Robin Tramaseur January 2019
I met Robin Tramaseur at the Village Carnival, back in the warm, soft days of July 2018,. We fell into a conversation concerning one of his contributions to the Village dating back to 1977. At the time, there wasn’t the time or space to talk in-depth and I took down his details, promising myself I would contact him later to extend the discussion. Needless, to say, time passed and it was not until the start of this year I was in a position to follow-up the contact. We finally agreed to meet and had an afternoon of conversation with so many tangential turnings, we needed a ball of string to find our way back to the point of departure. It was an interwoven conversation about the Village, the impact of technical changes in the late twentieth centuries, life in the world of Newsprint, the appreciation of good artistry and Thomas Cavendish (1560 – 1592)
To start at the beginning. Robin is a local man with roots in the Kirton side of the border going back several generations although his home has been in Trimley St. Martin for many years, occupying the same house as his parents.. His father Graham came to this area during the Second World War and stayed on afterwards working as a Bricklayer and marrying Robin’s mother. His grandfather, William, was a warrener by trade and as a child, Robin was used to being taken off into the countryside. It was still a time of rationing and living off the land came as second nature to his grandfather. Excursions into the surrounding countryside gave the young Robin the opportunity to understand how to respect wildlife but also to live off it. It engendered a love of nature and to this day, Robin is an ardent birdwatcher to such a degree, he completes the B.T.O. Survey on a regular basis. Robin, like others of his generation, was one of the first to benefit from compulsory Secondary Education. Not that he particularly the majority of it, stating candidly he left at the earliest opportunity when he was 16. His outstanding talent was his artistic ability and because his Art Teacher at Felixstowe Secondary Modern School, Mr Diggle, believed in Robin, he pushed him to succeed and demonstrate just how good he is at art. He was indeed good at Art and this was his passport to Ipswich Art School.
Over the years Ipswich Art School has influenced some outstanding artists. Founded in 1859, many well-known names form part of its’ alumni. Maggie Hambling, Eduardo Paolozzi, and Helen Oxenbury, the children’s book illustrator, to name but three. This is where Robin found himself at the start of the 1960s and where he remained for three years, honing his artistic skills. He found work in the vacations, occasionally finding work in Felixstowe Laundry or operating as a relief Postal worker at Christmas. His forte was and is graphic design and at the age of 19, he emerged from Art School and found his first full-time job working for ‘The Farming Press’.
‘The Farming Press’ originally started in 1929 and succeeded in surviving the Second World War. In 1959, it was bought by Bradbury Agnew, the company who then printed, ‘Punch’ and by during the Sixties ‘The Farming Press’ moved into publishing books as well as the magazine. Robin recalled the office when he first started work. It was situated in the arch which marks the entrance to Lloyds Avenue and was conveniently close to the old Ipswich pubs, ‘The Golden Lion’ and ‘The Vaults’. (It was a standard activity for employees from all walks of life to visit the pub at lunch time.) For two years Robin’s responsibility at work was to design the layout of the content and produce editorial by-lines. Journalists of the farming world would bring their photographs and stories in to the offices. They were apportioned a certain amount of space, for example one and a half pages, and Robin would have to adjust the content to fit the space. There were three magazines in ‘The Farming Press’ stable: the oldest, ‘Dairy Farming’; ‘Pig Farming’; and ‘Arable Farming’, launched in 1966. These subscription magazines were very popular at the time and the books published by the company were regarded with great respect by the farming world. It was Robin who was also responsible for the book jackets, making them as saleable as possible and designing the covers to appeal to the appropriate audience.
After two years at the Farming Press, the young Robin was ready to move onto something different, despite the prospect of promotion. He headed out of Suffolk to the Cambridge Evening News. It was around this time newspapers were taking Graphic Designers seriously and recognising their unique skills and talents. He was the only Graphic Designer working for the paper and was responsible for editorial design although his primary responsibility rested in advertising. Reps would give him copy and he would deliver posters and other promotional work. He lived in Cambridge, moving from one house to another, making the most being young and flexible. He was in a shared house for eighteen months and a Bed and Breakfast establishment for another eighteen, enjoying the airy pleasures of an attic room but the majority of his social life was conducted when he returned home at weekends. After three years, he changed jobs again and started to work for the East Anglian Daily times, where he was to stay for thirty-eight years, the remainder of his working life.
