A NEW Exhibition at the Court Barn museum in Chipping Campden will celebrate fine books printed more than a century ago by the Essex House Press.

The exhibition will run from Saturday, October 8 to Sunday, November 20, with the aim of looking at the books "not just as words on the page, but as beautiful objects".

A spokesman said: "In 1888 a young architect, Charles Robert Ashbee, set up craft workshops called the Guild of Handicraft in East London, with the idea of doing beautiful, satisfying work. They made furniture, metalwork and jewellery, and in 1898 Ashbee added printing, taking over staff and equipment from William Morris’s famous Kelmscott Press.

"Between 1898 and 1909 the Essex House Press produced more than ninety titles, and about half of them were illustrated or decorated in some way."

The spokesman added: "The Essex House Press was one of the so-called private presses of around 1900, devoted to fine printing for its own sake. Private-press printers worked ‘by hand’. They used hand-made paper and cast-iron presses like fifteenth-century wooden ones. They designed their own typefaces to print black and solid on the page; and they had their illustrations engraved on wood for a similar effect."

Like other private-press printers, Ashbee liked to print literary classics. From 1900 onwards, he issued a uniform series called ‘Great Poems of the Language’ – fourteen short and famous poems, printed on vellum, each illustrated with a frontispiece and decorated with hand-coloured initials.

The spokesman said: "The outstanding illustrator of this series, and of Essex House books generally, was Reginald Savage, whose wood engravings convey a marvellous sense of texture. Laurence Housman, a fellow artist, said of Savage, ‘he does hair so beautifully – don’t you like his hair? You know, I get my hair from him’."

In addition, some Essex House Press books were stimulated by Ashbee’s work as an architect and designer. A Book of Cottages and Little Houses described his building work in Chipping Campden. Modern English Silverwork and The Private Press were both gestures of defiance, Ashbee bravely cataloguing his work in silver and in print just as the Guild of Handicraft was going into liquidation.

Further details about the exhibition at: www.courtbarn.org.uk and by phoning 01386 841951.