Lilliput Press

The Lilliput Press founded in Bristol by Tim Sheppard in the early 1980’s specialised in miniature books in roughly 1/12th scale so suitable for displaying in a standard scale dolls house but they were so much more than just items to decorate a child’s toy these are serious works of the book makers art and well worth seeking out although they are now very difficult to find. I have six examples, all from the 1980’s although the press continued until 2005. Nowadays there is another, much larger in all senses, Lilliput Press based in Dublin which produces books of Irish interest but sadly full size rather than these lovely tiny volumes

All the books I have are hand sewn and bound in silk with gilt top edging and hand painted dust wrappers, they also feature hand coloured frontispieces as you can see below. Amazingly they are from almost the cheapest range of titles produced by Tim Sheppard. You could also get leather bound books and limited editions with multiple hand painted illustrations and from October 2001 there were a couple of Lilliput Classics (an abridged Pride and Prejudice along with A Christmas Carol) although these aren’t mentioned on the surviving website which was last updated in June 2005 as the listing of books appears to have stopped in November 1998. The picture above clearly shows the quires that go up to making the books showing four or five per volume making up an average of roughly fifty pages per book. But these pictures don’t really give an true idea of just how small the books are so…

Yes that really is just 2cm and yet the text is perfectly legible, this is from Jean Nisbet’s book Restoring a Doll’s House, a very suitable work for such a tiny library. In the price list I have from October 2001 there are 28 Silk-Bound editions each at £12.50, 4 leather-bound titles at £20 each, 1 special edition fold out book of flowers at £17, the two Lilliput Classics at £11 each and 19 Limited editions varying from £40 to £145 each although there must have been 5 other Limited editions at some point as these start with book F. The limited editions are all fully bound in Moroccan goatskin leather with gold embossed designs and titles, marbled end-papers and are signed and numbered. Nowadays you will pay considerably more for any examples that you may find.

Let’s look at the individual titles that I have, apologies in advance, this is a rather image heavy blog but as these books are quite scarce I think you need to have a chance to see them in all their glory.

British Butterflies by Philip Stevenson – 1983

This book is fully illustrated with images of a wide selection of butterflies to be found in the British Isles with a delicately hand water coloured frontispiece. The sheer quality of the printing can really be appreciated in this lovely book.

British Butterflies is number 9 in the Dollshouse Editions

Long Long Ago – Illustrated by A Clements and S Morton – 1985

This is a folk tale about a little girl who meets the gods of the months and has thirty three lovely illustrations which resemble just the sort of wood block images that I would expect in a fine press book of this type giving a rustic look.

As can be seen the text is slightly larger in this book than in Restoring a Dollshouse and again the font seems entirely appropriate for a folk tale. This is book number 7.

Country Fare by Kym – 1986

This is a recipe book featuring British food from the 18th and 19th centuries but I must admit I am fascinated by the numerous illustrations

which are particularly intriguing as they don’t appear to have any relevance to the recipe on the facing page.

Nevertheless it’s a fascinating book although I’m not sure I would tackle any of the projects included. Country Fare is number 4 in the series.

A Herbal Legacy by N Culpeper – 1986

Nicholas Culpeper is famous for his book normally published as ‘Complete Herbal’ but as this is an abridged edition changing the title is to be expected. Originally published in 1652 the full book looks at all the medicinal herbs that an English physician would use in treating his patients at the time. The original title was ‘The English Physitian’ and Wikipedia has a list of all the plants he refers to.

Again like the Country Fare volume the illustrations appear to have strayed from their logical place. The drawing of St. Peter’s Wort is opposite a mixture for improving eyesight even though it isn’t used in the list of ingredients. There is also an apparent spelling mistake on this page as vervain (now commonly known as verbena) is spelt verrain. I chose this page though because it was all very herbal and vegan until ‘the liver of a goat chopped small’ suddenly appeared.

