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Biographies of the Key Figures Involved in the Doves Press

Biographies of the Key Figures Involved in the Doves Press

Marianne Tidcombe

was born in Alnwick, Northumberland, on 2 December 1840. His father, James Sanderson, was a surveyor of taxes who worked his way up the civil service ladder, and eventually became Special Commissioner of Income Tax at Somerset House. During this time, the family moved to Hull, Worcester, Rochdale, and Manchester, before ending up in London. At the age of sixteen, Tom Sanderson, as he was then, was apprenticed to a shipbuilder, in the engineering draughting department, but after a year he asked to have his articles cancelled. He then went on to study mathematics at Owens College, Manchester, and Trinity College Cambridge. When he entered university, he expected, ultimately, to be ordained, but before long he had abandoned his Christian faith, and left Cambridge without a degree in 1863. For several years, he studied the writings of Carlyle and the German philosophers, and at one point attempted to write, although without much success. He also considered medicine, and even, as he was praised for his acting at Cambridge, a career on the stage; but eventually he settled on the law. In 1871, he was called to the bar as a member of the Inner Temple, and spent the next ten years carrying out the tedious and exhausting work of codifying the powers, rights, duties and obligations of the London and North Western Railway Company. In 1881, he met the woman who was to change his life, Annie Cobden, daughter of the free-trade politician, and they were married the following year. Sanderson was a great admirer of Richard Cobden, and immediately prefixed his wife’s surname to his own, so that she and their children (Richard and Stella, born in 1884 and 1886) would keep the name. Annie had inherited a little money, with which she was able to support both herself and her husband, and, a few months after their marriage, she agreed that he should give up the legal work he found so stressful, and become a bookbinder. Within a few years, Cobden-Sanderson mastered the skills of hand-bookbinding, and established a reputation as one of the best binders in England. In 1893, he founded the Doves Bindery at 15 Upper Mall, Hammersmith, opposite the Kelmscott Press.

In 1888, Cobden-Sanderson became Hon. Secretary of the newly formed Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society. It was he who gave the Society its name, which in turn gave the name to the whole movement. He also formulated the Society’s Rule Four, which required that the ‘responsible executants’ of all works shown should be named in the exhibition catalogues. He fought tirelessly for this principle, and complained bitterly whenever a designer or firm neglected to provide the names of the craftsmen who actually did the work. Although his stand was supported by a majority of members of the Committee, some exhibitors objected, including William Morris, who thought his firm’s name was sufficient; and after Cobden-Sanderson resigned as Hon. Secretary in 1901, the rule was less strictly applied. Cobden-Sanderson remained on the Selection and Hanging Committees for the Society’s 1903 Arts and Crafts exhibition, and, in 1912, he was made one of only two Hon. Members of the Society. He was Visiting Lecturer at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, and Chairman of the Subcommittee on Decoration and Design of the Art Workers Guild; but, from the time he started the Doves Press in 1900, he began to withdraw from these outside activities.

Cobden-Sanderson was a perfectionist. At the Doves Bindery he insisted on everything being done his way, down to the smallest detail. He followed the same principle at the Doves Press, although he was always careful to give due credit to everyone who was involved in each book: the compositors, pressmen, and indeed anyone who contributed, were all named in the colophon. When Cobden-Sanderson realized that Emery Walker was not going to do any of the hands-on work of the Press, he became increasingly irritated at having to put Walker’s name in the colophon, and, when the partnership was dissolved in 1909, Walker’s name was deleted. In 1912, Cobden-Sanderson exhibited ten books printed after the partnership ended, under his name and the names of the Doves Press compositor and pressmen. At the next exhibition in 1916, Walker retaliated by exhibiting several books from the Press under his name alone. Cobden-Sanderson was so incensed by this, the clearest possible breach of Rule Four, that he never exhibited anything again.

