Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Red Lion Court, London

During a short break after a publishing meeting yesterday I explored a couple of the alleys off London’s Fleet Street, places where evocative bits of old London rub shoulders with modern office-block extensions. In Red Lion Court (named after a tavern that was destroyed in the Great Fire of London) I found myself back in the world of publishing. The buildings, plain brick of the early-19th century, are described by Pevsner as typical of the unassuming style favoured by the printers who congregated in the Fleet Street area in this period.

This sign is on the wall of one of the buildings in Red Lion Court that was probably put up after another fire of 1808. It’s a printer’s emblem. Unlike many tradesmen of former centuries, who used rather literal signs of their businesses (a hat for a hatter, a pestle and mortar for a pharmacist, and so on), printers allowed themselves a little more artistic licence when it came to making their mark. Printing, after all, was related to scholarship, and scholars were expected to be cleverer than your average high-street tradesman. Also, a printer’s emblem or colophon was reproduced in their books, so each firm's emblem was expected to be different and memorable, and might combine words and images in an early form of corporate identity.

So whose was the sign in Red Lion Court? Well, this building has been the home of several different firms involved in the book trade, including the publishers Taylor and Francis. But the man who left his sign on the wall was the printer, publisher, and scholar Abraham Valpy (1787–1854).

Valpy came to Red Lion Court in 1822. He had been a scholar and, briefly, fellow, of Pembroke College, Oxford, and he published editions of classical writers. He also branched out into periodicals, producing the Classical Journal and The Museum. His sign, a hand pouring oil into a lamp, bears the motto, ‘ALERE FLAMMAM’ (feed the flame). Valpy nourished the flame of scholarship here, producing several long series of classical texts, until about 1837, when he sold his printing equipment, books, and copyrights, and retired, leaving just his mark on the wall.


Peter Ashley said...

A truly superb example of the rewards for always looking up, and all that history to boot. The symbol also reminds me of the oil lamp sign used by the Scripture Union, the little pocket guide books that figured large in my childhood as a kind of AA handbook to The Bible.

E Berris said...

Red Lion Court was also the home of Stanley Lawrence, master block-maker etc, according to Helen Binyon in her memoir of Eric Ravilious (Lutterworth 1983) and from 1781, of John Nichols, printer and publisher of "Gentleman's Magazine". (see London Encyclopaedia - Weinreb & Hibbert'

Ravilious /Lawrence are on the list to go in my frozen ink blog.
Lovely to see these trade signs preserved.

Philip Wilkinson said...

I don't know much about Stanley Lawrence, but I'm a great fan of Ravilious - a pivotal figure and one it's good to see get his share of appreciation these days.