This is book number 3

Jack-A-Nory – 1987

A collection of nursery rhymes delightfully illustrated by Richard Pope, I love the loo of terror of Humpty’s face in the picture below. I’m guessing that the choice of a hare on the frontispiece refers to the Victorian tickling rhyme that is largely forgotten but goes

Round about, round about,
Runs the little hare,
First it runs that way,
Then it runs up there.

This is book number 8.

Restoring a Doll’s House by Jean Nisbett- 1989

And so we are back to the first book I showed the inside of and the most recent title in my little library of Lilliput Press books. This is actually quite a detailed and well researched book although unlike the other volumes I have the only illustration is the frontispiece of a doll’s shop rather than a more usual doll’s house.

It would certainly be possible to restore, or even build from scratch, a doll’s house from the information in this tiny book. The one time I have worked on a roof for a doll’s house I used individually cut pieces of card to represent the tiles and it took a long time to get anywhere, maybe I should have read this first and used the ‘strip method’. This is book 10 according to the price list.

One thing you will have noticed, and the reason why I mentioned the number each time, is that the date given in the book seems out of sync with the numbering system given in the October 2001 catalogue, Culpeper for instance is number 3 but is dated 1987, five years later than British Butterflies which is numbered 9. This is presumably not just a later renumbering as the same sequence is found on the old website dated 1998 although obviously the list of titles is shorter there. It would be interesting to find out the reason but I doubt I ever will. I have been in contact with Tim Sheppard and he confirmed that the press is no longer operational but I didn’t notice the odd numbering issue until I came to write this blog entry.


Music, Food and Love – Guo Yue & Clare Farrow

Guo Yue was born in Beijing in 1958 so was eight years old when the Cultural Revolution began and this memoir is of a childhood through a period of turmoil as Chairman Mao ran his country into the ground from The Great Leap Forward in 1958 with the re-organisation of China into collectives dedicated to single products which largely failed and ignored the skilled workforce elsewhere who were now forced to do something different, usually badly, to the personality cult of the The Cultural Revolution. Yue was given this name as it means leap forward (Chinese names are family name first, then given name) to mark the year of his birth and the book largely follows his life from then until May 1982 when he left China to study music in London. As you can imagine because he was a child throughout most of the events this is not a usual book about China in those times, rather it is story of family life and survival in a period of extreme upheaval most of which made little sense to the small boy growing up in a two room home around a courtyard of an abandoned temple which was populated by various musicians who had been allocated rooms there in 1949 during another of Mao’s policies.

His overwhelming memories are of making music, cooking, eating and making what fun he could with his friends, politics only creeps in when it impacts his family, those also living in the courtyard or his school friends. His father died in 1964 and this obviously had a massive impact on the family not only emotionally but financially. His mother was a teacher and intellectual who spoke several languages which of course drew the ire of the People’s Army when the Cultural Revolution began and she was eventually bundled off into the countryside to work the land as a punishment for intelligence only reappearing for the occasional night to see how her six children were coping without parents and comfort her youngest, Yue. Eventually she was too exhausted and ill to continue to be in the fields and she was returned home but by then her health was broken.

Yue describes his neighbourhood and the various shops he would run errands to for his elder sisters to get the rationed ingredients they needed and cheap restaurants he would later gather at with friends in his teens before joining the army as a musician beautifully. The map at the start of the book helps you follow him around his local part of north eastern Beijing. You also register his bewilderment and things suddenly change at the whim of Chairman Mao and the changes again ten years after the start of the Cultural Revolution when Mao died and subsequent leaders unravelled the his immensely damaging policies. His fellow author is his wife Clare Farrow a writer and editor on various arts publications specialising in architecture.

One of the joys of the book is that it also includes recipes. At the end of most chapters there is a short list of dishes mentioned in the text and the final seventy pages consists of a quick guide to Chinese cookery and numerous recipes that have had minor tweaks to allow for the unavailability of some of the ingredients used in revolutionary China in London in 2006.