Cobden-Sanderson was one of the few people, while William Morris was still alive, to have the temerity to criticize the books of the Kelmscott Press. This, and Cobden-Sanderson’s chiding of Morris that he did not live by the principles of socialism he espoused, caused resentment among Morris’s friends, particularly Emery Walker and Sydney Cockerell, who practically worshipped Morris. Douglas Cockerell, Sydney’s younger brother, who was Cobden-Sanderson’s apprentice at the Doves Bindery, wrote of his great debt to Cobden-Sanderson in his Bookbinding and the Care of Books (1901). In old age, he wrote to Ward Ritchie, ‘Cobden-Sanderson was a man of great-refinement & taste with a good brain’, but added, ‘He was egotistical & introspective and had little power of cooperation.’1 This was after Sydney had published some of Cobden-Sanderson’s letters in Friends of a Lifetime (1940). To his brother, Douglas wrote even more harshly about his former master:

Cobden-Sanderson’s egotism was almost pathological. He lacked the power of co-operation almost entirely and was almost insanely jealous of any reputation, even Morris’s that might rival his own. He lived in a world of his own creation, swayed by emotional storms of great intensity, and I doubt if he was capable of true friendship. He was, however, capable of very generous actions, and without doubt had a remarkable brain…2

Cockerell may have changed his attitude after reading Cobden-Sanderson’s Journals, in which doubts are expressed about Cockerell’s potential as a craftsman. Also, when Cockerell set up his own bindery, Cobden-Sanderson showed little enthusiasm for his designs, and was scornful that although Cockerell took full credit for his bindings, he did not execute them himself. In his youth, Cobden-Sanderson sometimes suffered bouts of almost suicidal depression, but his outlook gradually improved when, in later life, he turned to more creative work. He developed a philosophy of life, which he called Cosmic Vision, based on a profound sense of unity with the universe around him. He found the answers to all his early questionings, and happiness itself, in the act of creation, in aiming for perfection, and in seeking balance and harmony with the environment. So strong was his belief, that he was willing to forsake all else in his desire to produce the ideal book. Without his Vision, he would probably not have bound a book, nor printed one. Few, even among his small circle of friends in the arts and crafts movement, understood Cobden-Sanderson’s philosophy. Most of them regarded him as a little odd, some as a little mad.

Although undoubtedly an egotist, Cobden-Sanderson did not seek fame, honour, or financial reward. His sole object was that the Doves Press should produce the ideal book, and, in this, he, Johnston and Mason were as one. In fact, Cobden-Sanderson deprecated personal recognition, and made a point of refusing all honours. In the end, he knowingly sacrificed his reputation for the sake of the Press. He chose to destroy his beautiful Doves type rather than allow it to be used to produce legions of sham Doves Press books.3

HARRY GAGE-COLE was born in Hammersmith in 1877, and lived there most of his life. His father, whose name was Samuel Cole, was a railway fireman, and later an engine driver. When the Kelmscott Press opened in 1891, Harry was taken on as an apprentice pressman, and was still serving his time when the press closed in March 1898; he then went to work for C.T. Jacobi at the Chiswick Press, and became a journeyman just before he left to take the job of pressman at the Doves Press in 1900. Gage was his grandmother’s maiden name, and his middle name; it has been said that he added the hyphen when he became a pressman, as a permanent link with the pressman’s gauge. Cobden-Sanderson, however, always called him Cole. Harry married while he was at the Doves Press, and proceeded to have seven children. When his wife died of pneumonia in 1913, his sister Bertha moved in and looked after the family. At the Doves Press, Gage-Cole was responsible for almost all of the presswork from the start of the Press until war broke out in 1914. As a Territorial, a drummer in the 13th London Regiment, known as the ‘Kensingtons’, he was called to the front in the early months of the war, and served there for the whole of the next four years as a stretcher bearer. Gage-Cole passed over his work at the Doves Press to Albert Lewis, who had come as a boy to assist him in 1905, and Albert continued as pressman until the Press closed. After the war, Mason asked Gage-Cole to print a number of books typeset by students at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, and to make a number of trips to Weimar in Germany to help print the books at Count Kessler’s Cranach Press. Later, Gage-Cole printed books for the Swan Press in Chelsea, and for B. Fairfax Hall’s Stourton Press; and, after the death of George Faulkner, St John Hornby’s pressman, he also printed the last publications of the Ashendene Press. When he worked at the Doves Press, Gage-Cole lived in Kilmarsh Road, near Hammersmith Broadway. In 1927 he bought a house in Hounslow, which he called ‘Kelmscott’, where he lived with his sister Bertha and an unmarried daughter, Ada, until he died in 1943.

