Bernard Newdigate 1869-1944
By John Scruby

Originally printed issue 64 March 1996


(First published in issue 24 of the Albian, The Journal for the Private Press, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the death of Bernard Henry Newdigate, Elizabethan scholar, antiquary, and one of England's most distinguished typographers, whose work at the Shakespeare Head and Arden presses played an important part in the renaissance of the book arts during the first half of this century.)

Bernard Newdigate was born in 1869, educated at Stonyhurst School, and was a graduate of the University of London. From 1890 onwards he worked for the family business, the Art and Book Company, at Leamington and in London, and when in 1905 he became head of the firm he disposed of the retail side of the business and concentrated successfully on the printing side, which from 1904 had been known as the Arden Press.

The growing excellence of Arden printing soon attracted the attention of C.H.St.John Homby, founder of the famous Ashendene Press and a partner in W.H.Smith and Son, then in process of expansion. 

With their support the Arden Press moved in l907 to a modern works at the first Garden City, at Letchworth in Hertfordshire, where together with W.H.Smith's bookbinding works (under the direction of Douglas Cockerell) began an enterprise in commercial book production of the highest quality. 

In 1908, when W.H.Smith exercised an option to purchase the Arden Press, Newdigate remained with the firm and was able to concentrate more fully on book design. It was at this time that his friendship with Dr. Adrian Fortescue began to have an influence on the direction of his interests, especially in his growing regard for the work of William Morris at the Kelmscott Press.

Newdigate continued to work at Arden until August 1914, when at the outbreak of World War I he volunteered for service and was commissioned in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. 

During his career at the Arden Press Newdigate had designed many splendid books and was considered to have a particular flair in the use of the Caslon types. 

Many years later, for example, Of God and His Creatures printed at Arden in 1905 for Burns & Oats, was included in an exhibition of One Hundred Notable Books Printed in England at the South Bank Exhibition of 1951. 

Other well-known Arden productions included the magnificent Gold and Silver of Windsor Castle, printed under the Arden imprint in 1911, the Collected Works of William Morris, done for Longman's 1910-15, and the Ritus Servandus for Burns & Oates in 1913.

Arden printed some notable poetry, including the works of Francis Thompson and Alice Meynell for Burns & Oates, and the celebrated first issue (and two subsequent issues) of Georgian Poetry for Poetry Bookshop in 1913. 

Arden Press books were among the cream of English printing output shown at the international exhibition at Ghent in 1913, at the exhibition of British and Irish decorative arts at Paris in 1914, and at the Leipzig exhibition of the book industry and graphic arts in the same year. 

In addition to exhibiting, Arden printed the catalogues of the British exhibits at the latter two exhibitions.

Newdigate returned to printing in 19l9, briefly at the Curwen Press and Field Press. He was then approached by Basil Blackwell in 1920 and, in succession to A.H.Bullen, took over the management of the Shakespeare Read Press at Stratford-upon-Avon - later at Oxford and thus began his long and fruitful partnership with one of England's greatest bookmen and nearly two decades of some of the most distinguished printing to be done in this country.

The Shakespeare Head Press, under Newdigate, produced amongst many fine books, splendid editions of Froissart's Chronicles, a complete Chaucer, Pindar's Odes of Victory, Spenser's Works, Chapman's Homer, Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, and a delightfully readable one-volume edition of the Works of William Shakespeare, which at six shillings a copy in 1934 might be considered one of the book bargains of the century. 

The Shakespeare Head Press also produced some excellent standard library editions, including the works of Smollett, Fielding, Sterne, Defoe, Richardson, Pope, Swift and the Brontes.

Newdigate seems to have influenced through his example the progress of the typographical revolution in the early part of this century, and successfully linked the ideals of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press to the commercial production of books and printing. 

Furthermore, he sought, through his writings in such typographical journals as the "Fleuron" and in the wider public domain of the London Mercury and other more general periodicals, to educate and enlighten on the need and importance of decent printing and good book design.

His monthly "Book Production Notes" in the London Mercury, which he wrote from 1920 until 1937 were successful in bringing his ideas to a wider public and gave considerable support to the cause of line printing and also to the small presses; his sound judgement may be seen, for example, in his enthusiastic reception during l937/38, of the early work of the young Will Carter.

Newdigate had before him, when he had completed his formal studies, the prospect of a career in public service (one of his earliest published works for example was a critique and history in The Month , of the English Poor Law), but he joined the family business when it became apparent that his help was urgently needed there and so began the long journey toward eminence as a typographer. 

Nevertheless as a scholar he was to make some contribution to English studies, notably in his meticulous editing, with Kathleen Tillotson, of the fifth volume (of appendices and notes) to the Complete Works of Michael Drayton and also in his biography of Drayton which accompanied it. His editing and publishing of an edition of Ben Johnson's Poems is considered by some his finest work in the printing of poetry.

He wrote a Brief Life of Shakespeare which was included in the second edition of the one-volume edition of Shakespeare's Works (q.v.) which he produced with Basil Blackwell.

To read Newdigate's writings on the Elizabethan poets and on the arts of the book is to find oneself in the company of a man of wider interests beyond, but relevant to, the book and lettering arts with which he is most commonly associated; a kind simple, modest and gifted man who always strove to get to the heart of the matter and inspired great affection, loyalty and respect in those who knew him. 

No-one has done more than the late Sir Basil Blackwell to celebrate the life and work of Bernard Newdigate, in delightful personal memoirs, and by the publication in 1950 of a splendid memorial volume, written and edited by Joseph Thorp, and entitled B.H. Newdigate, Scholar-Printer 1869-I944. 

One memoir by Sir Basil Blackwell entitled Bernhard Newdigate, Typographer; was published in The Printing Review (No. XLI, I946). An article by Joseph Thorp entitled The Work of Bernard H.Newdigate was published in Printing Review, (Winter Issue, l938-39). 

Sir Basil Blackwell was also instrumental in preserving Newdigate's personal library, a splendid collection of fine and private printing covering the 20th century between the wars, and it is now located in Edinburgh, at Napier College.


The original article included a picture of  "Bernard Newdigate and his sister Katherine on the verandah of Astley Cottage, their home in The Glade, Letchworth Garden City The photograph was taken by Dr Adrian Fortescue in April 1909 and was reproduced with the kind permission of  Mrs J. Cruse. Newdigate's private press at Astley cottage printed Latin Hymns, arranged and translated by Dr Fortescue."  I have left this image out at present until I can get a better copy.