At Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum Arts and Crafts Museum

Essex House Press

'It may seem paradoxical and also presumptuous to say - and yet it is not altogether untrue - that we at Essex House have for the last twelve years or so been engaged in the making of things that we consider the public ought to want, provided meanwhile that the man that makes them is the happier in their making.'

Essex House Song Book, published by the Essex House Press, 1903-5 (detail)The Essex House Press was founded by C R Ashbee, who also ran the Guild of Handicraft.  In thr quote above he is talking about the work of both the Guild of Handicraft and the Essex House Press.

The Press is named after the London workshops of the Guild at Essex House on the Mile End Road in the East End. Ashbee bought the Kelmscott Press’s Albion printing presses after William Morris's death, and employed one of the Kelmscott compositors Thomas Binning. Ashbee was keen to carry on the work of Morris’s Press. The Essex House Press moved with the Guild to Chipping Campden in 1902, and produced 84 titles.

Ashbee created two types, Endeavour and Prayer Book, and also used the 18th-century type revived by the Chiswick Press, Caslon. Ashbee and Richard Savage designed a series of elaborate capitals which are used throughout the publications of the Press. Illustrations were done by many of the well known book illustrators of the day including Laurence Housman and William Strang, as well as local artists such as the stained glass designer Paul Woodroffe. The masterpiece of the Press was the Prayer Book produced to celebrate Edward VII coming to the throne. It is very much an Arts and Crafts production: the cover was made of oak boards fitted with hammered iron and leather clasps made by the Guild of Handicraft, and Ashbee illustrated it all himself.

The Press ran into financial difficulties around the same time as the Guild of Handicraft. In 1907 the Press closed, but it was taken over by Ashbee’s friend the Sri Lankan philosopher Ananda Coomaraswamy and continued until 1910.

Our Essex House Press books do not come from the Emery Walker Library, and indeed C R Ashbee is conspicuous in his absence from Walker’s correspondence. Ashbee and Walker would have known each other through the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), but do not appear to have corresponded. All Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum’s Essex House Press books are from the collection of Max Burroughs. Burroughs was a teacher and restorer who researched and wrote extensively on the Arts and Crafts Movement in the 1960s, and helped to bring the work of the designers back into the public notice.

Why not explore some of our Essex House Press books in the Virtual Library?

Emery Walker AD 1