came into possession of any old interior pub signs and fitments, as I am starting to see such pieces sell for very high prices in the South.

So it was homeward to Crumpets, Walnut cake and Tea, weighed down by my cast Iron trophy bouncing in the back. But one more Broadway Folly at sunset.

The gateway to the Cotswold's, my own district, The 1794 folly stands much like the Castle Inn in Edgehill, on the same plateau shelf that plummets suddenly to the lowlands and the river Avon. Its views unmatched as another day ends on the Counties laid at its feet. It was built simply because Lady Coventry wanted to know if she could see such a thing 22 miles away at her home. English Aristos eh?...doncha just love them.

A long day then, but I still managed to sit up and research till the early hours, fuelled by a very tasty Poachers beer.

I slept well.

Sir Dayvd ( King of all he surveys ) of Oxfordshire


  1. A lovely trip! My grandmother Baker had a ringer for her wash. Cleaver thinking for an Oxford grad!

    You'll have to show us your prints when we come to visit. You just made me want to wish my life away until July!

    Sir Hook (It's Good to Be the King) of Warrick

  2. Sir Dayvd,

    This is one of the most interestingly strange tales I've ever read on this blog. Fantastic!

    Spent many a day in the basement of Grandma Louie's helping her wash and ring clothes. "Don't get your fingers caught!"

    Sir Bowie