Beryl Pomeroy

Forthright fine-art print dealer
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The Independent Online

Beryl Pomeroy succeeded her father, grandfather and great-grandfather in running the fine-art plate-printers Thomas Ross & Sons, an enterprise that had been established as Dixon & Ross in 1833.

Frances Beryl Pomeroy, fine-art print dealer: born Cranfield, Middlesex 13 September 1922; managing director, Thomas Ross & Sons 1963-89; died London 31 January 2005.

Beryl Pomeroy succeeded her father, grandfather and great-grandfather in running the fine-art plate-printers Thomas Ross & Sons, an enterprise that had been established as Dixon & Ross in 1833.

The firm's first workshop was in a former stable in Hampstead Road, London, and it was on her visits there as a child that Beryl became entranced by the smell of the printers' ink and the atmosphere of silent concentration as the printers inked huge engraved copper plates and turned the fly-wheels of the old iron rolling-presses to transfer the images to paper.

In 1990, interviewed for the British Library's National Life Story Collection, she described these formative experiences with affection and great vividness; it was almost as if her future life's work was predestined by them. There was a phase when her talent and enthusiasm for needlework seemed to point to a career in embroidery; but the Second World War intervened and in 1940 she entered the Civil Service as a clerk in the Ministry of Food. An aspiration to serve in the WRNS was unsatisfied due to stringent entry conditions and she remained in the Civil Service until 1945.

During the war her father, fearful of the Hampstead Road building's vulnerability to bombing, rented a coach-house in Hounslow West and transferred there a couple of presses and much of the valuable stock of old plates, prints and paper. Beryl helped with the office work in the evenings and this (as well as her brother's departure from the firm to take up farming) must have been a factor in her decision to join her father full-time in 1945 when he reoccupied the Hampstead Road workshop. The old excitement was strong as ever; she had a powerful sense of her guardianship of the firm's long tradition of collaboration with the skilled engravers who translated into the language of bitten and engraved line the original work of eminent artists.

By this time, Ross's had acquired a huge collection of 19th-century and earlier plates (many of them left in their care by such celebrated publishers as Henry Graves, long since gone out of business) and archives in the form of day books, ledgers and correspondence recording links with J.M.W. Turner, Edwin Landseer, John Linnell and many other prominent artists and with engravers like Samuel Cousins, C.G. Lewis and Landseer's brother, Thomas.

The firm had since its early days enjoyed an international reputation, supplying prints to dealers in North and South America and many parts of Europe and very soon after the end of the war overseas buyers began to return. Beryl Pomeroy was instrumental in expanding the trade in response to their demand. It was her wise policy, however, to keep enthusiasm at a high level by refusing to flood the market; each customer had a strictly limited allocation and, ever forthright, she would rebuff unreasonable pleas with "Not bloody likely!" in tart emulation of Shaw's heroine Eliza.

A print-colouring studio was set up, thus reviving the earlier practice of tinting engravings with watercolour, and this aspect of the work was developed and supervised by Marion Dadds, who joined the firm in 1956 and was to work in close collaboration with Beryl Pomeroy until they both retired. There were new publications: a magnificent mezzotint reproduction by Lawrence Josset of Pietro Annigoni's portrait of Queen Elizabeth II; and flower pieces from Thornton's majestic Temple of Flora, the pastorals of Fragonard and Constable's landscapes, all engraved in mezzotint by Arthur Hogg, a resident engraver, and printed meticulously in colour by George Hardcastle.

The latter had been with Ross's since 1937 and, when in 1956 the master-printer Philip McQueen, descendant of another prominent print-publishing family, brought to the firm his stock of old plates and prints, Ross's embodied a remarkable amalgamation of the resources, skills and traditions handed down from three London plate-printing houses singled out for special commendation by the jury of the Paris exhibition of 1855.

With her father's death in 1963, Beryl Pomeroy became managing director; also at about this time redevelopment was planned for the Hampstead Road area and Ross's was given notice to find new premises. After a three-year search a suitable building was found in Manfred Road, Putney. As the Hampstead Road workshop was emptied for the move, Pomeroy suffered an emotional wrench at what she saw as an interruption of the historical continuum she had grown to love.

Since exit was by a narrow passage, the huge Victorian presses had to be dismantled, as had the plan-chests, shelves, desks and plate-racks, all undisturbed since 1833. Kegs of ink, much of it bought in the 19th century from Bouju, the Paris ink merchant, were hauled up from the basement and the old ledgers, happily, went with everything else to Putney in March 1966.

The reorganisation took six months, during which no printing could be done, although trading continued on the basis of existing stock. This consisted mainly of Victorian engravings and in promoting these to her American clients, in the first instance, Pomeroy played a substantial part in a resurgence of interest in 19th-century imagery.

She was to work with undiminished energy and enthusiasm until her retirement in 1989. "By the time I left," she mused in her Life Story interview, "I knew practically all there was to know [about marketing reproductive engravings]." This was certainly no idle claim. There was hardly any important republication of historic plates in which Ross's was not in some way involved during the Putney years. Pomeroy also collaborated with new generations of print publishers and artist-printmakers and was enormously generous in the help she gave to scholars who were beginning to discover the rich resources of primary material of which she was custodian.

It must have been in 1972 that I first met Beryl Pomeroy. I should have remembered the date precisely because it marked a turning-point in my professional life. Interested in 19th-century English book illustration, I had recently embarked on research in that field when a colleague mentioned by chance Thomas Ross & Son's, a firm for which he had once worked. Intrigued by his account of what was clearly no ordinary printers, I arranged to visit the firm's premises in Putney.

There I was greeted by Pomeroy. She showed me the firm's earliest Day Book which she extracted from a mountain of dusty leather-bound volumes. The book was full of detail illuminating the procedures of the 19th-century printers of reproductive engravings; this I found so engrossing that I at once switched the focus of my research to the history of the engraving trade in London.

My own debt to her is incalculable: she introduced to me legions of virtually forgotten engravers and printers who, before photo-mechanical methods rendered their work largely redundant, did so much to bring, in hand-reproduced form, the works of major artists to an eager 19th-century public and to whose virtuosity Ross's provided a remarkable epilogue.

Anthony Dyson

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