Book Beautiful

Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft celebrates the centenary of the village's St Dominic's Press, with a fascinating exhibition charting the influence of William Morris and the Kelmscott Press on its development.

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Ditchling Museum of Art + Craft continues its series of excellent exhibitions, looking at the influence that William Morris and the Kelmscott Press had on the development of Hilary Pepler’s St Dominic’s Press. Originally known as the Stanhope Press, and acquired by Ditching resident Hilary Pepler, the St Dominic's Press (as it became known in 1918) played a key part in the lives of the community of artists and craftspeople who settled in Ditchling and who became known as the Guild of St Joseph and St Dominic.

Founded twenty-five years later, Pepler's St Dominic's Press is often seen as a direct descendent of William Morris' influential Kelmscott Press. Before moving to East Sussex, Pepler lived in Hammersmith, where he mixed with the likes of the Doves Press founders Cobden Sanderson and Emery Walker, and fellow Ditchling emigres Eric Gill and Edward Johnston. Pepler found kindred spirits in Hammersmith, and he was inspired to start the Hampshire House Workshops which provided education and opportunities for working men in poor areas (including drama, lectures and an annual art exhibition). Belgian refugees were employed during the First World War and they were encouraged to make crutches and splints for the war effort.  

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Beer label close up, Stanhope Press, 1916

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Hampshire House Exhibition Catalogue, engraving by Hilary Pepler, 1915

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Catalogue of Books no. 1, St Dominic’s Press, 1916

St Dominic's Press reflected the aims of Ditchling's artistic community – promoting the importance of the printed word, preserving the village's traditional crafts and acting as a working press to serve the various printing needs of the village. These informed the press's early output, which included the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, beer bottle labels for the local brewery, and weaver Ethel Mairet’s A Book of Vegetable Dyes.

In addition to the exhibition on St Dominic's Press, there's a chance to see the results of a live research project based on Ethel Mairet's influential text, which will be displayed alongside examples of the weaver's work taken from the museum's own collection. And if that's not enough to tempt you to East Sussex, there's also a chance to see the work of renowned illustrator (and Ditchling resident) John Vernon Lord.

The Book Beautiful: William Morris, Hilary Pepler and the Private Press Story runs until 16 April 2017.

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General Printing, St Dominic’s Press

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Hampshire Hog logo, 1915