Calligraphic Manuscripts of Hesba Dora Webb

Scope and Content

The collection comprises two small calligraphic manuscripts written and illuminated by Hesba Dora Webb for the Caradoc Press. The first is a volume entitled The Communion Service, whilst the second is an illuminated copy of the Old Testament Book of Ruth. The manuscripts are finely executed, while not being of the very highest standard achieved by professional scribes and illuminators such as Edward Johnston and Graily Hewitt.

Administrative / Biographical History

Hesba Dora Webb and her husband Harry George Webb founded the Caradoc Press in December 1899, at their home in Priory Gardens, Bedford Park, Chiswick, West London. In establishing a private press, they were among a small band of amateur printers who were inspired by the example of William Morris and his Kelmscott Press. The press was named after Caer Caradoc, the hill in Hesba's native Shropshire. In its first ten years the press issued twenty books and two volumes of the art magazine The Acorn. All the wood engraving, typesetting, printing and binding were done, unaided, by the Webbs themselves. Their productions have been variously described as distinctly individual (Ransom) and tawdry (Cave).

Harry Webb was also a landscape and architectural painter, etcher and wood engraver, who exhibited at the Royal Academy several times. In 1909 the Webbs moved to Ravenscourt Square, Hammersmith, and the press ceased to function while Harry worked for the Art Chronicle in Fleet Street until the outbreak of World War I. After the war, in which Harry spent five years on active service, the Webbs moved to Compass House, 61 Strand on the Green. As late as 1928 they expressed a hope of restarting the press, having retained all the printing equipment, type, wood initials, borders etc. However, nothing appears to have come of this aspiration.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is available for consultation by any accredited reader.

Acquisition Information

The manuscripts were acquired by the John Rylands Library as part of Mrs Rylands's bequest in 1908.


Description compiled by Henry Sullivan and Jo Klett, project archivists, with reference to: 

  • Roderick Cave, The private press, 2nd edition (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1983);
  • Will Ransom, Private presses and their books (New York: R.R. Bowker, 1929);
  • Sir Geoffrey Tomkinson, A select bibliography of the principal modern presses, public and private, in Great Britain and Ireland (London: First Edition Club, 1928).

Other Finding Aids

Catalogued in the Hand-List of the Collection of English Manuscripts in the John Rylands Library, 1928 (English MSS 200-201).

Custodial History

Both manuscripts were previously owned by Mrs Enriqueta Augustina Rylands. She appears to have purchased English MS 201 through the Manchester booksellers Messrs Sherratt & Hughes.