A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy

A Boy at the Hogarth Press

Richard Kennedy came from Carbis Bay, just a few miles from my home. It’s a small, sleepy Cornish town with a lovely sandy beach. I recall being taken there as a child on annual Sunday School treats when the highlight of the day was a bottle of lemonade and a saffron bun after happy hours playing in the sea and on the golden sands.

But Richard was sent away to school. A very good school – Malborough – and no doubt his family had great ambitions for him.

Unfortunately though, Richard was not a success at school and at the age of sixteen he was back in Carbis Bay with not a qualification to his name. He was happy to be back, but he wasn’t to stay long. His Uncle George spoke to a friend and Richard found himself off to London to be employed as an office boy.

Uncle George’s friend was Leonard Woolf, and so Richard found himself at the Hogarth Press. And so we see the Bloomsbury Group through the eyes of a gauche sixteen-year old boy.

Richard made the tea, printed book-jackets on the treadle press, helped with type setting and packed and depatched books. Eventually he was even sent ot Scotland to sell books. He was just the boy in the office though, so nobody took much notice of him. But he watched them!

Leonard Woolf took an interest in the boy’s future and encouraged Richard to learn bookkeeping. He kept a close eye on the petty cash and office expenses too. Virginia Woolf was a more distant figure, but a dab hand at packaging books when called upon. Other notable figures passed by, but Richard gives them and his less distinguished colleagues and friends just the same attention.

After a year though, it’s all over – Richard is sacked for cutting paper the wrong size.

But the details that he does remember from his short employment allow him to not only give clear and charming account, but also to pepper his story with simple and striking line drawings.

A lovely little book!

Library Loot

I am still in arrears with my library reading. This week I actually left a couple of books than I am keen to read on the shelves. But I did bring four home – here they are:

A Boy at the Hogarth Press

A Boy at the Hogarth Press by Richard Kennedy

“Richard Kennedy went to work for Leonard and Virginia Woolf at their embryonic Hogarth Press in 1926, at the age of sixteen. He had no qualifications—indeed his very lack of them had caused his Uncle George to ask his friend Leonard Woolf if he could find employment for his young nephew. Thus was Richard propelled into the strange, incestuous rock pool of Bloomsbury life, and the illustrated diary he put together forty years later gives us a vivid picture of its inhabitants and their eccentric ways. As a fly on the wall in the basement at Tavistock Square, the Woolfs’ London home where they ran their Hogarth Press, Richard made the tea, printed book-jackets on the treadle press, and helped Virginia to set type. He was of no consequence to the mandarins of Bloomsbury, hence they took little notice of him. Yet his apparently vague exterior hid an acute observation and a memory unusually retentive of dialogue and detail.”

Now doesn’t that sound wonderful. It’s a short book, simply and clearly written and wonderfully illustrated.


Scottsboro by Ellen Feldman

“In Alabama, 1931, a posse stops a freight train and arrests nine black youths. Their crime: fighting with white boys. Then two white girls emerge from another freight car, and as fast as anyone can say Jim Crow, the cry of rape goes up. One of the girls sticks to her story. The other changes her tune, again and again. A young journalist, whose only connection to the incident is her overheated social conscience, fights to save the nine youths from the electric chair, redeem the girl who repents her lie, and make amends for her own past. Intertwining historical actors and fictional characters, stirring racism, sexism, and anti-Semitism into an explosive brew, “Scottsboro” is a novel of a shocking injustice that convulsed the nation and reverberated around the world, destroyed lives, forged careers, and brought out the worst and the best in the men and women who fought for the cause.”

My second venture into this year’s Orange prize books. So far I’m a little disappointed in the first shortlisted book that I picked up (The Invention of Evrything Else by Samantha Hunt), but I’m keeping the faith and hoping for better things from this book.

The Solitude of Thomas Cave

The Solitude of Thomas ave by Georgina Harding

“It is August 1616. The whaling ship Heartsease has ventured deep into the Arctic, but the crew must return home before the ice closes in. All, that is, save Thomas Cave. He makes a wager that he will remain there alone until the next season, though no man has yet been known to have survived a winter this far north. So he is left with provisions, shelter, and a journal – should he not live to tell the tale.”

I have read so much praise for Georgina Harding that I had to pick this up. And, judging by the few paragraphs I have read, I expect to be joining in the chorus of praise very soon.

Tom Browns Body

Tom Brown’s Body by Gladys Mitchell

“Mrs Bradley is visiting the picturesque village of Spey in search of a local witch when Gerald Conway, a junior master at Spey College, is found murdered. Despised by both pupils and peers, there is no shortage of suspects, but can the redoubtable Mrs Bradley use tact, wit and just a touch of black magic to make the boys and their masters divulge the truth?

I read Gladys Mitchell’s The Rising of the Moon a few years ago when it was reissued by Virago and really enjoyed it so I am very pleased to see that Vintage are reissuing a few more of her books.


Have you read any of these? What did you think of them?

And what did you find in the library this week?

See more Library Loot here.