Wessex Guild of Bookbinders

Sue Durrant of The Wessex Guild of Bookbinders got in touch with me at The Lear Society and I am having several volumes rebound, I thought it would be interesting to see what Keith Holdaway has produced for The Owl and The Pussycat.

Keith Holdaway: ‘The book is covered in black Morocco leather with on-lays of light and dark tan. The original binding was in excellent shape, so rather than risk damage I decided to sew the text block and new endpapers onto linen tapes, these and the new spine linings, were attached between double boards taken close to the book’s shoulders.

The end papers are made by laminating my favourite Hahnemühle paper, terracotta to match the moon and guitar, laminated with Zerkall Antique to form a “made” endpaper with a fly leaf that matched the text. The thinned and pared leather on-lays were applied to the main cover off the book and pared on the back to make even. All the blind and gold tooling for the guitar, stars and horizon were applied after the book had been covered.

The poem that inspired the design was the Owl and The Pussycat, which I had learned by heart at primary school, so I designed the most memorable line (to a 10 year old) to disappear into the stars above. This was transferred to a commissioned block which I mounted in a jig to tool the front cover. Because the spine design precluded any lettering the book is in a clam shell box cut to reflect the shape of the guitar.’

Keith with his initial design for the book.

Phil with Keith working on his design.

The Wessex Guild of Bookbinders was established in 1968 by the students and teacher of the Bournemouth College full-time bookbinding training programme following its closure by the college. Their bindery is based near Wimborne Dorset in a disused chicken shed. They always welcome new members, whether newcomers or experienced binders.

Each year they select a book to bind for the group (they have around 24 members). In 2022 they selected the Faber & Faber hardback edition of Edward Lear’s The Complete Nonsense. This edition was printed from the late 1940s to the 1980s in over sixteen impressions. It was chosen for its good quality printing and paper, and because second hand copies were relatively abundant and easy to find and there was plenty of subject matter within the covers to inspire a “design binding”.

The Edward Lear Society were pleased to permit them to showcase their work on our website, and one of their experienced binders also undertook to restore two old volumes of Lear’s poems from the 1860s and 1880s supplied by the Society.

If you are interested to know more about the Wessex Guild of Bookbinders please contact Sue Durrant  at

Post by Derek Johns