William Morris Society Holding New Exhibition on the Kelmscott Press

Explores Hammersmith connections to the 'Ideal Book'

The Kelmscott Chaucer - a book described as a pocket cathedral The Kelmscott Chaucer - a book described as a pocket cathedral

A new exhibition on William Morris's private printing press is taking place at The William Morris Society on the Upper Mall, Hammersmith.

The free display explores the book printing enterprise of the Victorian local resident William Morris and his quest for the ‘ideal book’. It explores Morris’s book printing enterprise and showcases several rarely seen objects from the Society’s Kelmscott Press collection, including the famous Kelmscott Chaucer.

Named after his home Kelmscott House on the Upper Mall, the Kelmscott Press was the last great artistic adventure of the 19th century designer, poet, writer, socialist and publisher.

“I began printing books with the hope of producing some which would have a definite claim to beauty, while at the same time they should be easy to read and should not dazzle the eye” wrote Morris in 1895.

With the help of his friend and neighbour Emery Walker, Morris established a book printing operation a few doors away from his home on the Upper Mall. He sought to show that by adding “beautiful ornament and pictures, printed books might once again illustrate that a work of utility also be a work of art”.

Kelmscott House in Hammersmith. Picture: Google Streetview

His respect for traditional craftsmanship, search for perfection in design and love of literature come together in the works produced by the Kelmscott Press. Morris’s quest for the ‘ideal book’ culminated in the production of the full works of Geoffrey Chaucer - the magnificent Kelmscott Chaucer - in 1896, mere months before his death. Described by his collaborator in the project the painter Edward Burne-Jones as “like a pocket cathedral”, it embodies Morris’s highest ideals of book design.

The legacy of the Kelmscott Press has been vast, inspiring book design and private printing press movements around the world. Morris’s last Albion printing press in the UK - used in the production of the Kelmscott Chaucer – is on display in the exhibition as well as a large collection of Kelmscott Press books and ephemera.

The Ideal Book: William Morris and the Kelmscott Press runs until 2 April 2023 in the Coach House, Kelmscott House, 26 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, (W6 9TA).

It is open Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays 2 – 5pm. Free admission.

The William Morris Society exists to make better known the life, work and ideas of William Morris, designer, craftsman, poet and socialist. The Society’s premises are in the Coach House and basement of Kelmscott House, Morris’s Hammersmith home for the last 18 years of his life.

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November 8, 2022