Tribute to John Sansom

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All at Bristol Books were saddened to hear of the death of John Sansom of Redcliffe Press. He put Bristol on the publishing map and he will be sadly missed by all in the publishing community.

John, was also a lovely, friendly, knowledgeable man and we extend our condolences to his wife Angela, his children and grandchildren. In 2011 he was awarded a Doctor of Letters honorary degree by Bristol University. Below is part of a biography published at that time, which we reproduce as as tribute.

Michael Liversidge, Emeritus Dean of Arts, said at the ceremony “The Redcliffe Press rose to local prominence principally, but not exclusively, as a publisher of books about Bristol, its region and the West Country. 

“It has made books about the history and culture of Bristol and Bristolians accessible to the public, and has done much to awaken interest in the city and its heritage. 

“John can also claim his own place in Bristol’s history as one of a small select company of publishers who have started up and stayed on here.” 

John had two previous careers before work brought him to Bristol where he reinvented himself as publisher.

He joined the Royal Air Force after school where he did his National Service as a clerk, learning shorthand and typing while he thought about becoming a journalist or writer later in life.

Then, in 1957, he got a job with Berkshire County Council where he learnt accounting and business skills in the audit department.

But a career in local government didn’t appeal to John so he joined the Bristol and West Building Society and soon became a branch manager in Swindon.

With his success came the prospect of a career in management, a future John decided to shun in favour of writing.

He began to do freelance financial journalism while immersing himself into Bristol’s cultural life, which gave him the opportunity to write about the arts.

John then branched out into the risky business of publishing books and his first book, entitled Children’s Bristol, was a runaway success in 1976 and had to be reprinted within days of going on sale.

Redcliffe Press went on to expand into academic as well as popular history, books about art and architecture, its own poetry imprint, cricket and cuisine, football and trams, theatre and many other subjects. 

Along with his wife Angela and their daughters, the family established a second imprint called Sansom and Company in 1995, which specialises in the fine arts, and launched a third called Art Dictionaries in 1998. 

In that time he worked tirelessly with scores of authors and produced several hundred books, involving himself creatively in every part of what can be a long process.

While Bristol remains an important focus for what it does, John’s collection of books have cast their nets far wider than the West Country and acquired a national, and indeed international, profile. 

John was also an active supporter of The Royal West of England Academy, the Bristol Short Story Competition, the Bristol Civic Society and The Friends of Bristol Art Gallery

The part he’s played in Bristol life over several decades has been recognised by the Bristol Evening Post, with its Lifetime Achievement Award, and by the City with the rare civic distinction of a Lord Mayor’s Medal.