Cambridge Publishing Society

Gill Walk 28th June 2013 – review

On a soggy day in Cambridge town that might have favoured gills plural rather than singular, a full house of 20 were treated to a stonecut-lettering and carving fest from the chisel of that colossus/bear/beast of prewar drawing, printmaking, stonecarving and lettering design: Eric Gill.

Rain? What rain? Geoff Green, in the blue kagoule, points out the Gill monogram in the crocodile.

Geoff Green was on fine and ebullient form as he coaxed and corralled an aberrant group of independent-minded publishers around many fascinating examples of the Gill oeuvre. Starting at an elegant circular pond in Newnham College commemorating the benefaction of Henry Sidgwick, Geoff opened our eyes to work that might easily have slipped past. Through Geoff's binoculars some blackened stone under an oriel window in Downing Street magically revealed itself as Gill's first ever (1903) stonecut inscription: 'Dans les champs de l'observation le hasard ne favorise que les esprits préparés' – Pasteur's words (from Geoff's excellent Gill vade mecum handout and homework) also perhaps serving as a motto for the evening.

Gill's crocodile on the Mond Laboratory behind the Cavendish Laboratory cheerily opened its smiling jaws for us to reveal (bottom right-hand corner here) it was swallowing a monogram of Gill's initials. Commissioned by the Nobel-prizewinning physicist Pyotr Kapitsa, the crocodile is apparently an obscure Russian joke at the expense of then-Cavendish Director, Ernest Rutherford. LOL-worthy it definitely is not, but this croc is certainly amiable and quirky.

Geoff had carefully pre-arranged our entry into the Catholic Chaplaincy at Fisher House to see a fine stone in memory of Percy Fitzgerald, former RC Archbishop of Westminster. In front of this the infectious enthusiasms and insider knowledge of Eric Marland (stonecutter formerly apprenticed to Gill's apprentice David Kindersley) may have been a little too diverting: the group split in two. Owing to the miracle of mobile phones we successfully got back together outside Gill's bold relief lettering in the Ham Hill stone of the front entrance to Westcott House in Jesus Lane. 

Our foray into Jesus College (amid the avant-garde pieces of the college's biennial sculpture exhibition – an enormous yellow US fire truck was parked on the perfect grass in Second Court) was rewarded with a fine plaque in the north wall of the chapel chancel. The second Gill work on our route through the college was the strikingly both sensual and bowdlerized coat of arms of Rev. White-Thompson, former Bishop of Ely, waggishly tweeted by Anthony Haynes as 'Highlight: angel's buttocks in Jesus?'

At the finish I had the pleasure of handing out Phil Treble's beautiful letterpress keepsake, setting Will Hill's finely judged typographical analysis in the typeface of its subject. Many thanks to Geoff, Phil and Will for their most generous and beautiful contributions that made a lovely and memorable evening. And so off to the Pickerell for lively banter and discussion … 

PS Eric Marland has very kindly made available a photo of his rediscovery this year of a supposedly lost Gill ashtray (weighing at some 60+ kilos – the idea was to stop it being moved) in the garden of a Cambridge private house:

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