Emery Walker

A coachbuilder’s son, Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) was born in Paddington, in central London, in 1851 but moved to Hammersmith, to the west of London, when he was about seven.  He had to leave school at 13 to help support his family when his father’s sight failed, and after trying his hand at various jobs he started work for a printer who was developing novel photo-engraving techniques for reproducing works of art; in printing Walker found his métier, and after some years was able to set up his own company to continue these technical experiments.

An assortment of objects from the house, including samples of type, William Morris’s spectacles and a cutting of his hair, and a letter to Walker from Philip Webb, thanking Walker for agreeing to be his executor.

In 1877 Walker felt secure enough in his employment to marry Mary Grace Jones. In 1879 they moved with their baby daughter Dorothy to No 3 Hammersmith Terrace, where they stayed until the move to No 7 Hammersmith Terrace in 1903.

Walker’s move to Hammersmith Terrace in the late 1870s brought him into close proximity with William Morris. Shared socialist beliefs drew the two men together in the early 1880s, but it was printing that cemented their friendship. A lecture given by Walker in 1888 at which he projected magic-lantern slides of photographs he had taken of 15th-century typefaces gave Morris the idea for the last great project of his life, the Kelmscott Press. Over the five years between its setting up and his death in 1896 it produced 52 hand-printed works, most with type and ornaments designed by Morris. Walker acted as an unofficial advisor. By the time he died, Morris ‘did not think the day complete without a sight’ of Walker.

In 1900 Walker set up his own fine-printing enterprise, the Doves Press, in partnership with the bookbinder T.J. Cobden-Sanderson. The Doves Press books, with their clean typography and spacious setting inspired the revival of private-press printing in the 20th century.

Emery Walker was a founder of, or committee member of, many of the key bodies that propagated the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement, including the Art Workers’ Guild, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. Throughout the house, one finds further evidence of his friendships with many of the key artistic, political and literary figures of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of these people, such as Count Harry Kessler and Bruce Rogers, were involved in the revival of fine printing and the private press movement in the 20th century, of which Walker can be seen as the father.

Because of the preservation in situ of Walker’s possessions, the evidence for his friendships is everywhere in 7 Hammersmith Terrace. Open a book and you find letters from Walter Crane or Rudyard Kipling used as bookmarks, open a drawer in a desk and there are several pairs of Morris’s spectacles and a cutting of his hair and, poignantly, Emery Walker’s wallet, still bearing his National Trust membership card for 1933, the year he died.

Because Walker’s wife, Mary Grace, was a semi-invalid who lived most of the time in the country, their daughter, Dorothy, looked after Walker and the house in London. Dorothy’s diaries, the early volumes of which are in the house, show just what important company Walker kept – ‘August 20, 1903: G.B.S has just send D[addy] ‘Man and Superman’ – seems most amusing’. Walker’s friendship with George Bernard Shaw had its roots in shared political interests, but was sustained by common literary and artistic interests.

From 1922 until his death in 1933 Walker took as his second home Daneway, a 14th- to 17th-century manor-house at Sapperton, near Cirencester, in an area he had known well for 20 years. His friendships with many of the craftsmen and designers who had settled in the Cotswolds are still reflected in 7 Hammersmith Terrace.

By the end of Emery Walker’s long life, his contribution was sufficiently well recognised that in 1930 he was offered – and accepted – a knighthood. This was an official demonstration of what his friends had known for many years. As the architect Philip Webb -William Morris’s dear friend and the ‘eminence grise of the Arts and Crafts movement’ – described him, Walker was the ‘Universal Samaritan… to be laid on like water only we don’t pay rates for him’.