Saturday 30 September 2017

September Visit: The Oldest Trading Bookbinders in the UK

Our first event of the new CLG year was a visit to J. S. Wilson & Son, the oldest trading bookbinders in the UK.  The knowledge of Craft and Thesis Binding has been passed down through generations since 1830 when the firm was established in Trinity Street, Cambridge.   We visited the bindery in the present premises off Wadloes Road where we were warmly greeted by Eric who is the current owner of the firm.

The room was filled with all kinds of different machinery varying from ancient presses to ultra-modern lettering machines. 

Eric showed us the processes a book goes through when it comes in to be bound.  We all took turns to peer in to the sewing machines, watched as he showed us the scarily heavy and extremely sharp guillotine (a piece of machinery costing tens of thousands of pounds which fortunately knows when you are at a safe distance to operate it unlike the older  mechanical version which looked like an instrument of torture!), saw how the end papers are attached, admired the huge range of buckram colours and beautiful leathers used to bind the books and theses and  the presses which ensure the books are ready to be returned.

It was evident that Eric and his colleagues are dedicated craftsmen and each of them has their specialties within the team.  Eric was at pains to show us that his binding is of a high quality and showed us how each book spine is rounded by hand to ensure the book opens without damaging the binding.

Books, journals, papers, theses are all treated to the same careful craftsmanship. The earliest recorded bound and catalogued dissertation held at Cambridge University Library dates back to 1901, and was bound by J. S. Wilson & Son.

We all had a fascinating and extremely interesting evening.  Eric was a wonderful host and has kindly  offered our members the chance to return and make our own books if we would like to have a go.  Do contact the committee  for more details.

Our thanks go to J.S.Wilson  & Son for a most enjoyable visit.

- Post contributed by Kathy Young, Squire Law Library, University of Cambridge