The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 3
Jul 1983


Sydney Cockerell Honored

On June 22, 1982, Sydney Cockerell was conferred by Cambridge University with a degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa:

"If there be any here who love not bokes clad in blak or reed, then Far hence, ye souls profane: for now we are to sing the praises of a bookbinder: Who would not sing for Callus? and if I speak of books, I do not mean those things in paper that moderns mistake for books, but real books, in which the author's art has not been concealed but adorned by that of the bookbinder. You see here an expert in that art, the no less talented son of a very great craftsman who was also a friend and pupil of William Morris. His craft needs no oratory to praise it, but commends itself to our admiration by its own manifest beauty, as you well know if you have been able to see his works exhibited last year at the Fitzwilliam Museum or at this present time in the University Library.

"His skill cares not only for the external beauty of books. By his profound knowledge of their materials, whether paper or vellum, calf or morocco, he has himself devised new methods for the conservation of documents, made tools with his own hands, and instructed others to continue the tradition of these crafts. Now would I wish to pass over the ancient and ingenious art of making marbled paper, which he revived some fifty years ago and henceforth made his own, and which he practises with such finesse at his house at Grantchester.

"Name any really famous book--be it the Codex Sinaiticus of the gospels, or the one that Theodore Beza presented to our University, be it the Thornton Manuscript of medieval romances preserved at Lincoln, or the Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, or Trinity College's Canterbury Psalter--have they not all been admirably renovated by his craft? Do we not find the letters and papers of famous poets, scientists, and travellers repaired and preserved for future centuries by his care? Are there not new books too, in colleges and cathedrals, some printed, some written by hand to the honor of men and to the glory of God, which have been made beautiful by his skill? and was it not to him, too, that we entrusted our Chancellor's Rede Lecture, to be clothed in a binding worthy of the author?

"I present to you SYDNEY MORRIS COCKERELL, O.B.E., the master bookbinder of our time."

(From the order of proceedings etc. at the presentation of the recipients of Honorary Degrees to the Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.)

The above was reprinted last September in Paper Conservation News, which added the information that Cambridge University Library put on an exhibition to celebrate the event during June and July. It contained examples of binding and conservation work executed for the Library by the Cockerell Bindery (Douglas Cockerell & Son) from 1927 onwards.

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