Wood engraving + printing

We are now on our way to Ditchling Common to be introduced to a Hand Press in operation, not as a museum piece but as a means to earning a living. Hilary Pepler

In 1916 Hilary Pepler brought an old printing press on the back of a cart to Ditchling. Variously known as The Ditchling Press and the St Dominic’s Press, Pepler’s printing output was diverse, setting it apart from other private presses. It ranged from beer bottle labels for the local pub, to the ideas of the Guild of St Joseph & St Dominic. Artists in Ditchling were at the heart of a national revival of interest in wood engraving and their inclusion to Pepler’s press brought a distinctive style to the books and posters.

Pepler wanted his press to be egalitarian, practical and modern in style. This was reflected in the functional and inconsistent bindings and the use of a single typeface; in stark contrast with William Morris’ Kelmscott Press which had lavish illustrations and highly decorative bindings. In 1920 the Society of Wood Engravers was formed with Eric Gill and Philip Hagreen as founder members. During the 17 years that Gill was in Ditchling he produced over 400 wood engravings and many of these were featured in books published by Pepler.

Although untrained as a printer, Pepler approached printing not as a trade but as a craft. Wood engravings were becoming increasingly unfashionable and were being replaced by cheaper photomechanical images. Yet Pepler embraced the wood engravings which Gill and other artists in Ditchling were making. These took a more honest approach to the material and process with which they were made and were not an attempt to look like drawings.