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William Morris; The Oxford Years

26th August 2019

It’s ‘memory has been an abiding influence and pleasure in my life.’ – William Morris

Our last blog focused on Morris’ childhood. In this instalment, we wanted to focus on Morris’ Oxford Years. The years are known to have been the happiest of his life. He studied Theology at Exeter College and though he completed and passed the course, it’s clear he didn’t think much to the academic tuition he received. The opportunities and inspirations he discovered whilst at the university are the things that really set him up to discovering the rest of his life.

Oxford

During the period Morris was living in Oxford, it was truly a medieval city. The buildings sparked his love for architecture and his passion to faithfully upkeep and restore the buildings instead of the ‘modern’ buildings that were becoming popular. Dated the 20th November 1885, Morris wrote to the Daily News, ‘the few specimens of ancient town architecture which they have not yet had the time to destroy… Oxford thirty years ago, when I first knew it, was full of these treasures.’ This letter was written at a time where he was petitioning for the conservation of the city churches. Including Westminster Abbey, Rouen and Chichester and Peterborough Cathedrals.

The quote at the top of our blog was written about his time in Oxford. It’s the best way he summarised his time at university. He met Edward Burne-Jones here, who became a life long friend and colleague. They met early on in their university years. It was at the entrance exam when Burne-Jones saw Morris had handed in his exam paper early. The pair that became iconic for their designs and work. They also travelled together over the years and it was actually Burne-Jones that introduced him to a number of their mutual friends. Charles Faulkner was one such friend and he became part of their eventual business; Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co.

His art at Oxford

As an undergraduate, he was already discovering and refining his talent as a poet. His friends were supportive and enthusiastic when he published poetry in The Defence of Guinevere in 1858. Following his 21st birthday, he inherited £900 annuity which during this time was an incredible amount of money, some of which he invested back into his craft and provided financial support for a monthly student review. It was called The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which allowed himself and friends to get published and practice their writing and editing skills.

During Morris’ Oxford years, it was the first introduction Morris received to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The Germ was the publication by the Brotherhood and it was through this that Morris learnt about them, coupled with John Ruskin’s Modern Painters and his Edinburgh Lectures (1854.) Ruskin remained a really huge influence for Morris as both an artist and his political views.

According to the book ‘William Morris’ by Helen Dore, “Ruskin’s The Stones of Venice (1853) with its view that medieval buildings reflected the freedom of the workman, later to be dispelled by the Renaissance with its ultimately destructive division between architect and craftsman, made a substantial contribution towards Morris’s later artistic vision: the medieval workman deriving genuine please from his work remained the prototype for Morris’s concept of the modern craftsman/designer. Forty years later he acknowledged his debt to Ruskin in this respect.” (Page 25) In Kelmscott Press’s reprint of ‘On the Nature of Gothic’  from The Stones of Venice, he wrote, ‘it seemed to point out a new road on which the world should travel. The lesson that Ruskin here teaches is that art is the expression of man’s pleasure in his labour.’

After Oxford

Following Morris’ Oxford years, Morris went on to an apprenticeships in the offices of G.E. Street, an architect and leading figure in the Gothic Revival. He lasted a few months in this role mainly due to his hatred of an office environment and a want to be more artistic than it is assumed he was able to be in this role. But, this job played a pivotal role in his story as it was here he met Philip Webb. Webb became a lifelong friend and colleague, he drew the birds in Morris’ famous Strawberry Thief design for example amongst many others.

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.

What else do you want to read about William Morris? Let us know!

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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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🌿 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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🌷 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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🐰 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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🍓 William Morris Month Day 14 🍓 Strawberry Thief was inspired by William Morris’s watching the thrushes under the strawberry nets at the stunning @kelmscottmanor 🌿 May Morris conjured up this scene when speaking of the design, “You can imagine my Father going out in the early morning and watching the rascally thrushes at work on the fruit beds and telling the fanned who growls ‘I’d like to wring their necks!’ that no bird in the garden must be touched. There were certainly more birds than strawberries in spite of attempts at protection. And the walls of the little dining-room are hung with this note of the June garden and the little lords of it.” 🍓 What a lovely insight into the Morris family life! 🥰
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