19 September 2022

A publisher’s nameplate in
Oxford shows the influence
of Eric Gill’s lettering

David Fickling Books commissioned the sculptor Bernard Johnson to design the nameplate in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Wandering around cities like Oxford and York in recent days, I stop regularly and often to photograph and step inside cathedrals, churches, colleges and other buildings of historical and architectural interest – in between necessary pit-stops in coffee shops, of course.

When I stop to read signs and nameplates, it is often simply to glean information about the buildings and locations where I find myself.

Normally, signs and nameplates are not of interest in themselves. Brass plates are usually functional and cast reflections even in the mildest sunlight, so they are often not worth photographing.

But, while I was strolling around the side streets of Oxford recently, my eyes were caught in particular by the nameplate at the offices of David Fickling Books at 31 Beaumont Street, on the north side of Beaumont Street, running from the Martyrs’ Memorial on Saint Giles to Worcester College.

This specially-commissioned stone engraving is the work of Bernard Johnson and stands in place of a brass nameplate. My first impression was of work strongly influenced by the clear lines and lettering of Eric Gill, and the second was of the creativity of a publisher who decided to commission this nameplate, which is a work of art in itself.

David Fickling Books are an independent house, although they been around for a while. For almost 12 years, DFB was run as an imprint – first as part of Scholastic, then of Random House. Since 2013, this has been an independent business, joining a companion company that publishes the new children’s comic, The Phoenix.

David Fickling Books Ltd has published several prize-winning and bestselling books, including Lyra’s Oxford by Philip Pullman, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon, The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne, Bing Bunny by Ted Dewan, Pants by Nick Sharratt and Giles Andreae, Before I Die by Jenny Downham, Trash by Andy Mulligan, and A Boy and a Bear in a Boat by Dave Shelton.

In his first job at Oxford University Press, David Fickling signed up Philip Pullman’s The Ruby in the Smoke, and has published Philip Pullman’s books ever since, including the multi-million selling His Dark Materials trilogy.

Later, he set up Doubleday’s programme of original children's books. The launch list included Philip Pullman and Jacqueline Wilson. He is the man behind both the Goosebumps and Horrible Histories phenomenon.

David Fickling commissioned the sculptor Bernard Johnson to design his nameplate in Oxford. Bernard Johnson also has a background in publishing. He was born in 1954, grew up in Ealing, West London, and studied at Selwyn College, Cambridge, graduating in 1975. He began a 27-year career in children’s and educational publishing in 1978, working with OUP and Lion in marketing and sales.

He recalls that ever since childhood, he has been interested in looking at things made in stone, and as a teenager he developed an interest in architecture and lettering. Discovering the work of Eric Gill, both as a type designer and a stone carver, was a major inspiration leading him to explore the work of other 20th century artists working in stone, including Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, Jacob Epstein, Barbara Hepworth and David Kindersley.

He started stone carving as a hobby in 2000, and began training to develop this into a new career in 2003. He won a Queen Elizabeth Scholarship in 2006, and this funded skills development in design and letter-carving with one of Britain’s top master craftsmen.

He has worked as a professional stone carver since 2005 from his studio at Claydon House, Buckinghamshire, until December 2007 and at Park Farm, Kiddington, near Woodstock, West Oxfordshire, since January 2008.

From his studio, he works with sedimentary stones and with slates, combining stonemasonry with carving and letter-cutting to make unique, functional, and decorative items.

He specialises in creative lettering in stone and slate, and his work includes hand-carved memorials, headstones, commemorative plaques, architectural lettering, house names, sculpture and relief carving, garden features, sundials, stonemasonry and letter carving.

Praying in Ordinary Time with USPG:
Monday 19 September 2022

The University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin is between the High Street and Radcliffe Square in Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Patrick Comerford

Today (19 September) the Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers Saint Theodore of Tarsus (690), Archbishop of Canterbury, with a commemoration.

Before today begins, I am taking some time this morning for reading, prayer and reflection.

This week I am reflecting each morning on a church, chapel, or place of worship in Oxford, which I visited earlier this month.

In my prayer diary this week I am reflecting in these ways:

1, One of the readings for the morning;

2, Reflecting on a church, chapel or place of worship in Oxford;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Inside Saint Mary’s University Church, Oxford, facing the east end (Photograph Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Saint Theodore was born at Tarsus in Cilicia ca 602. He was Greek and was educated in Athens before the pope appointed him Archbishop of Canterbury. He was raised straight from being a sub-deacon to being archbishop, and immediately proved his worth by undertaking a visitation of the whole of England soon after he arrived.

He set about reforming the Church in England with the division of dioceses and called the Synod of Hertford in 673, probably the most important Church council in the land. It issued canons on the rights and obligations of clergy and religious, based on the canons of the Council of Chalcedon. It restricted bishops to working in their own diocese and not intruding on the ministry of neighbouring bishops; it established precedence within the episcopacy; and monks were to remain in to monasteries and obedient to their abbots.

Theodore was the first Archbishop of Canterbury to have the willing allegiance of all Anglo-Saxon England. He died on this day in the year 690.