By now, it was the start of the early Seventies and life was becoming increasingly interesting in the world of print. For the last four hundred and fifty years or so. the invention and development of the Printing Press in Europe runs parallel to the story of our literacy, education and information awareness. Comparatively cheap and easy to operate, the ability of the press to generate and promote knowledge and information was unparalleled until the arrival of the personal computer. It was also source of power; for those who owned it and those who operated the machinery. Robin reminded me of the power the Print Unions held back in the seventies and it was with some fascination I recalled those forgotten days. For example, in 1978, a year-long industrial dispute took place over The Times newspaper. The paper disappeared from the news-stands and alongside it the sister publications produced by the same company, The Thomson Group. The supplementary papers, The Times Educational Supplement and The Times Literary Supplement were also unpublished for a year. In fact, such was the impact of the strike on the latter paper, it never regained its pre-eminent position related to the advertising revenue generated by publishing ads for jobs in Libraries and Publishers. Robin was entering a world of disputes and computerisation. The events and subsequent changes, which occurred during this period were to alter the remainder of his working life because this dispute as well as the hugely impactful Wapping Dispute of 1986 altered the balance of power between Unions and owners to the detriment of the former. Throughout this period forces beyond the control of newspaper workers resounded throughout the business.
As Robin described his working life at the E.A.D.T. a story of personal achievement started to reveal itself. The paper was and is highly respected along with its sister papers, ‘The Evening Star’ and ‘The Eastern Daily Press’ and Robin worked hard bring his creative flare to bear to the paper. But what was happening in the Print Trade ran parallel personal success. One of the organisations open to Graphic Designers was S.L.A.D.E., the Society of Lithographic Artists and Engravers. Although this was a strong union in the Seventies, it was eventually absorbed into National Graphical Association in 1982. Artists at the E.A.D.T. joined S.L.A.D.E. and so did Robin. It was a strong statement of belief in the worth of his fellow workers and the value of his own contributions to the work place.
Robin’s career started when hot metal type was the standard production method. But during his working life, ink jet and digitisation became the way forward for newspapers. As Head of Studio, Robin was sent to an exhibition in Brighton. He had been told by his Manager to look at computers, to research developments and see what was available in the field. Companies had brought their news media equipment to the stands for viewing. Included in the exhibition were two infant companies: Apple and Microsoft. To Robin it was obvious the new technology needed to be addressed and taken on board. It was Apple who ultimately won the day for the newspaper although Robin said in later years they changed to Microsoft. Either way, computers became the medium through which Robin delivered his work and by the end of his career hot metal type was a thing of the past in the world of newsprint.
It was also during the Eighties another new phenomenon occurred; the rise of free papers. These were originally introduced by the News entrepreneur, Eddie Shah, the ‘Shah of Warrington’. You may remember him as the man who published the first newspaper in colour, the ‘Today’. Free Newspapers were initiated by him, founded on the principle they would fund themselves through advertising. It was a concept which caught on and was to provide Robin with his next career move. The head of the E.A.D.T. studio left and at about the same time the company decided to launch a free news sheet now called the ‘Ipswich Extra’. When the paper was launched Robin became Head of Studio and this was where he remained until he retired. If you picked up the newspaper between the mid-eighties and twenty ten, you will have seen numerous examples of his work.
As we talked, Robin seized upon a range of memorabilia he had to hand. They included a photograph of himself receiving an award from Princess Anne at the Suffolk Show. An appropriate venue as in addition to newspaper work Robin worked closely with the General Secretary at the Suffolk Show. He covered all the publicity: tickets; posters; leaflets and advertisements all passed through his hands. It was therefore the Suffolk Show was the correct place to receive the honour of being presented with tangible recognition for his outstanding service in the advertising world. He was fêted in the President’s Box, given lunch, as well as receiving the award from by Princess Anne. A less formal recognition of his talents could be seen in a photograph taken on his Fortieth Birthday (not reproduced) when he was given something of a Gala night out by his friends and work colleagues. I think these two examples demonstrate Robin’s ability to work and play hard. There have been numerous other awards and accolades. His team received national recognition, especially from the Newspaper Society, a body dating back to 1836, which represents local and national newspapers. Robin was and is, highly thought of within his craft. His artistry combined with an eye for appropriate images and text are partly the result of ability and partly the commitment to hard work.
