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At Emery Walker’s House

May 14, 2017
by the gentle author

Kelmscott Press & Doves Press editions at Emery Walker’s House

Typographer and Printer, Emery Walker and Designer and Poet, William Morris both lived in houses on the Thames in Hammersmith, but they first met at a Socialist meeting in Bethnal Green and travelled home together on the train to West London.

Today both houses are adorned with plaques commemorating their illustrious former residents, and remarkably Emery Walker’s House in Hammersmith Terrace has survived almost as he left it, thanks to the benign auspices of his daughter, Dorothy, and her companion Elizabeth de Haas. Today it boasts one of London’s best preserved Arts & Crafts interiors and stepping through the threshold – as I did last week – is to step back in time and encounter the dramas that were played out here over a century ago.

After their first meeting, Emery Walker and William Morris met each other regularly walking on the riverside path and soon became firm friends. Morris once commented that his day was not complete without a sight of Walker and the outcome of their friendship was that Emery Walker took responsibility for the technical side of Morris’ printing endeavours at the Kelmscott Press – designing the Kelmscott typeface – and then subsequently nursing Morris through his final illness.

The previous resident of Emery Walker’s house was Thomas Cobden-Sanderson, who is credited with coining the phrase ‘arts and crafts.’ After Morris’ death, he and Emery Walker established the Doves Press in 1900, for which Walker designed the celebrated Doves typeface. Although this highly successful creative partnership set the precedent for the private press movement of the twentieth century and they employed typographer Edward Johnston, who also lived in Hammersmith Terrace, it came to grief due to Cobden-Sanderson’s volatile emotional behaviour. The nadir arrived when Cobden-Sanderson dumped more than a ton of Doves type off Hammersmith Bridge to prevent Emery Walker having any further use of it. Only in own time have specimens been retrieved from the Thames and the font recreated digitally.

Meanwhile, William Morris’ daughter May and her husband, Henry Halliday Sparling, who was Secretary of the Socialist League moved in next door to Emery Walker – until May’s lover, George Bernard Shaw, moved in with them too and Henry Halliday Sparling moved out.

As with many old houses, you wish the walls could speak to you of the former residents and at Emery Walker’s house they do, because they are all papered with designs by William Morris. Within these richly patterned walls are rare pieces of furniture by Philip Webb, hangings and carpets by Morris & Co, photographs of William Morris by Emery Walker, a drawing of May Morris by Edward Burne Jones, needlework by May Morris and more. Most of the clutter and paraphernalia gathered by Emery Walker remains, including a lock of William Morris’ hair and several pairs of his spectacles.

Yet in spite of these treasures, it is the unselfconsciously shabby, lived-in quality of the house which is most appealing, mixing as many as five different William Morris textile and wallpaper designs in one room. Elsewhere, a Philip Webb linen press has been moved, revealing an earlier Morris wallpaper behind it and a more recent Morris paper applied only on the walls surrounding it.

Thus, the ghosts of the long-gone linger in this shadowy old riverside house in Hammersmith.

Looking upriver

This seventeenth century chair belonged to William Morris and was given to Emery Walker by May Morris after her father’s death with addition of the tapestry cushion designed and worked by May

Portraits of William Morris taken by Emery Walker

Four different designs by William Morris for Morris & Co combined in the same room

Emory Walker looks down from the chimney breast in his drawing room. The teapot and salts once belonged to Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Fireplace with tiles by William de Morgan

Traditional English rush-seated ladder back chair by Ernest Barnsley and Morris & Co carpet bearing the tulip and lily design which is believed to have belonged to Morris, acquired from the sale at Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire

William Morris’ daisy wallpaper and Sussex chairs in the bedroom overlooking the river

Woollen bedcover embroidered by May Morris

Looking downstream

A yellow flag iris at Hammersmith Bridge where Emery Walker’s Doves typeface was dumped in to the Thames by Thomas Cobden-Sanderson

Emery Walkers’s House, 7 Hammersmith Terrace, W8  9TS, may be visited by tours which can be booked at www.emerywalker.org.uk

4 Responses leave one →
  1. Geraldine Moyle permalink
    May 14, 2017

    Little Wapping was the informal name of the 19th century riverside neighborhood in Hammersmith south of King Street, & between the banks of Hammersmith Creek to the west & Hammersmith Bridge to the east. From the 1830s onward, it became increasingly industrialized (most notably by a large lead mills) & dense with tenement housing in-filled between factories & workshops. “Little Wapping” was by way of being a pejorative nickname for the resulting slum district.

    Here’s May Morris on Kelmscott House: “As in all “left-behind” neighborhoods on the skirts of a great city, our suburb was full of contrasts ~ squalor & desolation: sunny corners & sweet gardens. The way from the noisy high street [King Street] ~ the main road [Hampshire Hog Lane] of a poor over-crowded quarter between town & country ~ ended in sudden quiet & the sparkle & freshness of the water seen through tall elms in the bastion said to be part of Queen Catherine of Braganza’s building, when, after the death of Charles II, she lived in a house on the Upper Mall. In her day the gardens probably came down to the riverside, occupying the space now covered by the road. Doubtless she used our water-gate in all dignified seclusion; in our day ragged mites from the neighbouring riverside slum would tumble around, turning our garden-steps too into their playground, & generally, it must be said, rending the sweet air with their
    “children’s voices,” till I, from a neighbouring room, have heard my poor father, enduring until the exact moment came when he could endure no longer, go out & beg them to give him a little peace & quiet & play elsewhere for a while.”

  2. May 14, 2017

    A very interesting and well preserved house to visit, although I must confess that I would not like to live with all those patterns. Now I understand Oscar Wilde’s quote, ‘Either the wallpaper goes or I do’. Valerie

  3. Paul Rennie permalink
    May 14, 2017

    I briefly rented the basement of Walker’s house in the early 1980s…It was the first time I’d lived in London. The deal was to pay rent and do odd jobs for the lady upstairs, sweeping leaves and cleaning the car and so on. There were some strange house rules too…

    I remember that she once asked me to fix her electric cooker and handed me a screw driver…but she hadn’t unplugged the machine, and I was thrown back across the kitchen. That was a shock!
    Luckily, I survived.

    Back then, the house was even more a kind of shrine, and had a more-or-less complete set of Kelmscott Press books. A few hardy souls would visit and ask to see the books…and were allowed to look at them, but only from a distance. Looking, but not touching!
    The books are now in Cheltenham Museum. There’s an account of the library in old copy of Matrix.

    I didn’t stay long, but it was quite an experience.
    As things turned out, I made my life as a design and print historian…

    PS
    Karen, my wife’s, family have also featured recently in SpitalfieldsLife…it’s uncanny!

  4. pauline taylor permalink
    May 14, 2017

    A very interesting insight into this house although I must admit that the décor is all much too ‘busy’ for my taste, but the views out across the river make a welcome break from all those patterns. I have to say that I think I would have agreed with Oscar Wilde !

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