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Who was William Morris?

6th July 2022

By now, you’re probably familiar with William Morris designs. From the runway to high profile designers latest work, we seem to be able to point out his designs everywhere. We even noticed Brother Rabbit wallpaper featured in “The Flight Attendant” – so they’re even in places you wouldn’t expect! But, who was William Morris? We thought we’d write about the man behind the designs. The man we can thank for so many beautiful timeless designs.

Early Life

“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

Morris grew up privileged, over the years developing his social beliefs which he would go on to campaign for and push for throughout his life. He grew up during the time of industrialisation and the affect that had on the workers which helped shaped his ideals. 

Due to his fathers successful investments in copper shares, Morris and his siblings grew up financially comfortable, Morris spoke of his childhood in the quote above, historians have since noted that his upbringing was a potential source of embarrassment for him, the thing he hated, industrialisation, bringing his family their fortune. 

Morris University Years

Morris attended Oxford University from 1853, he is known to have said that these years were the happiest of his life. Studying theology at Exeter College, he met Edward Burne-Jones and the lifelong friends initially wanted to be clergymen. It’s easy to see if you’ve visited Oxford how easily it is to fall in love with the beautiful buildings, back then when it was still a medieval city, it heavily influenced Morris and he ended up training to be an architect. 

Morris during the time at university started a lot of his ideas about not wanting modern buildings and wanting to preserve the beautiful existing buildings, an idea that would last him a lifetime. 

Morris after University 

Following Oxford, Morris went on to his apprenticeship in the office of G.E.Street. He was an architect and leading figure in the Gothic Revival. He only lasted a few months at the apprenticeship due to his hatred of an office environment. However, it was a vital chapter in the story of Morris as it was here he met Philip Webb. A lifelong friend and colleague, Webb and Morris worked together a lot throughout the years, notably Webb drew the birds within the famous Strawberry Thief design. Have you seen our licensed William Morris Strawberry Thief? We print it in both blue and red, so make sure to check it out!

Morris remained passionate about architecture all his life, considering the art to be the ‘supreme master craftsman’ and the decorative arts he became famous for, to have meaning only in relation and response to the architecture. This is true when we take a look at his work with Philip Webb – working closely together, Morris appears to have a deep respect for Webb and his craft. 

Personal life

William Morris married Jane Burden in 1859. She was a famous Pre-Raphaelite model, an unconventional beauty, if you’ve seen Pre-Raphaelite art, you will probably have seen her in their works. It includes Morris’s famous La Belle Iseult and many of Rossetti’s works. 

The two met in 1857 when she visited the Drury Lane Theatre Company in Oxford with her sister Elizabeth. It was Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti who noticed her for her beauty and wanted her to model for them. After initially not turning up for the modelling, but later bumped into Burne-Jones and agreed then. It changed her life – from growing up poor, she went on to be educated fit to be a gentleman’s wife when marrying Morris and became immortalised forever in some of histories most famous artworks. 

They had two daughters together, Jenny and May, and although it’s well known she didn’t love Morris, going on to have an affair with his friend Rossetti, it’s known Morris loved her very much. 

Red House

Found in rural Kent, Bexleyheath, lies Red House. If you’re lucky enough to visit, you’ll see why Rossetti wrote it was, “more of a poem than a house.” A beautiful home Morris commissioned Philip Webb to build the house. It’s important to link this back to where we wrote of his early ideals here – the servant’s quarters were larger than contemporary buildings. A clear indication of what both Webb and Morris believed surrounding working class conditions and their socialist beliefs. 

When furnishing the house, Morris couldn’t find any furnishings he felt fit the house, with the level of artistry he wanted. It led to the creation of “the Firm.” In collaboration with his artistic friends, this was of course, “Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.” – which in a few years would dissolve and lead to his famous company, Morris & Co. 

Morris & Co. 

This is potentially his most long lasting legacy. His poetry, beliefs and writings remain, but his designs have stood the test of time to still be iconic and popular today. During his years leading the company, he created stunning designs and created jobs that were forward thinking in their ideals. 

He also opened Merton Abbey prints, where he printed his own fabric using traditional methods. He hit back against industrialisation, perfecting the indigo dye technique which he used to print incredible designs such as Brother Rabbit. J.W. Mackail wrote Morris became, “a manufacturer not because he wished to make money, but because he wished to make the things he manufactured.”

Printed and manufactured in the United Kingdom

We still print all our licensed William Morris designs here in the UK, as he did all those years ago, to keep the heritage of the designs and to retain the artistry that he was so passionate to keep. We could write for days about Morris’s life, he had so many fascets to his interests that there’s so much to talk about, but we don’t want to keep you reading all day! Check our other blogs to keep reading about Morris and his designs for a more in depth chat about all of his interesting facts! We’re always over on our Instagram too and would love to know your favourite designs and Morris facts. 

“If you want a golden rule that will fit everybody, this is it: Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” – William Morris.