EDWARD JOHNSTON was born to Scottish parents in Uruguay in 1872. The family returned to Britain when he was very young, and, for reasons that are not entirely clear, proceeded to move from town to town, living in a series of rented rooms. Edward suffered from poor health, said to be partly due to a poor early diet in South America, and, in addition to an excessive number of colds, this produced in him an almost pathological slowness, together with signs of premature ageing. However, he seems to have inherited some of his idiosyncratic behaviour from his eccentric father. Edward never went to school, but being interested in physics and mathematics, managed fairly successfully to teach himself. He especially enjoyed finding out how things worked, and mending things. After attending the University Preparatory Institute in Edinburgh in 1896, he began, without much enthusiasm, to study medicine at Edinburgh, but gave it up a year or so later. He then began to look for something he could do in the way of handwriting and lettering, in which he had developed an interest. Through his relations, he managed to meet the calligrapher Harry Cowlishaw, and W.R. Lethaby, principal of the newly-formed Central School of Arts and Crafts. In September 1899, Johnston started teaching calligraphy at the Central School, where his pupils included the young Eric Gill, Graily Hewitt, and, for a short time, Cobden-Sanderson. In 1901, Johnston began teaching at the Royal College of Art, and in 1906 published his manual, Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering. Sydney Cockerell described Johnston as ‘a saint-like genius, with the highest possible taste’, but added that he also had the ‘habit of leaving the letters of would-be clients unanswered, and even unopened’, and ‘seemed to avoid rather than seek commissions.’ However, Cobden-Sanderson and Johnston shared the same idealist attitude towards their work, an attitude that extended to life, and everything else. Johnston, unlike Cobden-Sanderson, held conventional Christian views, but both men spoke of their work in similar semi-religious terms, a combination of prayer and praise. It literally made Johnston feel ill to see work badly done. Although Cobden-Sanderson was 32 years older than Johnston, and took an almost fatherly interest in him, their creative work together was the kind of partnership that Cobden-Sanderson had always hoped for, and they brought out the best in each other. Johnston said Cobden-Sanderson understood him well enough to ‘pitch into’ him if what he had done was ‘not up to time or standard’. In addition to his book, Johnston is best known for his sans serif lettering for the London Underground in 1916, and for the profound influence he had on calligraphers and typographers, in Britain and Germany; however, his best early work was for Cobden-Sanderson and the Doves Press. Johnston continued working until 1932, and died in 1944.

JOHN HENRY MASON was born in 1875, in the Borough of Lambeth, London, where his father, a carriage builder, was said to be the highest paid workman in the London General Omnibus Company. Mason left school at the age of thirteen, but, as he had a deep interest in language and languages, continued to educate himself. In addition to studying the Greek and Latin classics, he took private tuition in a number of other languages, and attended evening classes in art, archaeology, linguistics, and phonetics. He started work in 1888 as a proof-reading boy at Ballantyne, Hanson and Company, the London printers. In 1891, he was taken on as an apprentice compositor there, and stayed on as a journeyman. Mason’s first experience of private press books was at Ballantynes in 1896, when they began printing the Vale Press books for Charles Ricketts. After a disastrous fire at Ballantynes in 1899, which destroyed most of Ricketts’ designs for borders and initials, the firm moved to temporary premises in Covent Garden. Mason worked there for a short while before being made redundant, but, fortunately this occurred at about the time Cobden-Sanderson was looking for a compositor for the Doves Press. Mason joined Cobden-Sanderson at the Press in May 1900; he came to live at 7 Wingate Street, Hammersmith. Noel Rooke, later one of Mason’s teaching colleagues at the Central School, described Mason’s initial experience at the Doves Press by comparing it to another event in his life. Mason had suffered from poor eyesight all his life, but he did not realize how poor it was until he put on his first pair of spectacles. When he came out of the optician’s shop after dark, Rooke said, ‘As an unbelievable miracle he saw for the first time the stars in all their hundreds and thousands; he had never imagined anything like it.’ Similarly, at the Doves Press, ‘whole constellations of printing’ were revealed to him; soon ‘… nothing in printing, short of the best that could exist, would satisfy him. Anything that was derogatory or hindered the search for perfection was an offence.’ In 1909, after nine-and-a-half years, Mason left the Doves Press to take up a full-time post teaching printing at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in Southampton Row. In 1913, together with Gerard T. Meynell, F. Ernest Jackson, and Edward Johnston, Mason set out to raise the general standard of printing in Britain by founding the distinguished, but short-lived, journal The Imprint. Immediately before the First World War, he was also instrumental in helping Count Kessler set up the Cranach Press in Weimar. Mason remained active up to the early 1940s, and, at the start of the Second World War, was evacuated with the Central’s Day Technical School to Newbury. He died at his home in Putney in 1951.

