Emery Walker

Sir Emery Walker (1851-1933) was an expert typographer who spent his whole working life in the trade. He was and still is perceived as the father of the revival of commercial printing and had a large role to play and a positive influence on the Private Press Movement in the early 20th Century.

However, what many don’t realise was that he was also a founder and or committee member of many of the key bodies that propagated the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement. These include the Art Workers’ Guild, the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

Early Years

Emery Walker was born in Paddington on the 2nd April 1851.  The eldest of five children, Emery was named after his father who worked as a coachbuilder near Covent Garden.

By 1858 the family had moved to Hammersmith in west London. It was six years later that Emery had to leave school and find work to help support the family when his father’s eyesight failed. He was just 13 years old.

After trying his hand at various jobs he started work for Alfred Dawson in 1873,  a printer who was developing novel photo-engraving techniques for reproducing works of art. In printing Walker found his métier, and after extensive experience in the field, he set up the firm Walker and Boutall, Automatic and Photographic Engravers, with Walter Boutall.  Their work focussed on process engraving for book illustrations and he continued to develop his technical experiments.

Hammersmith Terrace

In 1877 Walker felt secure enough in his employment to marry Mary Grace Jones, who was a humorous character but suffered ill health for much of her married life.  They had a little girl, Dorothy Walker, or Dolly as she was affectionately called, who was born in 1878. The family moved to No 3 Hammersmith Terrace in 1879, but they frequently stayed for periods in the country and also travelled to warmer climes, such as Morocco, for the benefit of Mary Walker’s health.

In 1903 the Walker family moved a few doors down to 7 Hammersmith Terrace, which they took over from the Cobden-Sandersons. Hammersmith Terrace consisted of 17 Georgian houses and became an Arts and Crafts community during the early 20th Century, with residents such as May Morris (1862-1938) and the calligrapher Edward Johnston (1872-1944).   

Walker and William Morris

Walker’s move to Hammersmith Terrace in the late 1870s brought him into close proximity to 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.

The Doves Press

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. The Doves type itself stemmed from the Kelmscott Golden type, and the layout of the books, with little decoration save for the occasional hand-drawn initial letters were very much based on principles Walker had developed through his research since the 1880s.   

However the close working friendship between Walker and Cobden-Sanderson became increasingly acrimonious.  A particular point of contention was the use of the Doves type, with the result that Cobden-Sanderson secretly disposed of the type in the River Thames over a period of three months in 1916. However, we are pleased to say that the type lives again thanks to the tireless efforts of Robert Green.  You can learn more about his salvage efforts here.

Walker and the Arts and Crafts movement

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 (SPAB) and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society.

Indeed, 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.

This key involvement that Walker had in the Arts and Crafts movement and the friendships he made can be seen everywhere in 7 Hammersmith Terrace, because of the preservation in situ of Walker’s possessions, 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, further reveal 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 appreciation.

Daneway House, Sapperton

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 a number of the objects and items of furniture at 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’.