Bombs, Bones, Books – the Amazing Career of Simeon Jones

BA BRUSH with IRA bombs helped convince Simeon Jones that his days as a City of London policeman might be numbered.

That – combined with his life-long love of bookbinding and a “life changing” visit to an osteopath – set him on a different career route which eventually brought him home to Wales.

Now Simeon runs his osteopath’s clinic four days a week in Well Street, Ruthin, along with wife Georgina, and Wednesdays, evenings and weekends he devotes to book binding.

He also finds time to serve as a Ruthin town councillor.

He will be sharing his award-winning skills as a designer bookbinder as part of the Helfa Gelf (Art Trail), supported by rural regeneration agency Cadwyn Clwyd, when he becomes artist in residence at Ruthin Craft Centre from September 20-22.

The Helfa Gelf Project has received funding from Cadwyn Clwyd through the Rural Development Plan for Wales 2007-2013, which is funded by the Welsh Government and the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development.”

Simeon’s interest in bookbinding goes back to when he was 15. A Welsh-speaker, Simeon left Brynhyfryd School in Ruthin and went to Manchester Polytechnic where he studied for a degree in the history of design.

“I was really influenced by the political writings of William Morris, who was an important thinker in the development of socialism.

“I also had a weird experience when I was rowing on the Thames and had a déjà vu moment as we hauled the boat out near Hammersmith and found that William Morris’ old house was next to the rowing club and he had leased rooms for a book bindery at a time when there were attempts to revive the craft,” said Simeon.

“I left college in 1989 and had a particular interest in late arts and crafts and modern furniture but in 1989 it was not a good time to go into the arts.

“It was the beginning of the recession and it was hard to get a job. My brother Paul joined the Metropolitan Police and I joined the City of London Police in 1990. Although we were in different forces he was badge number 627 and mine was 628.

“Basically I needed to start paying off my student debt and wanted some sort of work other than shop work. Being a policeman was a strange profession, a mix of 99% boredom and 1% terrifying exhilaration.

“Two of the biggest IRA bombs went off during the time I served as a policeman (1990-93), only about a quarter of a mile from where I was working. It was stressful and for my last year I did a lot of searching cars which I did not think was a rewarding career.”

But while he was studying and working in London, Simeon had taken up competitive rowing – competing at Henley and other regattas. “I had friends who rowed and I saw my sister row at Oxford.

“Living in the city it was great to join a rowing club and be out on the river early in the morning.”

But the stress of his job and all that training resulted in a bad back and after numerous attempts to have it put right with visits to physios, Simeon ended up seeing an osteopath.

“He said it’s not surprising considering the stress you are under. It was a life-changing experience and I thought: ‘I would like to be an osteopath rather than a police officer.’

“It meant four years of impoverished and expensive training, living in London. It was the most important thing I have done. Like bookbinding it is a handcraft, the same as learning to be a bookbinder.”

Wife Georgina, who he met in college, wanted to have a business in the countryside and so they returned to Ruthin, and have three children aged nine, 10 and 12.

The man who had sparked his love of bookbinding, the very talented bookbinder of 60 years experience Paul Delrue – who Simeon met at Ruthin Craft Centre in 1981 – had also returned to Ruthin where he set up his bindery in Mill Street and it was to him that Simeon turned for training. Simeon is now a licentiate member of Designer Bookbinders.

Last year, when the town council for the first time in 30 years had elections, Simeon got elected to the Town Council where his personal goal is to try and make Ruthin an outstanding attraction and to bring in a lot more visitors

Simeon describes book binding as a “serious paying hobby” and added: “I try to keep my work for top end book binding, the sort of work wanted by collectors.

When Ruthin Craft Centre director Philip Hughes saw the quality of Simeon’s work he commissioned him to bind two copies of a biography of Ruthin artist Edward Pugh: Edward Pugh of Ruthin 1763–1813: A Native Artist by Professor John Barrell and his account of an 800-mile walking tour of North Wales, complete with drawings, called Cambria Depicta by Edward Pugh, which was first published three years after Pugh’s death in 1816.

The copies are on display at the centre. Simeon managed to acquire his Cambria Depicta from a collector at Cadole near Mold, a complete book with over 30 prints and which is now valued at about £2,000.

To complete his commission on time Simeon got up at 4.15am for five out of seven mornings a month.

Helfa Gelf Project Co-ordinator Sabine Cockrill said: “Simeon’s story is a remarkable one and he has had an interesting and varied career.

“His work as a bookbinder is exquisite and continues a tradition that is centuries old and his ability was recognised when he was chosen to produce the binding for the Edward Pugh volumes.

“He is one of the gifted and talented artists and craftspeople we have working across North Wales, many of whose work can be seen in their studios every weekend throughout September as part of Helfa Gelf.”

Simeon has exhibited books in Britain and America and won prizes in many competitions. Some of his best work has found its way into the National Library’s collection and has been bought by collectors in the UK and USA.

He loves making useful little books that find their way into pockets and handbags and are filled with notes, musings, poems, or sketches. As well as demonstrating decorative leather and structural work, Simeon will be showing how to make a simple little ‘concertina’ note books, which make great presents.

He will also be running an extra session on Friday 2-4pm and on Sunday 11-1pm.

He is just one of four artists and craftspeople who will be ‘in residence’ at Ruthin Craft Centre through September, holding free drop-in workshops, and they include:

Jan Gardner, September 6, 7 and 8, a professional artist based in Conway, who uses vibrant `mixed media` images. Her workshop will experiment with resist techniques and colour and use a variety of mark-making tools to work on paper. Maximum of 12 at any one time.

Mandy Coates, September 13, 14 and 15, is a basket maker working in willow, rushes and wood. Her theme will be “Life of the Riverbank”.

Simeon Jones, September 20, 21 and 22.

Alison Mercer, September 27, 28 and 29, is a Fibre Artist exhibiting nationally and internationally and is a selected member of Fibre Art Wales and The Makers Guild in Wales.  She is currently Arts and Creative Textiles co-ordinator and lecturer at Denbigh College and Arts in Health and Wellbeing practitioner initiating pioneering projects with Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board and The Royal College of Art.

The workshops run every Saturday from 11am-1pm and from 2-4pm. No booking is required.

Helfa Gelf / Art Trail is now North Wales’ biggest Open Studio event with over 300 artists inviting the public into their studios across Gwynedd, Conwy, Denbighshire, Flintshire and Wrexham  every Friday, Saturday and Sunday during September.

For more information about Helfa Gelf/Art Trail visit www.helfagelf.co.uk

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