EDWARD PHILIP PRINCE was born in 1846, in Kennington, south London, where his father was a schoolmaster. At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to the well-known punch-cutter Frederick Tarrant, and continued to work for Tarrant for many years. In about 1878, Tarrant and Prince cut the punches for the typeface Tudor Black, based on a 15th century model, for Miller & Richard. Five or six years later, Prince left Tarrant and became a free-lance punch-cutter, working from his home at 70 Liverpool Road, Islington. Most of his work seems to have come from R.H. Stevens & Co., but he also received commissions from Sir Charles Reed & Son’s Fann Street Foundry, where the Kelmscott types were cast, and from Miller & Richard, who cast the Doves type. In a few years, he was experienced in cutting all sorts and sizes of ‘trade’ faces. There was only a handful of free-lance punch-cutters in 19th-century England, and by the last decade of the century there were few who could do first quality work. Emery Walker knew about Prince because once, when he worked for Alfred Dawson, Dawson had some punches cut by Frederick Tarrant, Prince’s employer. Therefore, in 1890, when Walker was helping William Morris to get the Golden type made for the Kelmscott Press, he naturally thought of Prince. Prince also cut the punches for the Troy and Chaucer black-face types for the Kelmscott Press in 1892, and the Vale type for Charles Ricketts in 1896.Three years later in 1899, at the age of fifty-three, Prince cut the punches for the Doves type. Although he is best known for cutting punches for the late 19th and early 20th century private presses, Prince seems to have had no special preference for this work, and the great bulk of his commissions came from trade firms. By all accounts, he was a quiet, unassuming man, and an excellent conscientious workman. Prince went on to cut types for the Ashendene Press, Essex House Press, Eragny Press, and the Cranach Press. At the urging of J.H. Mason, the Doves Press compositor, Prince taught a class in punch-cutting at the Central School of Arts and Crafts, from 1914 to 1918. He continued cutting punches until shortly before his death on 2 December 1923, at his home in Warltersville Road, Crouch End, north London.

EMERY WALKER was the last in a long line of Emery Walkers who originally came from Aynho, Northamptonshire. His father, a London coach builder, married Mary Anne Barber, and Emery, their first child, was born in 1851 in Paddington. Soon afterwards, the family moved to Hammersmith, and Walker went to school at St Mark’s College in Chelsea. When he was thirteen, however, Walker was forced to leave school as his father had gone blind, and he was obliged to take various jobs to help support the family. As a young man, Walker came under the influence of Henry Arthur Jones, the playwright, and Henry Dawson, a Chiswick landscape painter, who taught at the Sunday school Walker attended. In 1872, Dawson’s son Alfred founded the Typographic Etching Company, and Walker went to work for him the following year. Dawsons was one of several London firms that used various mechanical, chemical, and photographic processes to make plates for reproducing illustrations. During the time he was with the firm, Walker developed a special interest in the photo-intaglio process of engraving, known as photogravure, on which he later made his reputation. He eventually became Dawson’s manager, and learned to run a business. In 1877, Walker married Mary Grace Jones, whose father, William Jones, was a supervisor in the Inland Revenue. Both families lived near Hammersmith Bridge, the Joneses in Bridge Avenue, south of King Street, and the Walkers to the north, in Cambridge Road (now Cambridge Grove). Walker’s daughter Dorothy was born the following year, and, in 1879, the family moved to No.3 Hammersmith Terrace. When Walker left Dawsons in 1883, he worked for a while with his brother-in-law, Robert Dunthorne, who had a print selling business in Vigo Street. Dunthorne did a little publishing, mainly of his own catalogues, but also, on one occasion, an edition of Browning’s Pied Piper of Hamelin (1884). This is an odd little book, printed in gothic type in red and black at the Chiswick Press, and illustrated with etchings by R.W. Macbeth. Although Walker’s name does not appear on the book, the decorative woodcut initials by W.H. Hooper, who lived in Hammersmith Terrace, and did woodcuts for both the Kelmscott and Doves Presses, suggest that Walker may have been involved. In 1886, Walker borrowed £500 from Henry Arthur Jones to start a photographic engraving business in partnership with Walter Boutall. They established offices at 16 Clifford’s Inn, Fleet Street, and works at Sussex House, a fine Georgian house, at 12 Upper Mall, Hammersmith. The firm was a success, and it was not long before Walker began to expand the business. When Boutall retired in 1900, Walker took on Sydney Cockerell as a partner. At about the same time, Walker bought the goodwill of Dawsons, and extended his works into No.14 Upper Mall (the smaller part of Sussex House, called Sussex Cottage, previously occupied by the Kelmscott Press), and into No.13, attached to No.15, the Doves Bindery, across the street. When Cockerell left in 1904, Walker’s workload increased, and he took on even more when he opened new works for half-tone blocks and collotype in Shepherd’s Bush in 1905.