This brief description of his working life attempts to place Robin within the context of his working times. But we are all multi-faceted individuals who exhibit various sides to different people and work is just one side. Having the pleasure of meeting Robin in his own home, two things struck me immediately. One, his appreciation for a good picture, of which he has many. He has a kind and receptive eye for subtle and beautiful images. The visceral world has no place on his walls.
The other is his eclectic taste in books. Here is a man who has some enviable titles in his personal library. In many ways, the books we choose to have in our lives present an overview of everything we are and value. Robin’s preferences in books are not only influenced by content but also by the presentation and production of individual volumes. Two books leapt out at me as they lay close by each other on the table. I remarked on one of his books, ‘The Wren’ by Stephen Moss and Robin mentioned how he sees the production with his professional eye as well as the content. It has to be said, this title is a particularly delightful book, written by an excellent naturalist. The other title was ‘The glorious life of the Oak’ by John Lewis-Stempel, the work of another exceptional naturalist. These two books went some way to exemplify Robin’s values, tastes and heritage: the boy who was introduced to wildlife at an early age; the man who sustains his fascination with bird watching; the artist who uses his instinct and training to recognise beautiful and elegant production images and productions.
At the start of this Blog I mentioned Thomas Cavendish and now is the time to return to him. Cavendish (or sometimes Candish) was born in 1560 during the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth. In 1977, during the reign of the second Queen Elizabeth, Robin was asked by Trimley St. Martin’s Parish Council to design a Village sign to commemorate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee. His understanding and involvement in the graphic arts was well known and he was the obvious person to approach. Initially, he wasn’t certain about the focus but then he hit upon the notion of deploying St. Martin’s most famous son Thomas Cavendish. He went to Suffolk Record Office to conduct his research, where he found an engraving of Cavendish holding a pair of dividers resting on a globe. Using artistic licence he redesigned the image of Cavendish and the globe to encompass ‘Trimley’. His next step was to commission an artist and given his many contacts within the trade was able to approach Tolly Cobbold for the use of their sign painter, A.J. Woollard Hardy. Woollard Hardy produced the sign which was painted in oils on both sides, in the style of a pub sign. Someone in the village provided a post for the mount and Robin ensured the famous quote about ‘The Oaks of Grimston Hall’ was included on the mount. The ironwork surrounding the image was designed by Robin and constructed by Jacobs of Kirton, the village Blacksmith. When everything was in place, at the entrance to Old Kirton Road on the High Road, the sign was officially unveiled by the two oldest village inhabitants.
The photo above was taken on the day of the unveiling, more than forty years ago in 1977. (Robin thought the Gentleman was a Thomas Taylor.) This suggests the people in the photography were born in the second half of the nineteenth century. There is something touching about the delicate posy of flowers and the magnificent buttonhole which enhances the dignity of these elderly people.
The infrastructure of the sign has remained sound although the image is now on its’ second or third incarnation. You may find it interesting to compare the 1977 version with that of 2019:
The Village sign for Trimley St. Martin, 1977
The Village sign for Trimley St. Martin, 2019
Comparing these two images it’s possible to confirm the authenticity of the original metalwork and the post. The two images with their direct reference to their pub sign heritage caused me to remember the old Hand in Hand sign I knew when I first came to the village some fifty years ago. (The farm worker shaking hands with the sailor.) Where is it now and others of its ilk? And this made me realise Robin had cleverly created an additional legacy for the village when he designed the village sign: the fine art of sign painting. This may or may not have been in his mind forty plus years ago but I for one am grateful he chose it for his particular medium. He may prefer the original image but in true inn sign fashion, the vicissitudes of the weather demanded a replacement, thereby keeping the tradition alive as well as the story of Cavendish the Navigator. Smart thinking, Robin.
Verse on Trimley St. Martin Village sign post:
My God, said Thomas Cavendish,whatever may befall,
I shall ever love dear Trimley and the oaks at Grimston Hall.
You can find an image of Thomas Cavendish created in 1884 in ‘Narrative and Critical History of America’ by Justin Winsor available The Internet Archive.
If you wish to read more about Trimley’s local explorer, a visit to Suffolk Record Office would be useful as it holds a copy of:
Thomas Cavendish of Trimley St. Martin: the second English circumnavigator. Gwen Dyke. Capella House. n.d.
In addition to this and possibly easier to access, Suffolk Libraries have copies of:
Voyages and Discoveries: The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation by Richard Hakluyt. Chatto and Windus. 1981.
This contains a short, almost contemporaneous history of Thomas Cavandish.
If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:
Full length view of Village sign 2019