Noel Carrington

Noel Carrington at Christchurch College, 1914

Noel Carrington at Christchurch College, 1914

Noel Carrington is an unsung hero. Today, aside from a few collectors and enthusiasts, he is generally unknown, a footnote man who appears fleetingly in indexes of biographies of the Bloomsbury Circle, design journals or publishing histories. Yet Noel Carrington was one of the most influential figures of the 20th Century in the commissioning, editing and publishing of children's picture books.

Eric Ravilious' High Street, Kathleen Hale's Orlando books, Mervyn Peake's Captain Slaughterboard, all were commissioned by Carrington. For these three alone Carrington merits attention yet he also edited and commissioned the groundbreaking Puffin Picture Book series, published under the imprint Transatlantic Arts during WW2 and was founder of Royle Publications.

His sister was, of course, the painter Dora Carrington. The tragic menage a trois between Dora, Lytton Strachey and Noel's Oxford friend Ralph Partridge is surely one of the most moving and compelling stories that continues to fascinate.

Noel Carrington was above all a design propagandist, a passionate advocate of good design, of the well made object 'fit for purpose'. His membership of The Design & Industries Association, The Council of Industrial Design and the Double Crown Club provided platforms for Carrington's belief that 'Nothing Need be Ugly'.

Nothing Need Be Ugly is the celebration of Noel Carrington's achievements in publishing and design. The book traces Carrington's career from his childhood days in Bedford, where he grew up with Dora's charismatic presence through to Oxford days rowing for Christchurch. Then to the Somme where, wounded by a snipers bullet, he returned for recuprative walks with Dora and her Slade friends.

Next was India, publishing with the OUP and learning the skills of the trade. On his return he joined Country Life, the first of two spells with the company. At Kynoch he was the London Manager, commissioning Ravilious and Bawden for the Notebooks before returning to Country Life. Here the exploration of lithography begins, High Street, Orlando, Lewitt-Him's Football's Revolt, all seminal books of the 20th Century.

The Puffin Picture Book series, with its offshoots the Baby Puffins and the Puffin Cut-Outs, was hugely influential and perhaps were the books that Carrington himself was the proudest of. Not only were they beautifully produced but commercially they outsold every rival. During WW2 Carrington published his own books under the Transatlantic Arts imprint. Now increasingly sought after, these wonderful lithographed children's books are beginning to acquire the status they merit. Royle Publications was co-founded by Carrington after the end of hostilities and become the leading, quality greetings card and calendar manufacturers. There was a time when it was alleged that every Christmas mantlepiece boasted a Royle card by S.R. Badmin. Design was always a passion and Carrington's presence on a myriad of design related committees is testament to his integrity and the high regard in which he was held by his peers. 

Noel Carrington's publishing changed the face of children's books, not only in how we read and buy them today but also in their development in design and production. We owe a huge debt to this modest innovator.

Alice Pattulo

Alice Pattullo graduated from Brighton College of Art in 2010 and since has hardly paused for breath. 

Her work is inspired by the English Folk Art tradition of Barbara Jones, Enid Marx and Edward Bawden but with her own unique and thoroughly contemporary interpretation. 

Alice has just been commissioned by the V & A. You'll be seeing a lot more of her work.

Alice has created a beautiful screen-printed Bantam Picture Book for the Special edition ofNoel Carrington, Nothing Need Be Ugly, a stunning reworking of the all-time classic 1,2,3. A Counting Book.

Enid Marx

Enid Marx was a contemporary of Ravilious and Bawden at The Royal College, a part of Nash's talented generation who were, and continue to be, so influential.
Marx has never quite caught the popular imagination in the way that her male contemporaries have done so. To date there has never been a major survey of her work, or an exhibition that does her work and life justice. 

Noel Carrington certainly recognised her talents, commissioning her for a Puffin Picture Book, two Bantam Picture Books as well as for Royle Greetings Cards and cut-outs.

Fredun Shapur

Fredun Shapur deserves to be added to those designers such as Bruno Munari & Charles and Ray Eames who saw designing for children as important as any other work. For some time now the toy dsigns of Fredun shapur have gatheree interest and attracted collectors and recently an exhibition too, at the Kemistry Gallery in London

Shapur's career demonstrates the internationalism of design and he has worked in London, Switzerland and in the USA. Shapur studied at the Central School, then at The Royal College where his tutors included Abram Games and Edward Bawden.  

Shapur was inspired by the modernist Czech toys for children and, when he opened his office in 1959 he began to design toys, firstly for his own children, but then for Galt and for Creative Playthings.

Interestingly, and somewhat unknown, was his work as designer for Topic Recordsin the late 50s. Topic were the radical Folk Label, championing CND and resurrecting the English Folk legacy, as well as importing the Blues, Gospel and Folk of the American labels.

Liz Loveless

Liz Loveless operates from The Factory Press based in East London where she produces hand screened books and prints. 

Her books are stocked by the Design Museum and the Barbican's bookshop but a visit to The Factory Press shop is well worth a visit (weekends only) where not only you can buy her books but work from local printmakers and illustrators.