Luke 8: 16-18 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. 17 For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. 18 Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

The High Altar and sactuary in Saint Mary’s Church, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

The University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin, Oxford

For my reflections and devotions this week, I am reflecting on a church, chapel, or place of worship in Oxford, which I visited earlier this month.

The University Church of Saint Mary the Virgin in the centre of Oxford is on the north side of the High Street and the south side of Radcliffe Square and the Bodleian Library. The parish consists almost exclusively of university and college buildings.

A church has stood on the site since Anglo-Saxon times. In the early days of Oxford University, the church was part of the university, congregation met there from at least 1252, and by the early 13th century it was the seat of university government and was used for lectures and awarding degrees.

Around 1320 a two-storey building was added to the north side of the chancel — the ground floor became the convocation house used by the university, and the upper storey housed books that formed the first university library.

When Adam de Brome became rector in 1320, the church became linked to what would later become Oriel College. The college was responsible for appointing the vicar and providing four chaplains.

Saint Mary’s was the site of the trial of the Oxford Martyrs in 1555, when Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, Bishop Hugh Latimer and Bishop Nicholas Ridley were tried for heresy. They burnt at the stake just outside the city walls to the north. A cross set into the road marks that location on what is now Broad Street; the Martyrs’ Memorial stands at the south end of Saint Giles’.

Until the 17th century, the church was the venue for increasingly rowdy graduation and degree ceremonies, until the Dean of Christ Church, John Fell, commissioned Christopher Wren to build what became the Sheldonian Theatre.

John Wesley, who was a fellow of Lincoln College, preached in Saint Mary’s in 1738, 1741 and 1744.

John Henry Newman became the Vicar of Saint Mary’s in 1828. John Keble’s assize sermon in Saint Mary’s in 1833 is regarded as starting the Oxford Movement. Newman later resigned from Saint Mary’s and became a Roman Catholic.

John Keble’s assize sermon in Saint Mary’s Church marks the beginning of the Oxford Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

In the later 15th and early 16th century, the main body of the church was substantially rebuilt in the Perpendicular style, but the oldest part of the present church is the tower, which dates from around 1270. The tower provides good views across the heart of the city. It has long three light bell openings with intersecting tracery. The tower is 27 metres (90 ft) high, topped by a spire of 31 metres (101 ft), giving a total height of 58 metres (191 ft).

The Decorated spire with its triple-gabled outer pinnacles, inner pinnacles, gargoyles and statues was added in the 1320s, and said to be one of the most beautiful spires in England. Only one of the 12 statues is original, the others were by George Frampton and erected around 1894. The original statues are now in the cloister of New College.

The baroque south porch facing High Street dates from 1637 and was designed by Nicholas Stone, master mason to Charles I. It was a gift from Dr Morgan Owen, chaplain to Archbishop William Laud. It is highly ornate, with spiral columns supporting a curly pediment framing a shell niche with a statue of the Virgin Mary and the Christ Child, under a gothic fan vault

The style of the porch was used as evidence at Laud’s trial. The bullet holes in the statue were made by Cromwellian troopers.

Inside, Saint Mary’s has six-bay arcades with shafted piers, and between the clerestory windows are canopied niches with archangels holding shields. The roof has traceried spandrels, the chancel has transomed windows, the sedilia is decorated with cusped arches and a frieze of vine leaves. The reredos is 15th century and contains seven ornamental canopied niches containing statues of 1933.

Restorations were carried out by Sir George Gilbert Scott in 1856-1857 and 1861-1862 and by Sir Thomas Graham Jackson in 1894.

The east window and second from east in the south aisle were designed by Augustus Pugin. The west window in the nave (1891) was designed by CE Kempe, the memorial window to John Keble is by Clayton and Bell (1866).

The Vicar of Saint Mary’s is the Revd Dr William Lamb, the Assistant Priest is the Revd Hannah Cartwright. There are two Sunday services, at 8:30am and at 10:30 am. The church is open from 9 am to 5 pm (July and August 9 am to 6 pm).

Inside Saint Mary’s Church, facing the west end (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Today’s Prayer (Monday 19 September 2022, Saint Theodore of Canterbury):

The Collect:

Everlasting God,
whose servant Theodore carried the good news of your Son
to the people of England:
grant that we who commemorate his service
may know the hope of the gospel in our hearts
and manifest its light in all our ways;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

Holy Father,
who gathered us here around the table of your Son
to share this meal with the whole household of God:
in that new world where you reveal
the fullness of your peace,
gather people of every race and language
to share with Theodore and all your saints
in the eternal banquet of Jesus Christ our Lord.

The theme in the USPG prayer diary this week is ‘Welcoming Refugees.’ Father Frank Hegedus, Chaplain of Saint Margaret’s in Budapest, spoke to USPG about how the Church in Hungary is helping refugees fleeing Ukraine.

The USPG Prayer Diary invites us to pray today in these words:

Let us give thanks for the clergy and congregation at Saint Margaret’s Anglican Church in Budapest and their efforts to help refugees.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

The baroque south porch was designed in 1637 by Nicholas Stone (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The West Window in Saint Mary’s University Church, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2022)