About the Book
About the Author
Title Page
From Hogarth House: the making of Two Stories
Further Reading
A Note on the Text
The Mark on the Wall
St Brides Bay
The Hogarth Press: 100 years on
List of Illustrations

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Epub ISBN: 9781473549487
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‘The Mark on the Wall’ by Virginia Woolf first appeared in Two Stories, published by the Hogarth Press in 1917

‘St Brides Bay’ and portrait of Virginia Woolf copyright © Mark Haddon 2017

Introductory material © Hogarth 2017

Cover artwork © Ed Kluz

Mark Haddon has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

First published by Hogarth in 2017

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library


the making of Two Stories

Printing fever arrived at Hogarth House, Paradise Road, Richmond, in Spring 1917. ‘We get so absorbed we can’t stop; I see that real printing will devour one’s entire life,’ Virginia Woolf wrote to her sister in April 1917. Her husband, Leonard, wished they had never bought the ‘cursed’ hand-press as there was a serious risk he might ‘never do anything else’. The dining room was requisitioned for the machine. The couple were consumed and delighted by their new interest. Their hands were permanently stained with ink.

‘Nowhere else could we have started the Hogarth Press,’ Virginia wrote as they left Richmond for Bloomsbury in 1924, ‘whose very awkward beginning had risen in this very room, on this very green carpet. Here that strange offspring grew & throve; it ousted us from the dining room […] & crept all over the house’. By then, with forty books published – twenty hand-printed by the Woolfs themselves, including Prelude by Katherine Mansfield and Poems by T.S. Eliot – the ‘strange offspring’ stood on sturdy legs. The Press went on to thrive during the 1930s, and although stricken by Virginia’s death in 1941, Leonard and the Press would find safe harbour at the established publishers Chatto & Windus shortly after the war, where it continues to this day.

The early titles, often handmade, were seldom beautiful. As Leonard later put it, the Woolfs weren’t interested in making finely produced books ‘which are not meant to be read’; plain printing and simple design were sufficient. In the 1920s and 30s, cover art by Vanessa Bell and others created a new mood, but in 1917 the urgent thing was to master the craft, and decide what to print.

There was much shared curiosity in acquiring a press. The Woolfs had moved into Hogarth House in 1915, and their early time there had been dominated by Virginia’s recovery from mental breakdown. Leonard was exempt from military call-up owing to hand tremors, and his wife’s illness. But as her health improved, the house became a place of possibility. And Leonard too was seeking diversion from the pressures of his work for the Fabian Society and the New Statesman.

Virginia had been taught book-binding in her teens. In 1916 she and Leonard had attempted to sign up for classes at St Bride’s School of Printing, but discovered these were for unionised apprentices and not middle-class dilettantes. But they struck lucky in March the following year, as Leonard recalled:

We were walking one afternoon up Farringdon Street from Fleet Street to Holborn Viaduct when we passed the Excelsior Printing Supply Co. […] Nearly all the implements of printing are materially attractive and we stared through the window at them rather like two hungry children gazing at buns and cakes in a baker shop window.

A century on, the building that housed Excelsior is a down-at-heel Tandoori restaurant. Then, ‘a very sympathetic man in a brown overall […] extremely encouraging’ listened to the Woolfs’ dilemma. Perhaps he saw them coming: for £19 5s 5d he sold them ‘a printing machine, type, chases, cases, and all the necessary implements’ including ‘a sixteen page pamphlet which would infallibly teach us how to print.’

On delivery, the machine turned out to have been broken in transit, and the Woolfs had to wait for a spare part. No matter, Virginia explained to her sister: ‘the arrangement of the type is such a business that we shant be ready to start printing directly.’ They were scouting for material from young poets and novelists but it wasn’t yet clear what exactly they would be printing. Anyway, the Caslon Foundry type had arrived in ‘great blocks’ and Virginia’s first task was to divide this into ‘separate letters, and founts, and then put into the right partitions. The work of ages, especially when you mix the h’s with the ns, as I did yesterday.’