Simon Finch and Voewood Rare Books
Simon Finch has been a Rare Book Dealer since 1980. He has had shops in Notting Hill Gate and Mayfair and in Holt, Norfolk. His firm has handled a wide variety of material from the First Folio of Shakespeare to the wilder shores of the counterculture and everything in between. In 1998, Simon bought Voewood, one of the finest Arts and Crafts houses, and brought it back to life with an eight-year programme of renovation and restoration.
Voewood Rare Books, which operates from Voewood, is the continuation for Simon of a long career in the book trade. It also represents an important link with the House. Voewood is always beautiful, surprising, mysterious and perhaps a little disorientating and we aim to bring something of this spirit to the bookshop.
Whilst our focus is on the visual arts, the counter-culture and literature, we deal also in a broad range of antiquarian books across all subject areas. Our collection can be found on this website or our Abebooks listing. We will issue occasional printed catalogues together with online lists and catalogues. We are keen to buy outstanding items in most fields and will always travel to view a collection or individual items. We are open by appointment but can always be contacted by email.
Growing up with a deep love of books, Andrew hoped (and perhaps knew) that at some point, somewhere, he would work in the book trade. However, he spent too many years as a solicitor and is now making up for lost time, but having joined the trade he is learning as much as he can as quickly as he can. He attended the 2016 York Antiquarian Book Seminar. When not at Voewood, he lectures, writes and researches on art and cultural history.
Voewood, Percy Lloyd and E.S.Prior
Voewood is a house built on books. Although it was commissioned by a priest, the Reverend Percy Lloyd, it was paid for from his family’s fortune made in publishing. Percy’s father, Edward, owned two of the best-selling nineteenth-century newspapers and was the leading publisher of “Penny Dreadfuls”, cheap, gruesome, sensationalist but enormously popular crime and detective novels. It was Lloyd’s The People's Periodical and Family Library that first published, in weekly serial form, the story of Sweeney Todd. He is said to have told his illustrators that they should show “more blood, much more blood”. Edward was, in fact, a cultured, civilised and intelligent man who combined all the Victorian qualities of buccaneering business acumen, a rich (although, by the standards of the day, slightly rackety) family life and a commitment to self-improvement.
Lloyd’s sons were encouraged to go into business but Percy seems to have been a rather gentler sort, never really quite settling. He went to Oxford and was ordained but was clearly an unenthusiastic priest. He was bookish though. In 1919 John Murray published his translation of a study of the Italian Risorgimento. And in 1938, the year after Percy’s death, Mipam was published. Written by Albert Arthur Longden (known as Lama Yongden) with assistance from his adoptive mother, the Buddhist anarchist, Alexandra David-Neel, and translated (from the French) by Lloyd, Mipam is often described as The First Tibetan Novel. Percy’s mind was flexible and curious, his tastes broad and advanced.
In 1900, ten years after his father’s death, Percy moved to Norfolk and commissioned Edward Schroder Prior to design a country house. Lloyd had been brought up in a Georgian house called The Winns or Water House in (then rural) Walthamstow. Immediately before the Lloyds moved there, the occupants were the young William Morris, his siblings and widowed mother. Morris wrote his first poems at The Winns and his friend Edward Burne-Jones painted studies of the garden and park. The house is now the William Morris Gallery.
Whether Lloyd followed the career and work of Morris is unclear but we do know that Percy’s wife’s family were close to a number of the Pre-Raphaelites. So, it is surely no accident that the Lloyds approached a leading Arts and Crafts architect, one who worked with both Morris and Burne-Jones, who had trained with Richard Norman Shaw and was a friend of Charles Voysey. Prior’s work was well known from commissions at Harrow School, Cambridge University and a beautiful house in Exmouth called “The Barn”. Voewood, though, is of a different order altogether.
Like his client, Prior was a learned man, a sort of scholar-architect: his “A History of Gothic Art in England” was published in the year that Lloyd moved to Norfolk. And, like Percy Lloyd, Prior was an intellectual non-conformist, culturally adventurous whose work shows, it has been said, a “disregard of conscious styles and manners”. Voewood is the apogee of this disregard. Described as “wild and violent”, “inventive and daring”, “raucous“, “an explosion”, and by Pevsner as "a most violently idiosyncratic house ... the inventions sometimes remind one almost of Gaudi." It is a house that appears to obey no rules.
Voewood grew, in part, organically, out of the land. The site was a quintessential Norfolk piece of earth, a huge turnip field. When this field was dug out, the flint and stones that emerged from the mud were preserved to provide decorative facings for the house. The smaller pebbles and sand went to make ballast for the concrete and to create the garden paths. This organic “truth to materials” was a major part of the Arts and Crafts movement as was Prior’s use of local craftsmen and labourers. Thus Voewood became a kind of local work of art.
Architecturally, the house occupies that space between the ordered and disordered, the anarchic and the conservative that seemed to appeal to both Percy Lloyd and E.S.Prior. The design plays games of illusion with space, direction and perspective. The main entrance is in what looks likes the front of the house but, in fact, is in a side wing so, in a way, the house opens up out of one corner. A corridor then leads along the edge of the house along the garden terrace.
The great hall, the heart of the house, appears almost by accident. If the exterior is a riot of decoration and texture, the interior is a riot of angles, corners, twists, turns and apparent disorientation. But when taken all together, its true symmetry and order is clear. Voewood treads a very fine and very clever line.
Prior once wrote that the textural decoration he used in his work was designed to “throw over the bricks and stone a veil which softens their outline, half concealing and adding mystery to beauty”.
This softening, concealing, and mystery hovers over the whole of Voewood, not just its exterior. It is a house that suggest many things. It is a “butterfly house”, the plan resembling open wings. But look again, and the plan could be an open book. And perhaps this is what Prior and Lloyd wanted. They were both bookish, both intelligent and enquiring, both pressing at the intellectual edges: why not create a house that suggests all these things?