Janet and Reynolds Stone, both distinguished personalities in their own right, occupied The Old Rectory in Litton Cheney from 1953 until Reynold’s death in 1979. Reynolds Stone was a notable engraver and typographer, Janet an accomplished photographer.REYNOLDS STONE 1909-1979Reynolds Stone was born at Eton on March 13 1909, where both his father and grandfather were house masters. He read history at Magdalene College Cambridge. After taking his degree in 1930 he became an unofficial apprentice at the Cambridge University Press under Walter Lewis. Encouraged there by Mr Nobbs, the press overseer, he began experimenting with engraving on metal and wood.A chance meeting on a train from London to Cambridge with Eric Gill, (Stone was carrying four sheets of Gill’s lettering bought at the V & A), resulted in an invitation to stay at Gill’s house at Pigotts. He left after two weeks having engraved an alphabet under Gill's supervision, who felt that at this point he had nothing further to teach him. He moved to Taunton to work at the printing firm of Barnicott and Pearce. During this time he engraved his first bookplate; other commissions followed, which allowed him to leave Barnicott and Pearce and became an engraver full time. Among many commissions he engraved his first Royal bookplate for Elizabeth of York (the Queen Mother) and engraved headings for the Nonesuch Shakespeare.In 1937 he was commissioned to engrave the Royal Arms for the Order of Service for the Coronation of King George VI, (he had already engraved a bookplate for the then Princess Elizabeth), to be printed at Cambridge, but possessors of the first edition of this most handsome document, designed by Stanley Morrison, will not find Stone’s engraving in it - he was late and Walter Lewis finally refused to wait any longer and went to press with a previous and much inferior design! However, the soon-ordered reprint contained Stone’s engraving.He married Janet Woods in 1938, and moved to Bucklebury, Berkshire. At this time he illustrated Rousseau’s 'Confessions' for the Nonesuch Press and 'The Praise and Happinesse of the Countrie-Life' for the Gregynog Press. In 1939 he taught himself to cut letters in stone and, when commissions for memorial and other tablets increased, he took on and trained assistants, one of whom, Michael Harvey, became a distinguished letterer in his own right.During the Second World War he worked as an aerial photographic interpreter for the RAF, and continued to engrave. In 1953 they moved to The Old Rectory at Litton Cheney in Dorset, which was to be his home for the rest of his life. The garden and surrounding landscape proved to be a fertile source of inspiration for his painting and engraving.Reynolds engraved the clock device, the court circular, and Royal Arms headings for The Times newspaper. He engraved the Royal Arms for the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, and the official Coat of Arms for HMSO still seen on all official documents, including the British Passport. He engraved hundreds of bookplates (including Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears and the Prince of Wales), often with characteristic and elegant Italianate swirls and flourishes. He designed the 3d Victory Stamp (1946), the £5 (1962) and £10 notes (1964) which were in use until decimalisation. He cut many important memorials in stone and slate, including those for Winston Churchill, Ralph Vaughan Williams and T S Eliot in Westminster Abbey. He had several exhibitions, both through the Arts Council, notably in Aldeburgh in 1958, and at private galleries.Among the many books he illustrated were 'Apostate' (Forrest Reid), 'The Open Air' (Adrian Bell), and 'Omoo' (Herman Melville); uniquely, Sylvia Townsend Warner illustrated his engravings with poetry in 'Boxwood'. His magnum opus is perhaps the set of engravings, 'The Old Rectory', which was published in 1976 by Warren Editions. Among his last works were engraved illustrations for 'A Year of Birds', with poems by Iris Murdoch, published by the Compton Press. He was awarded the CBE in 1953, and was made an RDI (Royal Designer for Industry) in 1956. He died on June 23 1979.“Good art shows us reality, which we too rarely see because it is veiled by our selfish cares, anxiety, vanity, pretension. Reynolds as artist, and as man, was a totally unpretentious being. His work, seemingly simple, gives to us that shock of beauty which shows how close, how in a sense ordinary, are the marvels of the world” - Iris Murdoch from her memorial address 1979.JANET STONE 1912-1998Janet Clemence Woods, was born at Cromer, Norfolk on the1st of December 1912 and died on the 30th of January 1998 in Salisbury, Wiltshire.A descendant of Elizabeth Fry, the prison reformer, Janet Stone came of an ecclesiastical family (her father, Edward Woods, was Bishop of Croydon and then of Lichfield; one of her brothers, Frank, was Archbishop of Melbourne, another, Robin, Bishop of Worcester). She shared the qualities which singled her father out for church leadership - a good-tempered, gregarious nature, personal magnetism, organising powers and a strong, melodious voice.So fine a soprano was she indeed that for three months, early in her marriage, she trained as an opera singer under the famous Italian teacher Miele, who gave her free lessons because he believed her to be better equipped to sing Verdi than anyone he had ever met. But the training separated her too much from her husband and her household, which had become the centre of her life. Her decision to give up her musical career was a loss to opera but not to British cultural life, for her creative energies went into making a perfect environment where some of the best British artists and writers came to work and to relax.With her social curiosity and zest for life she had immediately increased their circle after they married, drawing in the many clever and talented people with whom her husband came in contact, but was too shy to entertain. This led to some notable collaborations - such as his illustrations to a selection of Benjamin Britten's songs, his dust-jackets for the books of Iris Murdoch and Cecil Day Lewis and his watercolours and engravings for Another Self and Ancestral Voices by James Lees-Milne. The stream of guests in summer brought Reynolds a large number of close friendships, such as he had never enjoyed before.Janet Stone was in a long line (now extinct) of Victorian and Edwardian hostesses that included Julia Margaret Cameron, Blanche Warre-Cornish and Mrs Leslie Stephen, whose cultured gatherings represented a higher peak of English civilisation, despite their