October 1941: Cries of London

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This is almost a film from the forties in book form – I’m thinking of A Canterbury Tale in the sense that it echoes the opening titles. You can hear the peal of bells and the fonts are as crisp as if lit by the silver screen, ancient art and (for the time) modern technology in perfect union.

This isn’t a faux-gothic recreation of Merrie England: the cover is a perfect example of stylised 1930s design, as beautiful a logo as you’d find anywhere – I imagine it happily at home on Broadcasting House. The fabric cover is rich hopsack, a homespun warmth that is cool in its simplicity, breaking from the leather and gilt tradition as beautifully as the Johnathan Cape Florin pocket books of the early thirties.

The bluntness of Eric Gill’s font puts the William Morris-ish dropped capital in the spotlight…

…and there is nothing muted about the colour, which updates as brightly as the splashes of orange on thirties ceramics.

Cries and Criers of Old London was published in October 1941, not long after the city had been blitzed. It might be affirming the familiar to a shell-shocked city, just as A Canterbury Tale would speak to the nation, but there is a darker side. The cuts are bold and roughly medieval, with The Scream or the Black Death coming to mind now and again.

It’s a poignant book: while the bells peal joyously in A Canterbury Tale and Cries and Criers, the folk in the streets knew they would only be ringing to warn them of terror.

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4 thoughts on “October 1941: Cries of London

  1. I love the way you’ve juxtaposed the book and film in this way – and all the various insights and parallels you draw. That is such a beautiful font; along with the illustrations and the book’s whole design, there’s such a ‘feels-right’ unity to it all.

    ‘A Canterbury Tale’ is such a fascinating film. The first time I saw it, I was spellbound. Apart from it being a wonderful film – drawing you in with its atmosphere and offbeat magic and visual feasts – watching it is like time travel. For several years, I lived in a village on the outskirts of Canterbury (within walking distance of one of the film’s locations) and spotting all the familiar places, and what they looked like then, was absorbing beyond words…

    The film’s scenes of Canterbury bombsites bring home the devastation for the people of the time. Every time we walked out of what was left of the town’s medieval beating heart and through the area rebuilt with modern, soulless boxes, we felt some of the legacy of that loss too…

    • A Canterbury Tale is a really unusual film – when I first saw it years ago I was looking for narrative and all the conventional things you expect and wondered why it was so esteemed. All makes sense now – in part because the links with that past and with the people who made it are passing out of living memory, and so it’s a complete immersion in atmosphere and detail – the events are almost an aside.

      I can imagine the hours spent retracing the locations – that’s a great process. The WW2 devastation of English cities is inconceivable – makes those beating hearts even more vital organs to look after!

      • Yes, there’s not much conventional about it at all is there. Its sheer strangeness, the confounding of expectations – and the images and atmosphere – held me almost hostage watching it, my curiosity piqued, baffled and fascinated all at once by that undercurrent of something indefinable.

  2. Hi. Well-written story! I love the interesting ways you have photographed the books and pages. You have given me a glimpse of some interesting fonts and black and white impressions. An interesting topic. Jane

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