Monday, August 25, 2014
Newnham on Severn, Gloucestershire
‘Do not forget me quite, O Severn Meadows’
Newnham on Severn is a small town overlooking the west bank of the Severn, once a port on the river, now a pleasant and in my experience rather quiet place – as quiet, that is, as is compatible with being on the main road between Gloucester and Chepstow. There’s a curving High Street, a long green, and a variety of brick houses, some dating from the 18th century.
And then this. A 19th-century-looking shopfront, unremarkable in itself, but displaying a marvellous collection of signs, stickers, and printed material. I particularly like the old ‘Blackbird’ and ‘Swan’ pen signs with their bird symbols and distinctive name. Not ‘fountain pens’, but ‘Fountpens’, to make it that bit more memorable, I suppose, unless a ‘Fountpen’ is a specific species of pen of which I’m not aware.
The window also contains a collection of printed material from the archive of the Severnside Press, whose shop this is. It’s full of gems. British readers will recognise the style of several election posters, which are of various dates from the 1920s onwards. The real star is the large poster headed ‘PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION’, a list of polling stations and their locations in this part of the county. This extraordinary poster is a litany of names (Awre, Corse, English Bicknor, Joy’s Green, Pillowell, Plumphill, Ruardean…) as evocative as the place names in an Ivor Gurney poem. More than this, it’s an impressive print job: a complex multi-column layout in a variety of typefaces handled with a mixture of flair and expediency. The flair is in the balance and the fit of the text, the expediency in the occasional resort to the ‘wrong’ typeface when reasons of space (or perhaps a shortage of type) meant that an alternative sort had to be chosen for a word here and there. The poster is dated 1951, but it’s done in a traditional style that goes back much further – the heading type could be from a Victorian playbill, the more complex layout lower down from a Methodist lay preaching plan, blown up to size.
So, in a small shop window, there’s a reminder that Newnham is a town (albeit a small one) where once many people worked at making things – in the glass industry, at tanneries, even, once upon a time, building ships. Where there were businesses, there needed to be a printer, turning out letterheads, business cards, notices, and the like, using metal type and inky presses, in the days before ‘publishing’ was something people could do on their ‘desktop’. And amongst these printed products were election posters to remind us that towns like Newnham and Newent and Lydney were (and still are, up to a point) centres for a whole network of rural communities, some nucleated villages, some more scattered Forest or Severnside settlements. Do not forget me quite…