These fine prints of college and city may just be Oxford’s best-kept secret.

Oxford College Fine Prints

By Ken Swift

Edmund Hort New was a dedicated member of the Arts & Crafts movement, set up to reverse the wholesale Victorian industrialisation of traditional crafts which had reduced the role of the artisan to that of a cog in a machine. After establishing himself as a book illustrator, he decided to produce, between 1907 and 1931, an immensely impressive series of views of 23 Oxford Colleges, along with a prospect of the city and a view of the High Street based on the illustrations of David Loggan over 200 years earlier.

David Loggan (1634-1692) was himself trained in the Netherlands as an engraver, and on his return to England was appointed “public sculptor” to the University of Oxford in 1669. His Oxonia Ilustrata of 1675 contained 40 double-page engravings of Oxford colleges and University buildings. These combined each facade with a bird’s-eye view of the internal lay-out of the quadrangles and buildings which bordered them.

Although a skilled illustrator in black & white, New was no engraver or printer, but he still wanted to emulate the quality and appearance of Loggan’s engravings. So, he eschewed the option of using photolithography, which is a planographic — or more simply, flat — graphic printing process. Instead, he was helped by a fellow Arts & Crafts enthusiast, Emery Walker (1851-1944), a friend and mentor of William Morris and co-founder of The Doves Press, who used a photogravure process. 

This technique produced metal plates which were exact copies, in reverse, of New’s pen & ink drawings, and could then be inked and printed by hand on an Albion flat-bed printing press. This process produced a slightly three dimensional effect, which gives the printed image a greater strength and clarity. Within a decade of New’s death, the plates, stored at Walker’s printing works in London, were destroyed during the Blitz.

Oxford College Fine Prints

The metal plate of the Edmund New view of Balliol College.

Edmund New was a devout Quaker, and not an entrepreneur: his Oxford project was a deeply personal one, and not accompanied by any active commercial considerations. Thus, there was no attempt to publish the prints as a book, and they  were stored in a series of plan chests in his home in Worcester Place, Oxford. They were priced mostly at a guinea or 25 shillings, which translates into over £100 in modern money. They are rarer than the Loggan views, and, when they do occasionally come on the market, they command greater prices.

In the late 1970’s, I discovered the remaining stock of prints in a series of plan-chests in the basement of a modern art gallery on the High Street. By this time I was selling books, maps & prints from the Turl Cash Bookshop and took over the mounting and sale of the prints on a similar commission. Many of the views had sold out, but one copy of each of those had been retained, presumably for reprinting. 

In 2002, I had multiple copies remaining of just 6 of the views, so I decided to reprint the other 17 Colleges, plus the prospect of Oxford and the High Street, by the same process that Walker had originally used. In order to attempt to equal the quality of his productions, I had them inked and printed by hand on an Albion press. 

After meeting David Carey, who lives locally to Oxford and has already had two successful professional careers, we often spoke about the Edmund New prints, and their history. He suggested that we set up a website in order to try to inform the public of the importance — the existence, even — of the views. Perhaps, at last, New’s work may reach a much wider audience.