William Morris, the 19th-century designer, social reformer and writer, founded the Kelmscott Press towards the end of his life. He wanted to revive the skills of hand printing, which mechanisation had destroyed, and restore the quality achieved by the pioneers of printing in the 15th century.

The magnificent The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer now newly imprinted , published in 1896, is the triumph of the press. Its 87 wood-cut illustrations are by Edward Burne-Jones, the celebrated Victorian painter, who was a life-long friend of Morris. The illustrations were engraved by William Harcourt Hooper and printed in black, with shoulder and side titles. Some lines were printed in red, using Chaucer type, with some titles in Troy type. The whole was printed on Batchelor handmade paper watermarked: Perch.

Though best-known today as a designer of fabrics and wallpapers, in his own time Morris was equally famous for his writing and his pioneering socialism. He was a man of fierce energies and strong opinions. When he was taken to court for knocking a policeman’s helmet off during a political demonstration, Morris was stubbornly unrepentant. In his socialist vision of a future Britain, News from Nowhere , the Houses of Parliament are used for the storage of dung – all they are good for, says the book’s narrator.

Kelmscott Chaucer - The British Library

The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer - Anniina Jokinen

Posted by 2018 article