The Mosley Effect

Library Manager, Bob Richardson, writes about James Mosley’s hugely important role in the history of the St Bride Library collection.  

For a collection with such a long pedigree, the St Bride Library has had comparatively few librarians. Since opening in November 1895, there have been only a handful, with two long-serving incumbents who each transformed the collections in their own individual way.

William Turner Berry was born in 1888 and came to St Bride as a young man, having worked as an assistant librarian with Lambeth Public Libraries. His initial pre-WWI tenure was brief—he was called up in 1914 and returned to the library in 1919 after serving in the Royal Army Medical Corps. Turner Berry was not only librarian, but also the general manager of the St Bride Foundation. Although he retired, aged 70, over 56 years ago, he is still remembered with affection by some of our older readers.

Former Reading Room Vernacular Signage

On 9th January 1956, the chairman of the St Bride Libraries Committee met with a 20-year-old Cambridge student called James Mosley, to discuss job opportunities within the library. James was acquainted with Turner Berry, and while working at Stevens, Shanks during vacations, had borrowed material from the library as an aid to identifying artefacts held at the foundry. The young man made a good impression and was offered the post of assistant librarian on a salary of £500 per year (£9.62 a week) subject to a successful interview with members of the Library Sub-Committee, which included the redoubtable Beatrice Warde. The interview presumably went well, for later that year, upon completion of his studies, James Mosley joined the library staff, succeeding Turner Berry as librarian two years later upon his retirement in 1958.

Nineteen-fifty-eight is an important year in the history of the library, for it marked the start of a transformation which led to the establishment of the unique collection we hold today. Under Turner Berry the library thrived and developed, but was still primarily a collection of books, many of them unique. Under the management of James Mosley the focus changed. Books would remain at the heart of the library, but the very small collection of printing artefacts in 1958 expanded with James at the helm during a period of significant change within the printing industry. As traditional type foundries wound up their businesses and closed their doors, overtaken by filmsetting and offset-litho, James Mosley was waiting in the wings with his wheelbarrow. A friend of James tells me that this distinguished academic could be seen on occasions carrying his latest haul along Fleet Street to the safe haven of the library. He was never too proud to roll up his sleeves and dig around in the grime of a defunct printshop or load a van with some precious cast-iron relic which had been destined for the local scrap dealer.

Kelmscott Chaucer (1896)

Kelmscott Chaucer (1896)

When we show visitors around our red brick building in Bride Lane, we take great pride in displaying many of the “jewels” in our collection. The deluxe edition of the Kelmscott Chaucer, printed in Hammersmith over a four year period ending in 1896, is a breathtakingly beautiful example of letterpress craftsmanship, and a favourite with visitors. The book came here in 1966 because James lobbied for the money (£1,000) to purchase it. The generosity of the Corporation of London provided the funds. The historically important collection of steel punches from the Caslon Foundry, including a number cut by William Caslon I, came to the library as a result of negotiations initiated by James. Soon afterwards the Pouchée decorated types were also transferred from the Oxford University Press thanks to James’s perseverance. They are unique in the world, and one of our most significant acquisitions.

Caslon Punches

Caslon Punches

Pouchée Blocks (2)

Pouchée Blocks

Pouchée Agricultural Alphabet

Pouchée Agricultural Alphabet

Our letterpress workshop contains a fine cross-section of machines covering almost two centuries of printing history, but when James arrived in 1956 there was only an arthritic wooden Common press, acquired by the governors in 1894 for fifty shillings. Today we have a fine Albion (acquired by JM, 1969), a Columbian (JM, 1969), Stanhope iron press (JM, 1960) and an Ingle newspaper press (JM, 1969).

The compositor frames from the Oxford University Press, c.1668, came here in 1973 and 1988 (James again), followed by the surviving punches and matrices from the Figgins Foundry (via their successors, Stevens, Shanks). The unique Kinneir/Calvert road sign maquettes—the original road sign models made for a presentation to the Minister of Transport in 1957—came here because James sought them out and arranged their transfer. An enormous collection of original material by Eric Gill, including inscriptional rubbings and original drawings and early sketches for faces such as Gill Sans and Jubilee were also acquired as a result of James’s intervention. Even more material is held in storage, including an 1845 Wilson guillotine and a pair of vintage pivotal type-casters. James is a determined man, who rarely accepted “No” for an answer, and whose dogged persistence in the acquisition of important artefacts usually bore fruit – eventually.

Gill Sans Comparative Drawings

Gill Sans Comparative Drawings

Gill Sans Lower Case

Gill Sans Lower Case

Figgins Matrices

Figgins Matrices

Kinneir Maquette 2

Kinneir Maquette

There is hardly a shelf or cupboard in the St Bride Library which does not contain printing hardware and artefacts relating to the history of type founding and ‘the black art’, or the creation of letters in their myriad forms, which does not owe a debt to James Mosley. He was a librarian, a man who should, by definition, be interested in books, but his passion for the physical objects of printing and typefounding have given us a unique collection which goes beyond anything a reader might expect to find in a building with the word “Library” above the door.

On the 18th of April this year James Mosley celebrated his eightieth birthday. He is still a regular visitor to the library with which he has now been closely associated for six decades. Next year will mark the diamond anniversary of his first day behind the enquiry desk at St Bride. His friends and colleagues at St Bride wish him the happiest of birthdays and a continued association with the library he helped to transform from a very good collection of books to one of the world’s greatest resources of its kind.

Happy birthday James.

One thought on “The Mosley Effect

  1. Dear James,
    Happy birthday!
    I worked for you for 18 months in 1976 and 1977. You allowed me the privilege of setting up a small press and printing a collection of steel plate engravings that were in the library. You were an inspiration. I look back on those months with you, as the highlight of my 5 years in England, and an important part of my life.
    Thank you for that experience! I remember you fondly.

    Kay (Macdonald)

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