125 Years of the Kelmscott Chaucer To Be Marked

Described as the crowning glory of William Morris's book printing venture

A copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer
A copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer

In 2021 it will be 125 years since the publication of the Kelmscott Chaucer, what has been described as the crowning glory of Morris’s book printing venture.

The William Morris Society is fortunate to own one of Morris’s original printing presses as well as a collection of Kelmscott Press books, original designs and proof pages.

The Kelmscott Press was Morris’s last great artistic venture. With the support of his friend and collaborator Emery Walker, Morris established a book printing operation near his home in Hammersmith. His respect for traditional craftsmanship, search for perfection in design and love of literature all came together in the books produced by the Kelmscott Press. The most ambitious of these was the complete works of Chaucer, described by Edward Burne-Jones as ‘like a pocket cathedral’. Published just months before Morris’s death, it embodies his highest design ideals.

Beginning on 20 March and throughout 2021 it will be celebrating this anniversary through a varied programme that will explore the processes, products and legacy of the Kelmscott Press, including:

· Talks and workshops designed to engage a range of audiences
· Two exhibitions exploring different facets of the Kelmscott Press
· A re-hang of the room in which Morris’s original printing press is housed
· A symposium on 6th November, dedicated to the Kelmscott Press and its legacies
· A special edition of the Journal of William Morris Studies

The programme launches on 20 March with an online talk by William Peterson, renowned authority on the Kelmscott Press, placing the Kelmscott Press books in the context of other Victorian attempts to revive the early traditions of book typography. The programme will be introduced by The William Morris Society’s President, Lord Sawyer of Darlington, and there will also be a short pre-recorded introduction to the new exhibition as well as a virtual demonstration of the Albion printing press.

The printing press in Kelmscott House
The printing press in Kelmscott House

Future talks include:

17 April: The Mirror of Everyday Life: Morris’s Book Collecting and the Kelmscott Press; Dr Yuri Cowan

15 May: A Kelmscott Chaucer for our times: Creating a contemporary artistic binding for a copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer; Dominic Riley, President of the Society of Bookbinders

19 June: Emery Walker, Typographer; Simon Loxley, writer and graphic designer

The William Morris Society says that it hopes that you be able to discover more about the reasons for Morris to embark on this typographical adventure, discover the beauty of the Kelmscott Press books and contemplate the lasting legacy that the Press left on the book printing world.

Kelmscott House. Picture: Google Streetview

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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March 13, 2021