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Hilary Pepler

Hilary Douglas Clark Pepler comes of Quaker stock. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1916 and at about that time became a leading member of the famous Ditchling (Sussex) Catholic Colony of craftsmen and small farmers. Eric Gill was there too but some years later broke away. The St. Dominic's Press, with which Pepler's name is chiefly associated, was established "after His Majesty's medical advisers had decided that I and a coalheaver were unsuited to the trade of war'' as Hilary Pepler tells us in an introductory note to a list of publications issued by the Press. The printing press used was a handpress. It made his publications distinctive. Mr. Pepler aimed at being a craftsman and not a mechanic. He was opposed to mass production and had no ambition to produce cheap and shoddy work. Pepler 's type was worthy of ranking with William Morris' Kelmscott Gothic. but was simpler. He also wrote and published with Gill's illustrations, many spirited, audacious, and fervent Catholic squibs.

Since "aesthetic minorities are apt to engender an unhealthy kind of conceit" a chapel was erected in the centre of the settlement as a corrective. The members of the community with one or two exceptions were Dominican tertiaries and at fixed times during the day they left their work for prayer. Father Vincent McNabb, the famous Dominican preacher and writer was their Spiritual Director. The zeal of Gill and Pepler may be judged by the fact that finding that the Angelus was not rung at Ditchling they ransacked the by-ways for a worthy bell, and then rang it daily.

During the period of World War I, it became necessary to do farming. Six hundred acres were e secured and tilled. ''During 1917 and 1918," wrote Pepler, "we could have stood a close siege without lack of food." Soon other crafts were added A weaving shed was set up. Statuary and cabinet making were undertaken. The community assumed the proportions of a tiny village.

After Pepler had done all he set out to do as a printer, he left the press to one of his sons (another son is a Dominican) and a Distributist friend, and launched out on a new career. This was only a few year, before World War II, when Pepler was neatly sixty, lie wrote and produced miming plays, himself expressing the gamut of the emotions in a nicely stylised dumbshow and training a company to approach the same pitch. His triumph was The Field Is Won, a mime of the life of St. Thomas More, produced at a London theatre not long after the canonization. He was highly successful with his mimes on a visit to the United States.

At about the time when he took on miming in public, he was for short while secretary of the Distributist League, and went down to Beconsfield to be "knighted" by Gilbert K. Chesterton with the famous sword-stick.

Although, no doubt, still ready to do a job of printing or a job of miming, Pepler has in fact embarked on a new career. He is a director of The Weekly Review, a child of G. K.'s Weekly, and a busy member of the editorial staff, writing on economics and public entertainment. Now and then he indulges himself with a squib in verse. Since this Weekly Review is the only independent paper left in England, it may afford him sufficient outlet for his vast energies.

Hilary Pepler was born at Eastbourne, borough of Sussex, England, in 1878, and was educated at Bootharn School, York. In 1905 he married Clare John \Vhiteman. They have three sons and three daughters.

Stanley B. James said of his writings: "It is true he is more poet than playwright; I think there is sometimes a lack of dramatic movement in his compositions. But the austere beauty of his writing cannot be denied. It is entirely free from superfluous ornament and sentimentalism. The intellectual quality is high; the lines are packed almost too closely with thought."

He is the author of: Justice and the Child; Care Committees; The Devil's Devices: Pertinent and Impertinent; Plays for Puppets; The Hand Press, etc. Also the following mimes: The Passion; St. Joan, and Everyman.

[by William Titteton and Matthew Hohen. First published in 1948 in Catholic Authors, St. Mary's Abbey, Newark. Hilary Pepler died in 1951]

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