We open up a drawer of personal mementos from the pivotal Arts and Crafts friendship of Emery Walker and William Morris
This little drawer is filled with curious mementos that once belonged to William Morris; it is one of the many personal possessions you may encounter if you visit the Arts and Crafts time capsule that is Emery Walker’s House at Hammersmith Terrace.
A wax candle, a pen without its nib, two pairs of spectacles, a broken dish caked with ink and a little cardboard box containing a lock of William Morris’ hair, cut on the day that he died, the 3rd of October 1896 and given to Emery Walker because of their close friendship.
All were kept as treasured reminders of a friendship and creative partnership of shared ideals.
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“The first time the two actually met was in the late 1870s after a lecture they had both attended,” says Helen Elettson, curator of the William Morris Society, which is based a short stroll away in the basement and coach house workshop of Morris’ London dwelling, Kelmscott House.
“They travelled back in the same compartment on the train back to Hammersmith and Morris noticed Walker was reading one of his books, which led to a conversation and the friendship flowed from there.”
The two had much in common: socialism, pioneering printing techniques and even photography. Emery Walker went on to become a pivotal figure in book publishing and his knowledge of the history of printing made him a fount of all wisdom to typographers all over the world, but it was printing and proximity that brought the two great figures together.
“Walker was living at 7 Hammersmith Terrace, his workshops were close by and Morris had workshops at Kelmscott,” adds Elletson, “Morris used to say his day ‘wasn’t complete without a sight of Walker’”.
Morris’s daughter, May Morris, also lived next door to Walker at number 8, so the two families were great friends and Morris was “up and down” the Thames-side terrace that skirted the two houses on a daily basis.
The pair also saw each other for their weekly socialist meetings. A membership card with the two men’s signatures as secretary and treasurer of the Hammersmith branch of the Socialist League is one of the many artefacts that can be seen at Emery Walker’s beautifully preserved house.
“On a Sunday evening here at Kelmscott House, Morris and others would give socialist lectures and Walker attended most of them, so they were together many times a week,” says Elletson.
In 1888 Walker gave a lecture at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, using large illuminated lantern slides of type designs by French printer Nicolas Jenson (1420 – 1480). Morris was in the audience and was captivated by them.
“It was a bit of a eureka moment to see these large letters,” says Elletson. “Morris had been interested in creating beautiful books and when he saw an expert like Walker going into the detail, he realized that with Walker’s help he could set up his own private printing company.”
Just a few years later in 1891, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press, which he printed using the Albion Press that can still be seen at the William Morris Society’s museum in the basement at Kelmscott House.
Walker, who set up his own printing press after Morris’ death, the Doves Press with T.J. Cobden Sanderson in 1900, was a key element in the success of the Kelmscott Press, but he was never an official partner.
“Walker was instrumental in the setting up of the Kelmscott Press, he was like an unofficial adviser,” says Elletson. “Morris wanted him to become a partner but Walker liked to stay in the shadows. He still put a huge amount of time into helping and advising Morris and a lot of people think it wouldn’t have happened without Walker, because he’d been studying typefaces and printing techniques for such a long time.
“The drawer is like a snapshot of a friendship”
“The printing that began here in Hammersmith started a printing revival that spread to America, Germany and worldwide – and it was all thanks to Morris and Walker.”
Walker’s memento from these pivotal times, an uncut printing block, which he placed in his drawer of Morris relics, has a label with Hammersmith on the side.
“It’s a really lovely memento and I can only guess that Walker acquired it because he was always in and out, helping Morris, so I imagine he must have given it to him,” says Elletson. “Walker was a few years younger than Morris and he really looked up to him as they had so much in common. His death was a huge loss for Walker.
“So the drawer is like a snapshot of a friendship. Taken together with the other gifts and souvenirs that were given to Walker by Morris’ wife Jane – especially the beautiful 17th century library chair that belonged to Morris with a beautiful tapestry cover that May created to fit her late father’s chair bears the inscription ‘MM to EW’ – it really shows what a deep friendship the two families had.”
Find out more about the life and work of Emery Walker and his friendship with William Morris at the house Emery Walker’s daughter Dorothy, and later Dorothy’s live-in companion, Elizabeth de Haas, preserved at 7 Hammersmith Terrace, London.
The William Morris Society has a small museum in the coach house and basement rooms of Kelmscott House, where they hold talks, events and exhibitions.
Emery Walker's House
London, Greater London
No 7 Hammersmith Terrace is a tall terraced house on the River Thames at Hammersmith in west London. Its sober Georgian exterior hides a secret – the decoration and furnishings preserved as they were in the lifetime of the printer Emery Walker (1851-1933), a great friend and mentor to William…
London, Greater London
Kelmscott House was William Morris's home from 1878-96 and is close to the premises of his Kelmscott Press, founded in 1890.