Liz has produced a screen-printed Bantam Concertina book for the Noel Carrington project. As the concertina unfolds the synchronised swimmers arms spell out 'swimming'. 

Puffin Picture Books

The Puffin Picture Books were launched in 1940 by Allen Lane of Penguin Books under the editorship of Noel Carrington. They are characterised by the innovative use of lithography and autolithography and were printed at Cowells of Ipswich and The Curwen Press.

The series published over 100 titles including cut-out books, and press-out books, such as Noah's Ark, as well as branching out into books for a younger age range, the Baby Puffin Books.

Rena Gardiner

Rena Gardiner ran the Workshop Press from her Dorset cottage and from the mid- 1950s through to the 1980s produced some of the most imaginative and lively lithographs and books. Initially her books were self-published but then The National Trust helped with the distribution and sales of her books. In the main her subject matter was topographical and she had an absorbing interest in architecture and, above all Dorset.

Surprisingly she is little known although her small band of admirers are now gathering in numbers. In the late 1950s she met up with Noel Carrington to discuss a Puffin Picture Book but sadly nothing materialised.

Pere Castor

The Pere Castor Albums were published in France from 1931. They were launched by Paul Faucher, a radical bookseller who was deeply immersed in the European educational movement led by pioneers such as Bakule and Piaget. His art director was Nathalie Parain, who had studied in Moscow and bought with her a fresh uncluttered approach to children's book illustration and design.

The Pere Castor albums were hugely influential and Noel Carrington's Puffin Picture Book series was certainly inspired by these magnificent books.

Barnett Freedman's Lettering

Barnett Freedman was widely considered to be 'the lithographer's lithographer', a consumate draftsman who produced some of the most striking dustjackets for publishers such as Faber and Faber.

I just love his lettering, hand drawn and beautifully decorated. As a young man he worked for a while cutting lettering for tombstones, a skill that transferred to his litho work at The Baynard Press.

Perry Colour Books

The Perry Colour Books are amongst the most fascinating , yet enigmatic, of the wartime books for children. They were published by Powell Perry, whose family printing works were based in Putney. During the War Powell Perry was based at the camouflage centre at Farnham Castle and it was from here that he operated Perry Colour Books, persuading the camouflage artists to moonlight and illustrate these rather wonderful books.

They were clearly modelled on the Puffin Picture Books and there are other connections with Carrington too. Intriguingly some of Carrington's own books were also printed, perhaps dual published, by Perry Colour.

Jonny Hannah

Jonny is a true original, a one-off. Born in the Land of Jimmy Shand he has now arrived, via Liverpool and the Royal College of Art, to the sound of seagulls and mermaids in Southampton. In reality Jonny inhibits another world, where hipsters finger-pop and shady deals are made in end of pier tattoo parlours. Jonny's Dark Town invades his work, the visual equivalent of Tom Waits, or Graham Green's wonderful creation, Piggy. 

Jonny's fascination with faded Americana mirrors that of Lucinda Williams, whose sweet songs of sad girls, and echoes of Hank Williams and Guthrie's Dust Bowl Ballads all resonate with Jonny. Jonny too has dug deep into the unromantic corners of Englishness. Grimy parlours, fairground attractions, the strong man, the seafarer, all have been explored by Jonny in a myriad of prints, paintings, handmade books and painted objects.

Jonny is currently finishing a new Bantam Picture Book to accompany the special edition of Noel Carrington, Nothing Need be Ugly.

Emily Sutton

Emily Sutton has rapidly established herself as one of the brightest new talents. Her fabric designs for St Judes have won accolades and awards and her illustrations for the V&A's Clara's Magic Buttons have bought her to a wide audience. Her litho prints and watercolours are consequently in huge demand.

Emily has illustrated a superb Bantam Picture Book for the Carrington Special edition. Titled Market Day, it illustrates the trip to the market of a child and dog who visit the different stalls, filling up their basket as they go. An enchanting tale.

Eric Ravilious

Eric Ravilious's premature death was a huge loss to the world of design and art. Noel Carrington had recognised Ravilious' talent early on and as Carrington moved within the world of publishing and editing he consistently commissioned Ravilious. At the Kynock Press Ravilious produced a Note Book and engraved covers for Carrington's clients. At Country Life Carrington commissioned Ravilious for the Cookery Book and, of course, High Street. Then at Penguin, the tale of the lost Puffin, now seems, if possible, almost more of a loss that at the time.

Pearl Binder, a Real East End artist

Pearl Binder has been somewhat of a favourite, ever since I stumbled across her 1942 Puffin Picture Book, Misha Learns English. It's an interesting book, on many levels, not least for the vibrant lithos and the charming propaganda tale within, but also because of the context of the book and how, very significantly, Pearl Binder can be seem almost as the 'godmother' of the Puffin Picture Book series. 


Pearl Binder's story is a fascinating. Bought up in Salford, from Russian Jewish origins she moved to London in her early 20s to continue her studies at The Central School. She made her home in the East End of London, settling into the Jewish community, and soon began drawing and painting local life and characters.  If you are fortunate enough to stumble across Burke's The Real East End (1934) you'll find some wonderfully evocative black and white lithographs of pre-war East London. 

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