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When the audio accurately sums up how you feel about a design 🫶🏻 Beautiful Sweet Briar was first designed in 1912, we love the sweet little pink flowers in the climbing rose stems 🌹 This licensed Morris design is now back in stock, let us know if you’d like a sample! ✨
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Our William Morris Willow Bough green placemats are now back in stock! ✨ They’re a beautiful addition to the table for every meal time 🫶🏻
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🌷 William Morris month day 30 🌷 As we come near the end of Morris month, we’re celebrating with a fabric stack, full of beautiful licensed designs, which is your fave? 🌿 “Remember that a pattern is either right or wrong. It cannot be forgiven for blundering, as a picture may be which has otherwise great qualities in it. It is with a pattern as with a fortress, it is no stronger than its weakest point.”- William Morris 🤍 
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🐭 William Morris month day 29 🐭 We’ve been loving William Morris month to celebrate Morris’s birthday month, spreading his floral magic by posting everyday - have you discovered a new favourite design of his this month? 🌿 We absolutely love these little mice and the banner by @mini_and_bob - aren’t they so lovely! 🐭🤍
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🌷William Morris Month Day 28🌷 Happy Easter weekend everyone! 🐥 We hope everyone has a lovely long bank holiday 🌿 We’re already planning some beautiful William Morris tablescapes, nothing too complex, all you need is some Morris florals, some flowers and lots of chocolate! 🐰
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🌷 William Morris Month Day 26 🌷 Absolutely loving a spring time floral on the table right now, especially when paired with an Easter craft or two! 🤍
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#williammorris #williammorrisfabrics #williammorrisfabric #morris #fabric #fabriccraft #fabrics #crafting #independantbusiness #indiebusiness #preraphaelite
🌿 William Morris Month Day 25 🌿 Florals on florals on florals; all of the William Morris florals just look so beautiful together and, as Morris said himself, “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful” 🌷
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🐥 William Morris Month Day 23 🐥 Loving the sunshine this week for springtime 🌿 We absolutely love Willow Bough on the table in the sunshine paired with spring blooms 🌷
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#williammorris #williammorrismonth #williammorrisdesign #williammorrisfabric #williammorrisfabrics #fabric #willowbough #easter #eastertables
🌷 William Morris Month Day 22🌷 A themed table is always our favourite, we’ve been loving setting the table lately with an Easter theme- especially when it means we can eat the eggs after! 🐣✨ 
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#williammorris #williammorrismonth #williammorrisfabric #williammorrisfabrics #preraphaelite #eastertables #eastereggs #eastertablescape #springflorals
🌿 William Morris Day 20 🌿 William Morris fact of the day; did you know he founded the Kelmscott Press? 🖋️ He wrote of the venture – “Here is a new craft to conquer and to perfect.” Printing began at the press in Spring 1891 🪴 He designed multiple fonts including “Golden” Roman typeface and “Troy” Gothic type along with “Chaucer” and he worked to create beautiful books in regards to their designs which took into account their type, image and decorative elements – you can see beautiful examples of what he achieved today if you do a quick search on the Kelmscott Press- it’s well worth a Google! 🌷
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🌷 William Morris Month Day 19🌷 Happy first day of spring everyone! 🪴 We celebrated in our favourite way; coffee and cake of course! 🍰 Now we love florals all year round of course, but especially love adding in even more this time of year to reflect the blooms in the garden 🌷 What’s your favourite Morris design this time of year? 🌿
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#williammorris #williammorrisfabric #williammorrisfabrics #williammorrismonth #spring #spring2024 #preraphaelite #florals #floralfabric #springflorals #springflowers
📝 William Morris Month Day 18 📝 Did you know that as well as being an incredible designer, William Morris was also a brilliant writer and poet; have you read any of his writing? What’s your favourite quote? 🌷🌿
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#williammorrismonth #williammorris #williammorrisfabric #williammorrisfabrics #morris #strawberrythief #quotesaboutlife #quotestoliveby #quotes
☀️ William Morris Month Day 17 ☀️ The sunshine today has made us feel so excited for spring, it’s almost officially here! 🪴 This William Morris bunting is the dreamiest backdrop to all the spring summer days in the garden, it’s by @ellejoycreations - isn’t it fabulous!🌷
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#spring #williammorrismonth #williammorris #williammorrisfabric #williammorrisfabrics #fabric #fabricstash #smallbusinessuk #printedintheuk #etsyshop
🐰 William Morris Month Day 16 🐰 A Sunday spent Easter decorating, these cute little bunnies were a craft a few years back and they are always a firm favourite to bring out this time of year to hang on our Easter tree 🐥 Have you started decorating or eating eggs yet? 🐣
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🍓 William Morris Month Day 15 🍓 Absolutely can’t wait for the summer months to get our Strawberry Thief picnic basket and blanket back out- if you missed this craft we have a DIY on our website blog, along with a lot of other craft ideas and how-to blogs ☺️
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