King's College London
Exhibitions & Conferences
The printed page

The Ashendene Press

Opening showing an extract from Ecclesiasticus, book IV, with initial letters and other text printed in colourOpening showing an extract from Ecclesiasticus, book IV, with initial letters and other text printed in colourThe renaissance in English fine printing led to the foundation of a number of private presses, which printed and published small runs of works. Private presses were run either by an individual or a small group of craftsmen, whose main interest lay in the revival of the craft of printing rather than in any commercial success.

The private press movement flourished from the 1880s to the 1930s and was in part a reaction against the many poorly designed products of the machine press.

The revival of traditional printing methods was closely associated with the Arts and Crafts movement, led by William Morris, whose work features in the previous section of this online exhibition. Like Morris, many of the private presses looked to the printers of the 15th century for inspiration.

The Ashendene Press was founded in 1894 by the then director of the booksellers WH Smith, CH St John Hornby (1867-1946). As a wealthy businessman he could afford to indulge his personal interest in fine printing. The books printed at his Ashendene Press were heavily influenced by those of Morris’s Kelmscott Press but Hornby favoured a cleaner page layout, generally avoiding the use of illustrative woodcuts and decorative initial letters.

Ecclesiasticus, an apocryphal book of the Bible, features simple initial letters hand-coloured in green or blue ink. Like Morris, Hornby believed that the type should be closely set. Hornby first employed the Subiaco type, used in Ecclesiasticus, in 1902.

He had this typeface made for him by Emery Walker (1851-1933) and Sir Sydney Cockerell (1867-1962), who copied it from a 15th century type used in Subiaco, Italy, by the German printers Konrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz. It became the Ashendene Press’s proprietary typeface.

No expense was spared in the production of the Ashendene Press books; paper was commissioned from Joseph Batchelor and Son (the paper-maker favoured by Morris) with Hornby’s own watermark, and the finest black ink was imported from Janecke of Hanover.

Our copy of Ecclesiasticus is bound in dyed red vellum with silk ties and the image reproduced here shows an extract from Book IV.

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