In 1888, when Walker gave his first lecture on printing, his life was simpler, and in 1889 he was pleased to help William Morris design his types and set up the Kelmscott Press. Ten years later, when he got involved with Cobden-Sanderson, he was too busy to do more than advise, and to look in on the Press each day on his way to work. During the time he was a partner in the Doves Press, and in addition to his heavy business commitments, Walker served on the committees of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings, the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, and the Art Workers Guild (where he was Master in 1904). In 1902, he became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and was an adviser to the London County Council Technical Education Board, the Hammersmith School of Building and Arts and Crafts, and the School of Photo-Engraving and Lithography at Bolt Court. After 1904, Walker also somehow found time to give practical advice to Count Kessler on setting up the Cranach Press in Weimar, and to advise a number of other printers who were starting private presses. Noel Rooke, who began working for Walker’s firm as a boy in 1899 and knew him well, described his typical schedule:

His one solid meal of the day was breakfast, taken on one occasion, I remember, in an atmosphere of eighteenth-century leisure, as a suitable foil to what would follow. By 9.30 he would be in full activity at his Sussex House works close to his home, where photogravure, maps, and book-illustrations were made, and where many times I have witnessed the speed and conciseness of his mind. The next task would be at the Shepherd’s Bush works where collotype, line, halftone, and colour blocks were made. Then to his office in Clifford’s Inn, Fleet Street, to deal with correspondence and interview clients. These activities were followed by visits to other clients at their offices or homes. Lunch was a meal that was often ignored, and any offer of an afternoon cup of tea would be declined, because ‘it would spoil my dinner’. Between five and six o’clock the period of committee meetings began; there was one for nearly every day in the week, and on some of them he was the leading spirit. I remember particularly those of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings; by 7 pm the agenda in the Adelphi would be completed, and then some of the party always adjourned to Gatti’s Restaurant across the Strand for supper, amongst quips and jests of heroic quality. In his case the meal usually consisted of one large Spanish onion, a little wine, and then coffee.4

Walker was a multi-faceted character, like Cobden-Sanderson. He was ‘the brown velveteen artist’5 of the William Morris circle, and a prominent member of the Hammersmith Socialist Society. However, he could also be conservative: C. R. Ashbee thought his conservatism injured the Art Workers Guild and the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, because ‘the restraining touch was too strong.’6 Walker was a hard-working businessman and committeeman, but he invariably reserved his weekends for more pleasurable pursuits, and for entertaining guests in his house in the country, which, in later years, was Daneway in Gloucestershire. Walker was Sandars Lecturer in Bibliography at Cambridge in 1924; and was knighted for his services to printing in 1930. He became an honorary fellow of Jesus College, Cambridge shortly before his death in 1933.
Further Reading

1 17 April 1940. Copy from Ward Ritchie, 20 May 1992.

2 Blunt, Cockerell, p.83.

3 For further details of Cobden-Sanderson’s life and work, see the introductions to C-S Bookbindings and to Doves Bindery.

4 Noel Rooke, ‘Sir Emery Walker 1851–1933’, Penrose Annual, vol.58 (1954), pp.40–43.

5 Bernard H. Newdigate, ‘Contemporary Printers, II. Emery Walker’, The Fleuron, No.4 (1925), p.65–68.

6 C. R. Ashbee, ‘Masters of the Art Workers Guild’, typescript (1934), Art Workers Guild, London.

Excerpts from Marianne Tidcombe, The Doves Press. Oak Knoll Press 2003. Published with the kind permission of Bob Fleck (Oak Knoll Press).  

Published since 22 Dec 2009