Winterbourne Press

We love seeing visitors discover the magic of the Winterbourne Press and watching our wonderful volunteers keep 19th century printing techniques alive. But why is there a printing press at Winterbourne – and where did it come from? Read on to discover its provenance.

The Winterbourne Press came into existence in 2012, when Winterbourne salvaged some early printing presses which were at risk of being scrapped.

Our earliest machine, an 1837 Sherwin & Cope Imperial, once belonged to the Shakespeare Institute in Stratford-upon-Avon. In the 1970s, it became part of the Flat Earth Press, which was set up and run by a University of Birmingham lecturer and his students. The aim of the Flat Earth Press was primarily educational, but it also became a working press, taking on commissions.

When the Flat Earth Press ceased to exist, the machines it had acquired fell into disuse. In 2012, they were rediscovered in a basement at Westmere House, a nearby property which, like Winterbourne, had become part of University of Birmingham. Westmere was being refurbished, and the printing presses had to go. 

Rather than see these historic machines broken up and scrapped, Lee Hale, the Director of Winterbourne, salvaged and restored them with the help of volunteers. Space was identified for the presses in the former garage at Winterbourne, where the last private resident John Nicolson used to keep his Rolls Royce in the 1930s and ‘40s, and where, in more recent times, a lawn mower and tractor had been housed. From this serendipitous beginning, the Winterbourne Press was born, and it has developed organically ever since.

Different letters and patterns available to print
Winterbourne Press

A volunteer team began to coalesce, and type and other printing equipment trickled in from individuals and businesses who welcomed the chance to donate material rather than discard it. 

Printing was central to the Arts and Crafts movement, which inspired the design of Winterbourne. The most significant Arts and Crafts presses were the Kelmscott Press and Doves Press. William Morris, the Arts and Crafts designer and founder of Kelmscott Press, used a Sherwin & Cope similar to the one Winterbourne has. 

Examples of Kelmscott Press books are held by the Cadbury Research Library, the University of Birmingham’s special collection. Birmingham and the wider region played a significant role in the development of letterpress printing. The ‘Caslon’ and ‘Baskerville’ typefaces, which are still in use today, are named after the 18th century Birmingham and Midlands entrepreneurs who designed them. 

Font Card
Font Card

Winterbourne Press volunteers keep the art of print alive by sharing the Press’s local history and connections with enthusiasm and experience, and we’re proud to share that the team is growing year-on-year, consisting of retired printers, artists, educators, students, and everyone in between. Our volunteers engage with visitors and demonstrate traditional letterpress printing techniques throughout the week (most Wednesdays and Fridays), so don’t forget to drop by on your next visit to see our press in action.

Our printers even find time to produce cards, bags, and notelets for our gift shop. The shop sales of our home-printed items have flourished, and, with the soaring popularity of our printed paper bags, we’ve embarked on a venture to expand our offerings by creating a range of font-based cards for the shop. These cards have captured the hearts of our patrons and are flying off the shelves.

More designs are in the pipeline, and new Winterbourne Press bottle bags will be available for the upcoming autumn season. Purchasing our bespoke printed items helps support the ongoing restoration and conservation of the Winterbourne Press, ensuring we continue to support education, learning, and, of course, a little bit of fun!  

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