Merton Abbey and William Morris
2nd December 2016
Merton Abbey Mills actually takes it’s name from Merton Priory which was one of the most important monasteries of the middle ages. Built in the early 12th century, an Augustinian Priory, Eleanor of Provence (Henry III’s Queen) and King Henry VI were both crowned at Merton Abbey. Walter de Merton (who founded Oxford’s Merton College) and Thomas Becket were also both educated here.
Textile mills were attracted to River Wandle by 1600, due to the power the water provided, but also because the water had a special balance of a chalk stream which was suited to textile creation for washing, dyeing and printing. By 1792 the river was actually one of the hardest working rivers in the whole of Europe as various print works moved to the banks.
During this time, the textile industry in the UK was booming; with the population increasing and the British Empire expanding, the demand for cotton and therefore cotton factories were increasing, becoming a dominant feature of the Pennines. It was a great industry for the population; prior to industrialisation, many families had been working in the domestic system, especially in the North of England, and so there was a ready supply of talented weavers and spinners.
The printing industry in the Wandle Valley was no different, attracting workers from all over the country and because of the hive of workers, it was here that many techniques in printing were created and developed upon. Once established in the textile industry, today, England sadly sees most of their textiles imported due to lower costs. However, there are still mills in England, and we’re very happy to say that all our fabrics are printed in the UK, and all our products manufactured here too.
William Morris moved his company to the site on The River Wandle due to the conditions being perfect for his needs designing and printing his textiles. He was at Merton Abbey from 1881 to 1888, here he created some of his most iconic designs for which he is remembered for today. If you’ve read into Morris, you’ll know he was very interested in Socialism, it was actually during his time at Merton Abbey that he became more involved in the ideals.
“…I do not want art for a few; any more than education for a few; or freedom for a few… ” – William Morris
An admirable trait of Morris was that he didn’t just write or speak about his beliefs, he acted upon them; paying his workers higher wages than the average, supplied a library for their education, provided a safe, healthy and enjoyable workplace. For apprentice boys, he even provided accommodation whilst they learnt their craft.
Some of our favourite designs were created at Merton Abbey, amongst them, Willow Bough, one of our latest licensed designs!
Posted in William Morris by Laura.