In September 2007 I was visiting my original home town of Nantwich in Cheshire, England to go to its excellent annual Food Festival where Guo Yue was one of the celebrity chefs doing a cookery demonstration, so I actually bought the book from him at the time and he signed it for me in both Pinyin Chinese and English. From memory he cooked two or three of the dishes featured in the book and as I had a front row seat I managed to try some. Sadly the festival has been cancelled again this year due to the uncertainties around what can and cannot be done done the pandemic but I hope to go again in 2022.

Yue also played one of his flutes at the end of the cooking demonstration. Apologies for the poor quality of the image but it was taken with only the natural light through a marquee roof using a mobile phone, which back in 2007 did not possess the camera quality of modern smart phones. In 2006 Guo Yue went back to Beijing to work on an album also called Music, Food and Love and you can see a video recorded then here.

Kierkegaard’s Cupboard – Marianne Burton

A collection of poems inspired by the life and works of Danish philosopher and theologian Søren Kierkegaard, what an unusual idea and so it had to be bought and read if only for the concept. What I didn’t expect was just how readable Burton’s poetry is, and how difficult to put the book down proved to be. It is only a slim volume but I read it within a couple of hours of purchasing, this was helped by the fact that each poem is a variation on the sonnet form and at least retains the limit of fourteen lines even if Burton doesn’t keep to iambic pentameter and certainly not to the normal eight line, six line stanzas structure. This made it an ideal book to have with lunch as I could read a poem then have a bite of lunch or a swig of beer whilst thinking about it before diving back in to the next poem; which made for a very enjoyable, and enlightening, hour and a half in a very good pub.

The book is split into six sections, ‘Childhood’, ‘Regine’, ‘Writings’, ‘After the Corsair’, ‘The Moment’, ‘Death’ and there are fifty poems spread through these sections along with one extra right at the front entitled ‘How To Write A Preface’. As stated above all the poems have just fourteen lines but Burton manages to pack a lot into her self imposed constraint and each section has a short biographical note which introduces the poems to come and places their significance in the life of Kierkegaard. ‘Childhood’, ‘Writings’ and ‘Death’ are pretty self explanatory but the others need explaining if, like me, you don’t know much about Kierkegaard. Regine Olson was an eighteen year old whom Kierkegaard was briefly engaged to but he called the engagement off when he realised that marriage was not for him and he could only make her unhappy trapped in a relationship with him. He never got over the loss of her though and had a cupboard which contained all the letters and mementos of their year together and that is what gave this book its title. The Corsair was a Danish satirical magazine which lampooned Kierkegaard not just for his writings and beliefs but also his appearance and the lost relationship with Regine and the resultant publicity made him a figure of fun for a while. ‘The Moment’ refers to a series of tracts by Kierkegaard criticising the Danish Lutheran church. It should be noted here that in the only factual error I have found in the book Burton states that Regine was seventeen when she was engaged to Søren but she was born in January 1822 and they became engaged in September 1840 so she was definitely eighteen, Søren by the way was twenty seven at the time.

A lot of the poems are written in the first person so the book reads as though Kierkegaard himself is talking to us through the medium of verse. Three particularly intriguing poems all have the same title ‘It was Early Morning. Abraham Rose’, these are in ‘The Writings’ section of the book and tell three very different versions of the biblical story of Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac one after another. Kierkegaard had a strong personal religious belief but an often fractious relationship with the dominant church in Denmark and some of the strongest works in this collection are in ‘The Moment’ where Burton takes on his mantle in a critique of the state run religion and its materialistic clergy. I must look out for Burton’s first collection of poems ‘She Inserts the Key’ as this collection has whetted my appetite for more.

I purchased the book last month during a trip to the small Shropshire town of Bishop’s Castle where there is a quirky shop called Poetry Pharmacy, which mainly sells poetry but also has other interesting books and a small children’s section along with a coffee shop, it’s definitely worth a visit if you ever find yourself deep in rural Shropshire.

