Gregynog Press

The Gregynog Press was founded by Misses Gwendoline and Margaret Davies at their country house at Gregynog, near Newtown in Wales, in 1921. In its twenty-year lifespan 1923-1942, it published 42 books, usually in editions of 250 copies. At least fifteen copies of each book were specially bound in full morocco. The Welshness of many of the books extended beyond their place of production: seven were in the Welsh language; one was bilinguial English and Welsh; eleven English-language books were written by Welsh authors or authors with Welsh connections.

The Welshness of the Press is a link with the staunchly Welsh Professor Sir David Hughes Parry (1893-1973), who was born at Llanaelhaearn, Caernarvonshire, learned English only when he went to school, and spent part of his academic career at Aberystwyth. Parry was Chairman of the University Court 1962- and Vice-Chancellor of the University of London 1945-48. In 1966 he gave the Sterling Library a complete set of specially-bound Gregynog Press books. The gift was especially welcome as the original Sterling Library had contained only six Gregynog items, all in the standard bindings.

George Herbert
Gregynog: Gregynog Press, 1923
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – 1923]
Copy no. 32

This slim volume of poems by George Herbert (xv, 26 p.) is the first book published by the Gregynog Press. Its Welshness is assured not only by the nationality of the author, but by the fact that the poems were chosen by Sir Henry Walford Davies (1869-1941), chairman of the National Council of Music for the University of Wales 1919-1941. The wood engraving of Montgomery Castle, Herbert’s birthplace (shown here) is by Robert Ashwin Maynard, first Controller of the Press, and is the only illustration in the book; other adornment is provided by the typesetting, by red and black printing in two antiphons, and by large red capital letters, of which the ink does not match the less bright red on the title page. Three hundred copies were printed, the first 43 of which were specially bound in morocco.

The Life of Saint David
Ernest Rhys
[Gregynog]: Gregynog Press, 1927
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – 1927]
Copy no. 20

The Life of Saint David, patron saint of Wales, is the first book for which the Gregynog Press used damped paper, subsequently used for nearly all its productions. The book has been admired for its three-colour printing, in red, blue and black; its hand-drawn paragraph marks by Horace Bray, redolent of those which adorned the earliest printed books; and for its wood engravings. These pictures, praised as “apt and charming and delicately and subtly coloured”, were hand-coloured by girls in the Gregynog Press bindery, under the direction of Horace Bray. One hundred and seventy-five copies were printed, the first twenty-five of which were specially bound in red morocco with a gilt Celtic cross.

The Fables of Esope
Aesop; trans. by William Caxton
Newtown, Montgomery: Gregynog Press, 1931
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – 1931]
Copy no. 16

The Gregynog edition of Aesop’s Fables caused a certain amount of controversy, concerning both payment to the engraver and the wording of a note at the end about editorial policy. The book contains 37 large wood engravings by Agnes Parker Miller – her first contribution to the Gregynog Press – in addition to large pictorial initials designed by the printer, William MacCance. Walter Lewis, printer to Cambridge University Press, wrote of this edition: “I do not think that I have ever seen such a beautifully printed book … an example of the finest presswork I have ever seen”. Two hundred and fifty copies were printed, of which the first twenty-five were in a special binding of tan-coloured morocco, with the title n reddish-brown within a deep gilt frame.

Caneuon Ceiriog Detholiad
John Ceiriog Hughes
Gregynog: Gregynog Press, 1925
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – 1925]
Copy no. 4

Caneuon Ceiriog Detholiad is the third book to have been published at all by the Gregynog Press, and the first of seven to have been published in Welsh. Its author (1832-1887), a Welsh national figure, has been described as the Burns of Wales. The book is printed in red and black, with red initials and a wood engraved frontispiece and thirty other wood engraving by Press controller Robert Ashwin Maynard and resident artist Horace Walter Bray. Four hundred copies were printed, the first thirty of which were specially bound.

Annual World Wireless Message of the Youth of Wales
[Gregynog]: Gregynog Press, 1935
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – Appendix] fol.

Between 1922 and 1941 the Gregynog Press generated about 235 ephemeral items: Christmas cards, concert and conference programmes, exhibition catalogues, posters, prospectuses, subscribers’ forms, invitations, orders of service and others. It published its first world wireless message of the youth of Wales (broadcast annually on Goodwill Day, 18 May) in 1923. While the design of the message varies, the arrangement of two columns, one each in Welsh and in English, with a red woodcut dragon between them, is fairly standard.

The Plays of Euripides
Euripides; trans. by Gilbert Murray
[Gregynog]: Gregynog Press, 1931
[S.L.] III [Gregynog Press – 1931] fol.
Copy no. 12

Comprising two folio volumes and over 500 pages, The Plays of Euripides is the largest enterprising undertaken by the Gregynog Press. The work’s engravings by Robert Ashwin Maynard and Horace Walter Bray (sixteen in each volume) are based on fifth-century Greek vase paintings chosen by the classical scholar T.B.L. Webster (1905-1974). The work was intended as homage to the translator, Gilbert Murray, for his work in the League of Nations. As a book, the Gregynog Euripides was praised by the Observer as “a magnificent folio edition” and “a fine example of modern book making”. But at twelve guineas for the cloth-bound edition (twenty guineas for the specially bound one), it was the Press’s most expensive venture and, published during the Depression, was the only one which did not sell easily. The Davies sisters therefore gave copies to various libraries and Colleges in Wales.

Twenty-five of the 500 copies were specially bound, some only as late as 1952 by John Ewart Bowen at the National Library of Wales. The Sterling Library copy is bound in one volume by the Gregynog Press, with its stamp on the back turn-in.