Who was William Morris?

Detail of Leicester wallpaper by J H Dearle from Morris & Co

Born in Walthamstow in March 1834, William Morris founded the Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain and designed some of the most recognisable textile patterns of the nineteenth century.

Creative beginnings

At the age of 18, Morris enrolled as a student at the University of Oxford in preparation to join the clergy. It was here that he met his life-long friend and creative partner, Edward Burne-Jones.

Having become disillusioned with the church during his studies, Morris and Burne-Jones instead decided to pursue a creative life and left for London where they met the Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

Initially apprenticed to an architect, Morris soon found his true vocation in designing furniture and patterns for textiles.

Red House

Designed by the architect Philip Webb and completed in 1860, Red House was home to Morris and his new wife Janey Burden until 1865. 

The house was decorated by many of the Pre-Raphaelite circle; Rossetti and Burne-Jones both painted murals and furniture, and Burne-Jones also designed stained glass for the house, decribing it as 'the most beautifullest place on earth'.

Morris & Co.

Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co., known to its partners as ‘The Firm’, was a decorative arts company established by Morris and his close acquaintances in 1861.

The company aimed to improve the state of the decorative arts, using the ideas of John Ruskin to reform attitudes to production.

It was this enterprise that helped establish what is known as The Arts and Crafts Movement in Britain.

Literature and the printed word

Morris was most recognised in his lifetime for his contribution to Victorian poetry and is the author of many poetical works, the most famous of which are The Earthly Paradise and The Defence of Guinevere. He also wrote novels, and made an ambitious translation of the Icelandic Sagas.

His interest in the printing of books led him, in later life, to establish the Kelmscott Press. It was under the press that Morris and Burne-Jones worked together to create their renowned edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, which has been described as the most beautiful printed book in existence.

Legacy

Morris died on 3rd October 1896 at the age of 62, leaving behind some of the most iconic pieces of decorative art of the nineteenth century.

Our William Morris places and collections:

William Morris wallpaper in the Library at Speke Hall

Our William Morris collections 

Explore William Morris items in our collections, from wallpaper and textiles to ceramics and furniture...