The Woburn Abbey Red Book

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Bound by Shepherds, Sangorski & Sutcliffe

The Woburn Abbey Red Book
by Humphry Repton, 1805
A limited edition of 75 copies signed by the 15th Duke of Bedford
114 pages, 24 watercolours and 8 reveals (552 x 423mm)
Housed in a dark red cloth slipcase

Limited to 75 copies, of which 61 copies are for sale, this limited 'facsimile' edition was commissioned by the Duke of Bedford to mark the bicentenary of the death of innovative landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818).

Repton took great pride in the Red Books he produced to present his work to clients, of which Woburn is recognised as one of the finest examples. Shepherds, Sangorski & Sutcliffe started work on the project in early 2019 and the bindery is now approximately half way through the edition. Shepherds was given control of the whole production process including the painstaking and exacting process of disbinding the original book in order to scan the text and plates.

The printing of the facsimile was undertaken by Pureprint in Sussex using the latest Indigo printing technology. The reprographics took many months of retouching the scans to colour match as closely as possible Repton's hand painted watercolours and iron gall ink. Even the back of pages, although blank, were scanned and printed to match the appearance of the original book.

The printing was undertaken on an HP Indigo 12000 Digital Press, one of only two large format printers of its kind in the country. Indigo printing is particularly suited to close colour matching on uncoated papers and 'Somerset' 100% cotton paper was chosen for its similarity to the weight and feel of the early 19th century paper.

Every aspect of the binding follows a strict adherence to the methods and techniques used on the original Red Book housed in the library at Woburn Abbey. The Woburn Red Book was covered in straight grain morocco and J. Hewit & Sons took up the challenge of creating skins that matched the colour and texture of the original leather. The straight grain leather was boarded by hand, an ancient technique that creates the subtle texture so characteristic of late 18th century and early 19th century bindings. A video illustrating this, can be seen here. The result was a perfect match.

This attention to detail is carried through the whole production process. To achieve the antique feel of the gilding the edges were hand gilded prior to sewing, a technique known as 'rough edge gilding'. As in the original Red Book, the text leaves and plates are overcast on cords before being head-banded. The leather is then 'drawn on' over laced boards.

The gold finishing has been carried out entirely by hand closely following the original design. New tools were cut by P&S engraving to ensure the tooling matched the original patterns and three days are devoted to the gold tooling of every book. Hand tooling in gold leaf produces a lustre that cannot be reproduced by machine or the use of blocking dies.

The result is a binding that not only achieves a close match to the original Red Book but is a fine example of how specialist manufacturers such as Pureprint and J. Hewit and Son can combine both modern and traditional skills to produce great results.

For more enquiries regarding the book, please contact Nicola Allen at The Bedford Estates Office, Woburn, Beds MK17 9PQ.

Shepherds, Sangorski & Sutcliffe, can be found at or by contacting Alison Strachan at


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