Aesop’s Fables

Aesop’s Fables with cover design and 110 illustrations by John Vernon Lord (Jonathan Cape, 1989)

Introduced by Emma Balch for The Story of Books 

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During the preparations for the inaugural Baskerville Wayzgoose that I organised earlier in this month, I visited my friend, the papermaker Maureen Richardson. I wanted to make a centrepiece for the event. A wayzgoose is a traditional annual gathering of printers or papermakers that dates back to medieval times.

I had sourced a stuffed goose through Marina Rendle at The End in Hay, a red tin crown, through Maria Carreras who works for the Hay Festival (the Wayzgoose was on the 1st April 2017 when Hay was celebrating 40 years since Richard Booth declared himself the King of Hay and the town ‘an independent kingdom of books). I had asked Maureen if I could use some of her fruit and vegetable papyrus for the goose’s nest. At her house, I spotted a copy of Aesop’s Fables, illustrated by John Vernon Lord, and asked if I could borrow it.

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I knew that William Caxton, who introduced the printing press to the UK, was also the first person to translate and print Aesop’s Fables in English.

Maureen said of course I could and directed me to rows of bookshelves with different editions of Aesop’s Fables!Caxton-Fables (1).jpg

I could borrow the lot, she said. So we had an enjoyable time taking them off the shelves and looking through them – and they made a wonderful display on the large round table at Baskerville Hall.  See below for a longer explanation of the display, taken from The Story of Books project blog.


A wayzgoose was at one time an entertainment given by a master printer to his workmen each year on or about St Bartholomew’s Day (24th August). It marked the traditional end of summer and the start of the season of working by candlelight. Later, the word came to refer to an annual outing and dinner for the staff of a printing works or the printers on a newspaper. (Wikipedia)


The centrepiece at the Baskerville Wayzgoose had a stuffed goose (sourced by Marina Rendle of The End in Hay-on-Wye), a Baker’s Dozen of goose eggs (from Joe at 100% Hay at Hay’s weekly market). The nest was made from a wreath by Layla Robinson of Majestic Bus, dried seed pods, and rhubarb papyrus paper handmade by Maureen Richardson. The word Wayzgoose was also traditionally used by paper-makers as a term for their annual day off.

Around the goose were more than 50 different editions of Aesop’s Fables, from a collection belonging to Maureen Richardson. William Caxton, the first Englishman to introduce the printing press to England, was also the first translator of Aesop’s Fables into English, including The Goose that Laid the Golden Eggs. We had a giant golden egg at the Wayzgoose (thanks to Cassie Rendle, and Robert Palmer) and had mini golden chocolate eggs with mint tea after the Baskerville Wayzgoose Supper.


Here is the rest of the Wikipedia entry:

The derivation of the term is doubtful. It may be a misspelling for “wasegoose”, from wase, Middle English for “sheaf”, thus meaning “sheaf” or “harvest goose“, a bird eaten at harvest-time, cf. the “stubble-goose” mentioned by Chaucer in The Cook’s Prologue.

The most likely origin is the word “Weg(s)huis”, which was current in early Modern Dutch.[citation needed] This word (literally, “way house”) was one of several words meaning the English “inn” and was figuratively used for “a banquet”. The Low Country origin of the word “wayzgoose” has never seriously been disputed by etymologists, seeing that much early chapel terminology was borrowed from Low Country printers by their English apprentices (and later journeymen). The variety of spellings and pronunciations (including with and without the “z”) indicate that it is an orally-borrowed Dutch word that fit somewhat uneasily in the mouth of English speakers.

Another plausible origin is a more general word for a merry-making or feast, reputedly referring to the grand goose-feast annually held at Waes, in Brabant, at Martinmas. However that is pronounced quite differently, as “Waas”. It apparently means “cloud-veil” in Dutch: also there are no places called Waes or Waas in Brabant, but there are several places with “Waes” in their name in East Flanders.

Relations between England and the Low Countries were often very close, and it is plausible that such entertainments might have grown to be called colloquially a “Waes-Goose”. It is not clear why the term should have survived later in the printing trade. Certainly the goose has long ago parted company with the printers’ wayzgoose, which was usually held in July,[1] though it had no fixed season. A keepsake was often printed to commemorate the occasion. It could be printed ahead of time, or the printing could form part of the evening’s activities.

Some bookbinders believe that Wayzgoose was held on St Bartholomew’s Day because he was the patron saint of leather workers. It was no coincidence[citation needed] that on August 24, 1456 the printing of the Gutenberg Bible was completed, perhaps triggering the very first wayzgoose party at Fust–Schöffer shop in Mainz.

The holiday, a break in printing, was traditionally also the day that papermakers took a break from making paper for the printers, and used up the last of the pulp to make paper for windows, waxed paper being the traditional window material for the yeoman class before the use of glass became more widespread, and after this was done, the pulp vats would be cleaned out for the new fibre, made from rags collected in the spring, and retted (prepared by rotting) over the summer.

The paper windows were fitted on St. Martin’s Day (November 11). Just as the saint had supposedly cut his cloak in half to share with a beggar during a snowstorm, so yeoman farmers would give offcuts of the windows to the poor, to help them keep warm during the coming winter.

Parchment was the original mediaeval material for keeping northern homes warm, for those who could not afford glass for the windows. The patron saint of parchment makers was the same St Bartholomew. With paper replacing parchment, the name of the traditional Martinmas party, the Wayzgoose, might have been transferred to both papermakers’ and printers’ parties.

We will organise some form of Wayzgoose on August 24th this year, so do put the date in your diary.

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