Eleni Zompolides 1880-1958
Lettering Artist and Designer
by John Scruby
Originally printed issue 65  December 1996


(First published in issue 33 of the Albian, The Journal for the Private Press)

Bibliophiles will have been delighted to hear that the Tabard Private Press' has recently printed Bernard Newdigate's earlier Book Production Notes, articles contributed to the London Mercury during the years 1920-l925. It is a handsome volume with an illuminating foreword by Ruari McLean and an excellent index, which at last gives easy access to the Notes and therefore to the wisdom, often in advance of its time, of the master of the Shakespeare Head and Arden presses.

Newdigate's work at Arden has been further recalled, if incidentally, by an exhibition, at the Garden City Heritage Museum at Letchworth, of the calligraphy and graphic and book arts of his friend and colleague Eleni Zompolides. 

The daughters of this fine artist have made available the contents of her portfolios, including correspondence from W.R.Lethaby, Edward Johnston, Douglas Cockerell, Graily Hewitt, Walter Crane, R.P.Gossop, Margaret Rooke, Karl Parsons, Mrs Hugh Dent, and a mysterious "A.S.", thought to be the one-time fellow-student, and later fellow member of the Society of Calligraphers, Anna Simons.

Eleni Zompolides was born in London in 1880 and educated privately. She entered the Royal College of Art in 1896 to study drawing and design under Walter Crane and later taught there. Among her many interests at the time was embroidery design, which was later demonstrated by the meticulous miniature floral work of her book art.

She then studied and taught lettering arts, calligraphy and illumination under Edward Johnston and Graily Hewitt at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. By 1904 she was working with Douglas Cockerell, whom she met while teaching at the Central School. She joined him full time in 1906 as artist/designer at W.R.Smith & Sons' bookbinding works in London when he became controller there.

At this time the firm was developing its wholesale and retail trade, and the now familiar shops began to open. It was decided also to open a printing works and a bindery at Letchworth Garden City, which would incorporate into commercial book production the artistic ideals of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement; such ideals were also to inform W.H.Smith's well-established advertising enterprise whose studio and printing works were in London.

Letchworth Garden City offered the social, technical and environmental advantages which made it the most suitable site. The bookbinding factory in Works Road and the adjacent Arden Printing Works in Pixmore Avenue, designed by architect F.W.Troup, were opened in 1907. 

It was this development which brought Eleni Zompolides to Letchworth in 1908. She came to work as artist/designer at the book binding works and associated Arden Press when Douglas Cockerell was transferred from London as Controller of the bindery. 

Cockerell was considered to be England's greatest bookbinder and his inventive genius and pioneer work in modern conservation of books and manuscripts has kept his reputation green. Eleni also worked with Bernard Newdigate, Elizabethan scholar, antiquarian and, in his time, England's most eminent typographer and printer.

In 1912 Eleni Zompolides married Charles Townsend, a chemical engineer and editor. They moved to the nearby village of Stotfold from where Eleni continued to work freelance from home while raising a family.

Through the 1920s and working from home, Eleni did a good deal of work for J.M.Dent and Sons, mainly in binding and casing design, (Dent's Everyman Library was already being printed and bound in Letchworth when the W.H.Smith factories opened) and when Charles Townsend died, Eleni moved with her family back to Letchworth.

She lived in a number of homes, one being in Baldock Road, a few houses from Bernard Newdigate's old home; (across a green in the Society of Friends' meeting house at Howgills was an early piece of Eric Gill's lettering, carved on oak mantle boards.) 

She also lived in a cottage by the Cloisters, an open-air school designed by architect W.H.Cowlishaw, where sealed into masonry is a calligraphic scroll written by the architect. It was his fine writing, together with the encouragement of W.R.Lethaby and S.C.Cockerell, which first inspired Eleni's teacher, Edward Johnston, to a life dedicated to the lettering arts. 

In later years she moved to live with her daughter Monica in Lawrence Avenue where she died in 1958.

Eleni Zompolides was probably best known as the designer of the splendid alphabets of initial letters used in Arden's great folio volumes such as The Gold and Silver of Windsor Castle, and the most splendid, The Old Silver of American Churches, and also as the writer of the Elton College Memorial Book to former pupils fallen in the South African War, these works all being shown at international exhibitions during 1913 and 1914. 

However her artistic and technical range was considerably wider. She designed and executed pedigrees, genealogies, illuminated addresses and testimonials, bookplates, book labels, armorial blocks and greeting cards. 
In the field of the book arts she designed (and wrote) calligraphic books, and designed fine bindings, publishers' casings and title-pages. In advertising, various forms of graphic design including illustration, letterheads and logos.

Eleni was fortunate to have spent her chosen working life during a most exciting time in the history of the arts of the book. She was a fervent follower of  William Morris, whose social and artistic ideas are still influencing our daily lives. 

She was taught by, and worked with, those who followed him, such as Walter Crane, Edward Johnston, Douglas Cockerell and Bernard Newdigate, and their work led to the great renaissance of the lettering arts in England and Europe in the early years of the 20th century. 

She was also able to work for such enterprises as W.H.Smith and J.M.Dent, who in their own way sought to put such high ideals into successful commercial practice. 

The Letchworth she lived in was a young and vigorous community whose founder, architects and citizens were moved by a practical idealism. She herself set equally high standards in the work she loved and throughout her life played her particular part in securing the success of the social and cultural objectives in which she believed.

I. Book Production Notes by B.H.Newdigate, (Tabard Private Press,£48.00) 
Mr. P. Kerrigan, White Timbers, Stokesheath Road, Oxshott, Surrey.

2. See John Scruby, Bernard Newdigate 1869-1944, in Issue 64.