Edward Johnston's Calligraphic Testimonial to Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh

  • Reference
      GB 133 Eng MS 1039
  • Dates of Creation
      March 1918
  • Name of Creator
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      510 x 405 mm (folded). 1 volume (1 sheet); Medium: vellum. Binding: bound by Bramhall and Menzies in full red buckram.

Scope and Content

Draft of a testimonial by the celebrated calligrapher Edward Johnston to Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh, presented by his fellow book-printers in gratitude for his services to the printing trade. The testimonial is written in black and red ink, with a single gilded initial letter, and numerous feint pencil annotations and corrections. Annotated Rough Draft for G.T.M. [Gerard Tuke Meynell] by E.J., 29.iii.18.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Johnston (1872-1944), calligrapher and lettering designer, had a dislocated childhood. He was born in Uruguay but the family returned to England when he was three years old and they lived in a succession of houses. His father was often away from home, his mother was an invalid, and Edward was placed in the care of a neurotic aunt. After an abortive effort to study medicine in Edinburgh, Johnston's life took a new direction in 1897 when he was inspired by the calligraphic lettering of W.H. Cowlishaw and Edward F. Strange. On the advice of W.R. Lethaby, Johnston moved to London in 1898 and began to study the manuscripts in the British Museum, advised by Sydney Cockerell. There he was inspired by late antique and early medieval scripts created using of a broad-edged nib.

Johnston began to teach lettering at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in September 1899, and for the next thirteen years his classes produced some of the most distinguished calligraphers and letter-carvers of the twentieth century, such as Eric Gill. His instructional manual, Writing & illuminating, & lettering (London: 1906) was also enormously influential. Johnston was a pivotal figure in the revival of lettering and typography in Britain, America and continental Europe, especially in Germany and Austria. He spanned the transition from the Arts and Crafts Movement to Modernism. He designed initial letters and headings for Cobden-Sanderson's Doves Press, and typefaces for the Cranach Presse in Germany. He also designed a sans-serif alphabet for the London Underground.

Edward Johnston married a Scottish schoolmistress, Greta Grieg, in August 1903. They had three daughters. In 1912 they moved from Hammersmith to the Arts and Crafts community established by Eric Gill at Ditchling in Sussex. Greta died in 1936, whereafter Edward became something of a recluse. He died at Ditchling after a long illness on 26 November 1944.

Source: Alan Crawford, 'Johnston, Edward (1872-1944)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/34209.

Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh (1872-1961), printer and historian, was born on 17 May 1872 at Calder Lodge, Maidenhead, Berkshire. He attended Eton College and then King's College, Cambridge. He became a clerk in the House of Commons (1897-1900), but after the death of his father he resigned to join his brothers as a director in the family printing firm of Ballantine & Co., later Ballantine, Spottiswoode.

On joining Ballantine's, Austen-Leigh was admitted to the Stationers' Company, and from the end of the First World War he took an active part in the company's affairs. Spottiswoode's was printer to the Eton Press and King's College Cambridge, and privately printed Austen-Leigh's own books. Bygone Eton: an illustrated guide to the buildings of Eton College (1906) and Bygone King's: being a collection of views of the buildings at King's College, Cambridge, with descriptive notes (1907) are examples of the firm's high standards of book design and production. Other works by Austin-Leigh include Eton under Barnard, 1754-65 (1904), and his many contributions to Etoniana, a journal of research into the history of Eton, which he edited from 1920. His interest in Cambridge printing extended to the university press and he worked with John Lewis, Cambridge University printer, and Stanley Morison, typographic designer, to transform the standard of Cambridge printing in the inter-war years. He also published a number of guides to the history and architecture of King's. An interest in his Huguenot roots led to publication of several papers in the journal of the Huguenot Society.

Austen-Leigh was the Livery Committee's first chairman (1920-7); president of the Federation of Master Printers in 1922; chairman of the Joint Industrial Council of the Printing Trade (1927-8); founding chairman of the International Bureau of Federations of Master Printers (1933-49); and president of the Bibliographical Society (1934-6). For over forty years he edited the Master Printers' Annual(1920-61).

Austen-Leigh had a life-long interest in his ancestor Jane Austen. Drawing upon papers in the family's possession, he jointly wrote Jane Austen's life and letters (1913) with his uncle William Austen-Leigh. A genealogical work, The Pedigree of Austen, was privately printed in 1940 and Austen papers, 1704-1856, a volume of family letters, was published in 1942. Jane Austen: a family record (1989) was published posthumously, for Austen-Leigh died on 18 October 1961 at his home at Cockermouth, Cumberland.

Source: Robin Myers, 'Leigh, Richard Arthur Austen- (1872-1961)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004. By permission of Oxford University Press - http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/72402.

Access Information

The manuscript is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the John Rylands Library by E. Parsons esq. of Hassocks, Sussex, in January 1945.


Description compiled by Jo Humpleby, project archivist, and John Hodgson, Keeper of Manuscripts and Archives, with reference to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography articles on Edward Johnston and Richard Arthur Austen-Leigh.

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1937-1951 (English MS 1039).

Related Material

The Austen-Leigh family papers are held at Hampshire Record Office (ref.: 23M93 ), see http://www.a2a.org.uk/html/041-austen.htm.

Papers of Edward Johnston are held at the following repositories:

  • National Library of Scotland, Manuscript Collections: correspondence with Sir David Cameron, 1925-29 (ref.: GB 233 Acc 3835);
  • Oxford University, Bodleian Library, Special Collections and Western Manuscripts: letters to Alfred Fairbank, 1934-36 (ref.: GB 161 MS Eng lett c 581);
  • Surrey Institute of Art and Design, Craft Study Centre: archive including diaries, correspondence, lecture notes, photographs, 1872-1944 (ref.: GB 2941 2004.16);
  • Victoria & Albert Museum, National Art Library: miscellaneous correspondence and papers; correspondence with Miss Ironside, 1914-18 (ref.: GB 072 MSL.1988/4); papers (ref.: GB 0072 MSL/1999/7); diaries, notebooks, letters and original material for 'Formal Penmanship' (ref.: GB 072 MSL 2004/6/1-16).