Matt Stockl, QBAS apprentice writes:

On 15 January 2019 we were fortunate to be visited by Bernard Middleton (see main photo) and fellow binder Flora Ginn. A leading light in the field of bookbinding, during his prestigious lifelong career (begun as an apprentice at the British Museum Bindery) Bernard travelled the world to conduct workshops in the restoration of leather bindings, won numerous binding awards and published several seminal works on historical bookbinding and book restoration. In 1950 he was a founding member of The Guild of Contemporary Bookbinders, later known as Designer Bookbinders, of which he went on to become both President and Fellow. In 1986 Bernard was awarded an MBE for services to bookbinding.

Established in 2016, The Queen’s Bindery Apprentice Scheme (QBAS) is a training initiative designed to address the looming skills crisis in the field of hand bookbinding. Through a five-year apprenticeship, the scheme aims to impart the knowledge and techniques necessary to become an accomplished craftsperson and restorer to six apprentices based at the Royal Bindery in Windsor Castle.  Bernard was a firm supporter of QBAS from its inception, contributing his expertise as well as various pieces of bindery equipment now in use by the apprentices, including a board cutter and laying press. As apprentices we were very happy to have the opportunity to thank him in person, as well as discuss our time in the Royal Bindery and show him some of the our work.

Presenting your early binding efforts to one of the world’s leading experts in the field is a nerve-wracking prospect but Bernard’s calm enthusiasm and positive comments were highly encouraging. We

resized Bernard with 3rd year apprentice Matt Stockl

Bernard Middleton with third year apprentice Matt Stockl

were also pleased to receive some useful suggestions, including tips on the ageing and distressing of new books bound in an historical style – Bernard opined that the best dirt comes from Clapham, where he established his own bindery, and cannot be beaten for creating a look of age when rubbed into paper.

After the Bindery tour we accompanied Bernard and Flora upstairs to the Royal Library, where they both turned their considerable expertise towards the bindings on display, providing some historical insight into a number of Library items.

resized Bernard Flora Philippa Räder in the Royal Library

Bernard Middleton, Flora Ginn and Liveryman Philippa Räder (Head of the Royal Bindery) in the Royal Library

It was a great pleasure to host Bernard and Flora at the Royal Bindery and Royal Library and we are immeasurably grateful for their significant contribution to the Apprenticeship Scheme.

Sadly Bernard Middleton died on 28 January 2019 and so, as Philippa Räder says, "it was an extraordinary privilege to have had him with us".

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