5 things you didn’t know about William Morris

11th March 2019

There’s so much to know about William Morris; in his sixty two years, he managed to achieve so much and leave such a legacy. It’s impossible to summarise it all in one blog; artist, designer, poet, writer, explorer, the list goes on. But did you know these things about Morris…

1. His nickname was Topsy. This was because of his hair that they thought was reminiscent of a characters in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

2. Morris is well known for being a socialist. He famously said, “…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ” and by the end of there 1870s, Morris was very involved in political activism. In 1883, he joined H.M. Hyndman’s Socialist League. He didn’t want to unify all the socialist groups within England as Hyndman wanted to. He therefore helped to form the new Socialist League – even becoming the editor of its journal. In 1885, he was actually arrested for disorderly conduct during a socialist demonstration (he was later discharged.)

3. If you take a look through Morris’ designs, you’ll note that his main influence for designs was nature. Taking elements of nature from animals in Strawberry Thief and Brother Rabbit to flowers in Lily and plants and trees like in Willow Bough. He loved taking walks in the countryside by his home and it was a huge point of inspiration for him

4. Along with all his other achievements, did you know William Morris set up his own printing press? The Kelmscott Press was set up as another of Morris’s attempts to keep a traditional art form going in the face of industrialisation. The art of the books you can see that he printed were stunning; he really wanted everything from the font to the details to reflect the art of the words. In 1891, Morris rented a cottage near Kelmscott House where he would set up three printing presses. He designed and manufactured editions of over 50 books – printing over 18,000 volumes from those three presses. The authors of these included his own work and those of Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Coleridge, Swinburne and Rossetti. These were works he loved and was inspired by.

5. In 1860, Morris and his wife Jane moved into their home Red House. The architect on the project was friend Philip Webb who worked with Morris on his dream home. They spent the following two years decorating the home to their taste, in doing so they enlisted help from their friends on the artistic scene. The result was a stunning showcase of design; murals on the walls, hand embroidered fabrics and details that would have rivalled even the most decadent of homes. The ‘joy in collective labour’ that occurred during this time, coupled with the fact Morris was unhappy that there was nothing on the market that he could buy that he felt was beautiful enough to be in his home was the prompt for The Firm. In 1861, Morris and his artistic friends decided to create their own interiors business. All had varied skills and so they wanted to make it a joy in their skills and passions coming together to create stunning interior furnishings for peoples homes. Of course – it would also be rebelling against industrialisation at the time by using skilled craftsmen. ‘The Firm’ as it was lovingly referred to was actually called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. and when it was disbanded, became Morris & Co. – Morris’s legacy.

It was so hard for us to pair this down to only five facts! There was so much for us to choose from to talk about within this blog. But, if you’re interested in learning more about Morris, please make sure you read all our other blogs!