Podcast: David Esslemont on the history of the Gregynog and Solmentes Presses

Photograph of Gregynog Hall
Gregynog Hall

Nigel Beale aka The Literary Tourist, came to visit and recorded our conversation in which he asked me about the history of the Gregynog Press, my time there as the Controller (artistic and managing director, and printer) of Gwasg Gregynog from 1985–97, and the evolution of Solmentes Press. Listen to the podcast at The Biblio File (link below).

Waxing lyrical about the the press's setting amidst the rolling hills of Montgomeryshire, I talk about its founders, the wealthy Davies sisters, some of the key players such as Blair Hughes-Stanton (coincidentally one of my tutors at the Central School of Art), and some of the outstanding books produced there up to 1945, when the press closed.

Encouraged by John Ryder and Ian Mortimer, among others, I joined the press from Newcastle upon Tyne where I had been printing and publishing since 1978. It was a significant move, I learnt to speak Welsh, and delighted in the literary and artistic traditions of Wales. Over the course of 12 years I was able to re-open the bindery, re-install hot metal typesetting and Heidelberg cylinder presses, and grow the operation substantially. I enjoyed the opportunity of working with some of Wales' leading literary figures and commissioned many wood engravers to illustrate a wide range of subjects. My favorite book of those I designed and printed was Wrenching Times: Poems from Drum-Taps by Walt Whitman. It was illustrated by Gaylord Schanilec an engraver I met on my first visit to New York in 1990.

Leaving Gregynog was a painful affair. For example, at one point I was ridiculed (by a political scientist nonetheless) for embracing a vision for the future of the press – an account of my time there has yet to be published. Nevertheless, I began to make books again and achieved a noticeable success with The Wood Engravings of David Gentleman. This led to Inside the Book and the birth of the Solmentes Press; the seminal Ink on the Elbow (another collaboration with Schanilec), and my move to the United States. The conversation concludes with some enthusiastic talk about food – I had just published Chili: a recipe – and was wondering what to publish next, would it be curry or pizza? [Recorded in December 2013]

Many thanks to Nigel Beale for hosting this conversation on his Biblio File podcast.

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