What is a Wayzegoose?
Old customs and the old names that go with them are often a delight, and the wayzgoose is no exception. The earliest spelling of the name is way-goose, and that is in Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises of 1683/4, the earliest manual of printing that we have. Moxon was not a printer himself so his account may have errors, but it is all we have to work with. He describes it as a feast for the printers paid for by the owner of the printing house, observed on St Bartholomew's day, August 24th, and occasioned by the longer nights requiring candle light and new paper windows to shield the flames from guttering drafts.
The logic of all this barely stands examination, but there is no other evidence to look at, so let’s just ride that horse, even if it moves like a donkey! Certainly the boss paying for a works outing in summer and calling it a wayzgoose, no matter how spelled, was still around among carpenters as well as printers in the 20th century. There are delightful photos of charabanc trips from printing works about, and group photos of picnics, some with only the stern faces of the aristocrats of labour, while others include wives and children. Kelmscott Press had a waysgoose, as did Oxford University Press and many another. The notion clearly spread like ink in blotting paper, and the constant is a bunch of printers having a good time together away from the printing house, and that is just where we are in the twenty-first century.
Although the large letterpress printing factory with its multiplicity of distinct job skills is a thing of the past, it has been replaced with a host of smaller artisan workshops. And thus it has adapted, the traditional wayzgoose has transformed into a gathering of printers, their friends and families. We letterpress printers tend to know each other and to be welcoming to new practitioners. And we like nothing better than to discuss our craft, talk type, swap kit, look closely at each others work -- so throw in some printers’ pies with a drink of almost anything wet and you’ve a modern wayzgoose.
A wayzgoose today is usually advertised first among letterpress printers and ancillary craft workers via social media, newsletters and word of mouth. Thus a cast list is assembled. It is then advertised both within the craft and to the more general public. Some have a nominal charge at the door, but most costs are covered by the organising printers so are free of entry charges. The crew lay out their wares; books, cards, prints, posters, letterpress on paper of all sorts and sizes. You might also find a bookbinder’s display, our natural cousins, along with marbled paper, sellers of metal type both used and newly cast. And you will almost always be invited to take part in a printing demonstration so you can come away with your own work even though all the preparation has been done for you! Printing is one of those crafts that the less you know, the easier it is. It’s only as you learn how to do more than just pull the lever that you begin to learn the mysteries of the craft. But there will always be a printer at the 'goose that you can learn more from, and courses to sign up for.
Among the wayzgooses you can visit this year are those at the St Bride Library in London on 20th May; the Shipley Wayzgoose in Yorkshire on 9th June, and The Oxford Guild of Printers Wayzgoose at Oxford Brookes University on November 3rd. Incline Press will be at all of them, happy to show our bookwork as well as talk about it, maybe sell a bit of kit and talk to others interested in printing. We will also be at the Print Fair in Manchester weekend after next, and although a print fair is another beast, they share a lot of the same characteristics.
And if you are interested in the derivation of the word, the best investigation I have found is by Antony Liberman of the Oxford University Press at blog.oup.com.