William Morris; the Early Years

6th August 2019

There’s lots that we love to blog about when it comes to William Morris; from his designs, life work, family and life story. The list goes on. There is so much that we can talk about that we never get bored! We hope you don’t either, but if there’s ever anything you want us to write about, be sure to let us know on our social channels – we’d absolutely love to hear from you! To understand someone, you can begin with where they came from. In this blog we wanted to discuss William Morris early years.

“It was my good luck only of being born respectable and rich, that has put me this side of the window among delightful books and lovely works of art.” – William Morris

The literary and artistic talents that he became famous for, began at an early age. The passions that he begun in his childhood would remain for the rest of his life; nature, architecture, art.

His grandfather was from Wales, but left in the later half of the 18th Century to Worcester. His mother, Emma and his father, William, moved to Walthamstow in 1833 with their two daughters, Emma and Henrietta. Then they had their third child – William – on the 24th March 1834.

Morris early years, though privileged, allowed him to build up his social beliefs that he campaigned for and pushed for change on throughout his life. His childhood coincided with the working man’s struggle with the affects of industrialisation. Many of his later achievements actually came from his desire to see change with his socialist ideology. Following William’s birth, his parents had two more girls and four more boys. He is known to have had a close relationship with Emma during their younger years, but historians have found little evidence of this in their adult life; of course, that doesn’t mean they didn’t keep in touch, just that evidence hasn’t remained/ been recorded. His youngest brother Edgar joined him in his work at Merton Abbey.

Due to a successful investment in copper shares, when his father passed away, he left them with a large sum of money. The shares were from the West Country copper mine. At £1 a share for 272, these soared to £800 per share. With over £200,000 (when you consider inflation to today’s money, that would be even more) is childhood was very financially comfortable, as was his adult life. He was able to attend university and further educate himself, giving him the freedom to explore his passions instead of choosing a job based on salary alone. He was very self aware of this and the fact it didn’t fully compliment his socialist ideals. He said, “it was my good luck only of being born respectable and rich, that has put me this side of the window among delightful books and lovely works of art.”

Ironically, industrialisation, the one thing he hated more than anything, was the thing that brought his family prosperity. It was a source of embarrassment for Morris, historians have noted.

He began school in 1848 which is also the year that the Pre Raphaelite Brotherhood began. He began school at Marlborough College which was a new school and lax in approach. His education appears at this time to be mainly self taught at the library. This continued throughout his life; teaching himself multiple skills in the arts.

In 1853 when Morris attended Oxford University, the city was still a medieval city. The architecture he admired in the city inspired a career and then a passion throughout his life to rebel against modernising the buildings. He is known to have said that these years were the happiest of his life. Formative years for his art, passions and friendships that he kept throughout his life; including Edward Burne Jones.

Studying theology at Exeter College, himself and Burne-Jones initially wanted to be clergymen. During to influences at university, Morris entered into a career in architecture.

Many of his ideas were created at this time. An opinionated man, he passionate believed in everything he wrote or spoke about. He was therefore able to change opinions of those in society at the time, through both his art and writing. So there we go – William Morris early years. There’s so much more we could have discussed, so much to his life and childhood, it can’t all fit in one blog!