Death and the Dancing Footman – Ngaio Marsh

Part of the Ngaio Marsh million, one hundred thousand copies of each of ten books by Marsh published by Penguin Books in July 1949, this is one of the three books included that had not been published by Penguin prior to this collection. I have reviewed one of the other titles included, ‘Enter a Murderer’, back in August 2018 as part of the ‘first Penguin crime set‘ which were all first published by Penguin in August 1938. As I explained at the time:

New Zealand’s Ngaio Marsh was considered in her time to be one of the ‘Queens of Crime’ along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Margery Allingham and is best known for her detective stories featuring Roderick Alleyn of the London Metropolitan Police. 

This is another of those Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn crime mysteries. As a general rule most crime novels of the 1930’s and 1940’s clock in at about 200 to 225 pages but this one is surprisingly long for the period at 315 pages in the Penguin edition and I have to say that it is a very slow starter with scene setting and character introductions meaning that it doesn’t really get going until around page 70. If I hadn’t been convinced of Marsh’s ability to spin a tale I might have given up before then but it is well worth hanging on in there. The story is a twist on the ‘locked room’ type of crime novel in that the victim and the murderer are from the fixed group of people we have been introduced to, in this case because the grand country house that they are all in is surrounded by impassable snowdrifts and even the phone lines are down so they can have no contact with the outside world. That it is established early on in the novel that Alleyn is taking a break in the nearest village to where the murder takes place allows Marsh to bring him in even though he is clearly out of his jurisdiction but he is the only policeman anyone can get hold of.

The premise of the story is that Jonathan Royal, the owner of Highfold, decides to give a house party and for his own amusement chooses a group of people who all, for one reason or another, have an antagonistic feeling regarding at least one of the other guests. It is implied that he is hoping for some sort of reconciliation in one or more of the disagreements but will be quite happy if this doesn’t happen and is confident in his ability as a host to at least hold the group together. It will be a sort of unscripted play and with this in mind he has also invited a neutral player. Aubrey Mandrake is an avant garde, if not surrealist playwright who knows none of the other guests, Royal has backed some of his plays and has now invited him to be the audience in his own experimental theatre. Due to the animosity between the guests each has has a reason for, if not murder, then at least wishing harm to another and all these various hostilities are explained right at the start of the book as Jonathan Royal brings Mandrake into his confidence as to what he has planned. The complicated relationships between the other seven guests and the need to go into detail about them is one of the reasons for the slow start and it is only later as the interactions unfold that you realise that you actually need all that information in order to keep track of the various goings on.

Much to my surprise I got the murderer right, well before the denouement, although not all the finer detail as to how it was done, or rather how the alibi was done. Alleyn of course regarded the solution as trivial and he had largely wrapped up the case in his mind within a couple of hours of arriving at Highfold, his problem was proving it especially without access to his usual fellow policemen. All in all an excellent read for a dull and rainy July weekend and I do like a good detective story as a means of giving your brain a workout.

As an aside, I did like that characters in this book are clearly readers of detective fiction, in particular Dorothy L Sayers’ very popular Lord Peter Wimsey tales. On page 206 of this edition they reference Busman’s Honeymoon which I reviewed in September 2020.

“Could Hart have set a second booby trap.” “Do you mean could he have done something with that frightful weapon that would make it fall on …? Is that what you mean?”
“Yes. I can’t get any further, though. I can’t think of anything”
“A ‘Busman’s Honeymoonish’ sort of contraption? But there are no hanging flower-pots at Highfold”

Death and the Dancing Footman was first published in 1942 although mine is the first Penguin edition from 1949. Busman’s Honeymoon had come out just five years earlier in 1937 but had clearly been a major seller if Marsh could so easily drop in a reference to it. There is a slight nod to the plot of Busman’s Honeymoon in the solution to this case although the hint taken from the murder method in that book in the quote above is also a diversion from the actual method in this one so it was clearly a much loved book by Marsh.