modesty, than did most of the grand aristocratic establishments of the period. At Litton Cheney with the Stones, it was easy to believe oneself a hundred years back in time: there were fires in every bedroom, readings aloud round the drawing-room hearth in the evenings, lunch in a little arbour of Janet's design, picnics in high summer on the deserted Chesil beach, winding walks through a woodland garden full of rivulets and small bridges, and, amazingly, butter from their cow (and churn).The company, whether it were John Betjeman, Sidney Nolan, L.P. Hartley, Henry Moore or Frances Partridge, was always entertaining. One might say that Janet's motto was, "If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing by hand"; and such perfectionism was pursued on a very modest income and with the assistance of only one devoted helper in the kitchen.Janet Stone was a romantic with a strong element of fantasy in her make-up, which did not clash with her practical abilities. Her handsome and stylish appearance recalled the Edwardian age. With her wide-brimmed hats and veils to protect her delicate skin, her corn-coloured hair and upright carriage, she made a memorable impression. Her conversation was ardent, emphatic and humorous. For all her enthusiasm for making new and illustrious acquaintances, she was unexclusive and was devoted to the many young people who came to stay and were bewitched by the demi-paradise that she had created.Surprisingly, despite her galvanising presence, she was not self-confident. She depended absolutely on her husband and after his death, in 1979, she gave up the house and entertaining on the same scale. Without Reynolds, life in Litton Cheney was unbearably lonely.Her life and home with him are commemorated in her photographs, some of which have been published in her own work, Thinking Faces (1988), others of which were commissioned for books and magazines; she took the author portrait for Kenneth Clark's 1969 book-of-the-television-series Civilisation. A collection of her prints is now in the National Portrait Gallery archive.She worked almost entirely in black-and-white. Most of her best portraits were done at Litton Cheney, with one of her three cameras, a Canon, a Yashica and an old Rolleiflex, the product of hours of patient observation. Some have an extraordinary spiritual depth - such as those of Iris Murdoch, David Jones and John Piper - as beautiful in their way as those of the four Stone children taken in childhood and youth; and humour runs through many of her images - of John Bayley, Professor of English Literature, lying happily asleep on a railway line; and of John Sparrow, Warden of All Souls, reading absorbedly, with a teacosy on his head.
You may not know the name of Reynolds Stone, but it is almost impossible that you haven’t come across his designs. If you’re familiar with the masthead of the Economist or remember the clock on the top of the front page of the Times; if you’ve seen the colophon on a book published by the Folio Society or Hamish Hamilton or owned a Penguin edition of Shakespeare; if you’ve borrowed something from the London Library; if you had a £5 note in your wallet in the 1960s; if you’ve walked over the memorial to Winston Churchill on the floor of Westminster Abbey or if you own a passport with the royal coat of arms on the front, then you’ve been in close contact with the work of this wood engraver, typographer, letter-cutter and watercolourist.The subject of this fond and beautifully illustrated memoir was born in 1909 into a family of academics. Both his father and grandfather were classics masters at Eton and, after attending an unusually benign prep school, Stone duly went on to Eton and Cambridge. From there he embarked on a newly created graduate training scheme at the Cambridge University Press and became familiar with every branch of printing, from machine room to design and layout. A chance meeting with Eric Gill, who taught him the technique of wood engraving, more or less completed his education and after a short spell with a printing firm in Taunton he went freelance. Commercial publishers and institutions of every kind, royalty, organisers of events, collectors and writers were soon beating a path to his door for title pages, illustrations, coats of arms, logos, programmes, bookplates and all the assorted ephemera of the print world. In due course he also learnt to cut letters in stone, and memorials became a staple of his trade.For all this frantic activity, much of it conducted on a table at one end of his sitting room, there was another side to Stone’s story. In 1938 he married Janet Woods, the daughter of the Bishop of Lichfield, and she became the linchpin of his domestic and business life, dealing with his occasional bouts of depression and creating at their Dorset home in Litton Cheney a legendary haven for visitors. A photograph of the first sea lord Charles Lambe playing duets with the painter John Nash gives an engaging flavour of what life at the Old Rectory must have been like. John Betjeman, Benjamin Britten, Kathleen Raine, John Sparrow, Gerald Finzi, Freya Stark, Sylvia Townsend-Warner, V.S. Pritchett — the list goes on and on — were among the frequent guests. Kenneth Clark, John and Myfanwy Piper and Iris Murdoch and John Bayley were their particular friends.For Stone himself, however, his Dorset home was a constant source of inspiration for his art rather than a mere backdrop for entertaining. ‘Its magical garden,’ writes his son, the author of this memoir and himself a typographer, ‘became his whole world. Here he could find the necessary solitude to pursue perfection in all he did.’In public, Stone campaigned to preserve the rural world he loved, and watercolour after watercolour and a succession of beautifully modulated wood engravings attest to his passion for woods and wild things. A tree to him was a living being. He would never pick a wild flower, he mowed the lawn avoiding the daisies and even the rain gauge of this ‘very rare treasure of a man’ had an escape route for insects. ‘His art,’ wrote Iris Murdoch, ‘proceeded unselfconsciously from an intense personal privacy into a public world where he set enduring standards and has given pure aesthetic pleasure to many who have never heard of his name.’
Honor Clerk, The Spectator, 21 December 2019, reviewing ‘Reynolds Stone: A Memoir’ by Humphrey Stone (The Dovecote Press, pp.163, £35)
The Genius of Reynolds Stone: a private man in a public worldThough his name is not widely known, his designs — for the press, publishing and the British passport among much else — were once part of everyday life