Elizabeth Greenhill

Designer bookbinder

Elizabeth Greenhill, bookbinder: born Paris 4 May 1907; President, Designer Bookbinders 1975-78; died London 30 December 2006.

For almost 60 years Elizabeth Greenhill devoted her life to making and restoring beautiful books. She produced over 100 exquisite bindings, all showing high standards of craftsmanship, as well as a wide variety of designs. Her choice of colours, leaning towards the gentler, feminine shades of blue, green, pink and mauve, her use of onlays, her precision in gold tooling, combining flowing and straight lines with cloud-shapes and swirling patterns, were all of a rare elegance and lightness of touch.

Her parents, Charles Greenhill and Florence Roach, were given the Albemarle Hotel in London (on the corner of Piccadilly) as a wedding present in 1898. It was not a commercial success and they moved to Paris, where Elizabeth was born in 1907. Her siblings, Mina (born 1899), later an accomplished painter, and Derek (born 1902), who died young during the First World War, had been born in London, whence the family returned in 1909.

Elizabeth Greenhill was educated at Bedales, where she first came into contact with glue, paste, cloth and leather in the workshop of one of the teachers, O.B. Powell, the father of one of the best-known British bookbinders. She went to the Sacred Heart Convent in Roehampton (now the Digby Stuart College), being taught calligraphy and bookbinding there. But the basis for her later perfection of craftsmanship was laid in Paris, where she studied at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs pour Dames, under Pierre Legrain, one of the most famous pre-war French designers of bindings.

Back in London, Greenhill was taught by Douglas Cockerell at the Central School of Arts and Crafts. He showed her how to tool so that the gold catches the light to best advantage, an art that she never lost. William Matthews taught her how to repair and restore books.In the 1930s she started to show bindings in exhibitions and received her first commissions, including several presentation bindings for members of the Royal Family. Her sister, Mina, made some of the designs for these early bindings.

During the Second World War Greenhill became a full-time air-raid warden, but after the war her binding and restoration work took off again. She bound for J.R. Abbey, a foremost collector, worked on repairing the libraries at Chevening, and was one of the British binders who went to rescue and restore the books immersed in the floodwaters of the Arno at Florence in 1966.

In 1950 she had started to give private lessons, and all her later life helped and encouraged the young, offering a yearly prize for gold-tooling in the Designer Bookbinders' sponsored competitions. In 1961 she was elected the first woman member of the Guild of Contemporary Bookbinders (renamed Designer Bookbinders in 1968), of which she was Honorary Secretary from 1967 till 1974, becoming President in 1975 for three years and an Honorary Fellow in 1985. She worked tirelessly for them, exhibiting, organising and promoting bookbinding wherever she went.

Failing eyesight made her give up the exacting work at the bench in 1984; she made a few more designs which were executed by younger binders, but most of her energies were channelled into her work for Designer Bookbinders. She had started to collect the work of her contemporaries in 1970 and remained an enthusiastic patron.

Greenhill was a warm-hearted and generous friend, whose beaming smile and stretched-out arms of welcome lit up her own countenance as well as that of her frequent visitors. In her youth a beautiful woman, she remained handsome almost to the end of her life, her conversation sparkling and full of anecdotes.

She was devoted to her family, especially to her sister, whose paintings graced the walls of her South Kensington flat and of her room in the nursing home where, deaf, partially blind and chair-bound, she died on 30 December, in her hundredth year.

Mirjam M. Foot

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistant - Accounts Payable - St. Albans

£26000 - £28000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Senior Accounts Assistan...

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions