The Reading Room Press



In 2018 whilst walking on the north-eastern limit of Orkney Mainland out towards the Brough of Birsay and just about where the M is on the map below, I came across a slab of rock about 4 feet square and 2 inches thick with the most striking pattern:

Too heavy to lift and carry away, my companion on the walk, Patricia Mitchell, took a photograph of it:

Four years later the Senecio Press printed an enlarged section to use as a binding paper for the 2022 publication The Hunting of the Snark:

Intrigued by the unusual and attractive marking (I did take the small piece seen at the bottom of the picture home but its effect seemed to fade) I asked David Dobson, wood engraver, mountaineer and geologist for an explanation:

"I think the rock is a slate which might have been close to an igneous intrusion. In that case the high temperatures can produce contact metamorphic minerals and they look like a high-T form of aluminium silicate (Al2SiO5) called andalusite. That normally forms white needles, but at high concentrations it can form radiating mats like those in the image. In that case there should also be some occasional isolated needles. If not andalusite then it is probably the high -P,T form, called sillimanite. You would be safe to call it a hornfels which is a contact-metamorphosed slate."

This explanation seems almost as attractive as the stone itself. Such an esoteric image is well suited the the whimsey of Carroll's Snark.

Portentous Portals

The lintel above the front door of T. E. Lawrence’s cottage at Clouds Hill is well known:

It didn’t take much for me, as a Lawrence enthusiast, to ask Richard Healy of the Right Hand Press to cut the same inscription in the oak beam above the door to the Reading Room Press and this he did in 2010:

It had been my idea, inspired by Fergus Wessel’s work on the quoin-stones of the Whittington Press, to do something with the stone to the left of the door. Rory Young, that estimable stone-cutter and sculptor, for long had generously agreed to help. On a wet morning in June 2019 he came:

The door may be in need of a new coat of paint but for a humble portal it’s lucky to have had the attentions of such craftsmen.


The press aspires to typographic excellence and has taken some comfort at least from the animated tenor of discussion that has accompanied the publication of past books. It now ventures to claim that it leads the world in the art of that lesser known aspect of typography: typagriphy.

My neighbours’ daughter, Rebecca, married Ed in July 2017 and I helped prepare the field for the reception. Having cut the area of grass for the marquees, on the spur of the moment I cut the letters shown ‘freehand’ with no prior measurement. Whilst they are brutally sans serif they are, I feel, majestic.

The second picture below shows the wedding guests ‘filling in’. The leading proponent of this new typographic art-form can be seen at the apex of the bowl of the ‘R’, arms outstretched in a pose reminiscent of Robert Gibbings playing the part of God …

The Bodleian Library, to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death, invited printers to select a single sonnet and submit a letterpress version. Delighted to be one of the 155 printers I commissioned the wood engraver Paul Kershaw to design and cut for me an initial letter L seen here:

A Private Press-sponsored Gate

It is almost sixty years since the pubic footpath that ran outside the window of Coneygar Lodge - the home of The Reading Room Press - was diverted 20 yards down the road into the adjoining meadow. Visitors for N.A.D.F.A.S., S.W.E. and O.G.P. picnics parking in the field, will have been familiar with the gate:

This picture was taken several years ago. The gate had deteriorated further; indeed it disintegrated when removed from its hinges:

There seemed to me to be such a warmth of vernacular craftsmanship about the gate I thought it worthwhile replacing it like-for like rather than with the ubiquitous tubular steel affair. With the farmer’s blessing I commissioned a local carpenter to build another one:

All the iron-work was preserved. The hinge post remained unmoved. The delightful latch was restored. The wooden knob atop the plunger was turned from a boxwood billet discarded and rescued many years ago from the fire from a man making pub-skittles.

This could well be the first time a private press has sponsored a gate. I am grateful to Tim Morris, the land-owner for supporting my endeavour; to Trevor Sallis for making the gate; to Andrew Ives for supplying the latch-post; to Nick Sandford (“gates float my boat”) for fettling all the iron-work and both expertise and enthusiam throughout; to Peter Dunn for help hanging and digging and to Ian Stephens for providing the boxwood.