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William Morris, The Oxford Years. It’s ‘memory has been an abiding influence and pleasure in my life.’

13th August 2017

By his own admission, Morris’ university years were the happiest of his life. Studying at Oxford University, he went to Exeter College to study theology. He passed the degree, though as stated in our last blog, he didn’t rave about the academic tuition at university, but the opportunities he took advantage of here were the real asset of his university education.

Oxford in the early 1950s when Morris was living there was a true medieval city. The beautiful buildings we see today would have been even more so as they weren’t restored in any way. Morris despised when beautiful architecture was ruined by modernity, in his letter to the Daily News dated the 20th November 1885, he wrote a letter pleading that, ‘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, Westminster Abbey, Rouen and Chichester and Peterborough Cathedrals.

He described the lasting impression Oxford had on him as it’s, ‘memory has been an abiding influence and pleasure in my life.’ Perhaps this best of all describes his feelings towards the time in one sentence. He met lifelong friends here – one of the most notable was one of his best friends Edward Burne-Jones. They met at the entrance exam when Burne-Jones noticed Morris had handed in his exam paper early. Some of his most incredible work was done in collaboration with Burne-Jones, as was some of his favourite travels. He was also a key figure to Morris’ career – introducing him to a number of is friends – one of which was Charles Faulkner who would be his business partner in Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. Also part of their university friendship group was William Fulford, Cormell Price (Crom) and R.W.Dixon who officiated at Morris’ wedding to Jane.

During this time, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood really comes into the spotlight for the first time in Morris’ story. Learning of the group through the Brotherhoods magazine, ‘The Germ’ and also via John Ruskin’s Modern Painters and his Edinburgh Lectures (1854.) It was Ruskin’s writings that fascinated Morris and his friendship group, his ideas influencing them. 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.’

As an undergraduate, Morris was already writing poetry, to an enthusiastic and supportive response from his friends. He actually published a selection of his early poetry in The Defence of Guinevere in 1858. After his 21st birthday, he came into £900 annuity which was an incredible amount of money at this time, which gave him the opportunity to provide financial support for a monthly student review. This was called The Oxford and Cambridge Magazine which allowed Morris and his friends to get published and hone their writing skills.

His apprenticeship, following the completion of his degree was with G.E. Street, an architect and leading figure in the Gothic Revival. Whilst here, though he only stayed a few months (due to his restless nature in an office environment) and didn’t finish his training, he met Philip Webb who was the senior clerk. True to the form of his university years then, it wasn’t all about what he learnt, but who he met, and Webb became a life long friend with whom he collaborated with on many projects. Morris moved to London when Street moved his practice there, moving in with Burne-Jones and when they were unable to find furnishings that suited their tastes in Red Lions Square. They were inspired to create their own, something that would ultimately lead to the creation of ‘The Firm,’ after this continued when Morris moved to his next home, Red House. The pair at this time formed friendships with both Ruskin and Rossetti.

There’s an account of Morris during the time of his apprenticeship, from him to May (Morris’ daughter), “I was told… in the office to help your Father, and this was done pleasantly and easily as we understood each other at once. When a difficult point arose your Father would beat his head with his fists, till I thought it would stun him.”

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.

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A William Morris fabric stack 😍 What would you make from our licensed William Morris floral fabrics? 🪡🧵
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We hope you’re having a lovely Easter 🐣 Choccy treats galore with some beautiful Morris florals, what more could we want! 🌷🤍
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Morris fan? There’s 15% off our entire collection of licensed William Morris fabrics and products, this Easter weekend only! 🐣 Use code: EASTER15 at checkout, on our website only, until Monday at midnight 🌙 Enjoy this Easter treat from us! 🤍
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We love all the beautiful spring florals this time of year 🌷 We’ve also not been able to resist starting early on the Easter treats! 🐣
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Introducing Daisy, our latest William Morris licensed design 🌿 Daisy was the second wallpaper William Morris designed, but the first to be produced in 1864, so it remains a special design to every Morris fan ✨ It must have been a favourite of Morris himself, as embroideries of Daisy were used to decorate at the stunning Red House, Morris's home in Bexleyheath. 
We hope you love Daisy as much as we do! Available now on our website, in a limited range of products, fabric is coming soon! ☺️
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A fabric stack of William Morris floral dreams 🤍
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Spring floral ready with our William Morris Willow Bough table setting 🌿 Do your weekend plans also revolve around tea/coffee and baked goods? 🤍
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Monday done right, laying the table with our beautiful licensed William Morris Willow Bough green tablecloth, completed with a @bettys treat 🥰 
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A little fabric stack of our William Morris florals, waiting to be crafted into a project 🪡 Can you name them all from the little peak? 🌿 
All our fabrics are printed in the UK and are licensed William Morris designs, printed both size and colour wise to our own specification ✨ If you’d like a sample, just send us a message 📬
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Showcasing our licensed William Morris Lily fabric, it’s so light and bright it’s making us excited for Spring! 🌿
Designed by William Morris in 1874, it incorporates the willow background with lilies and wild flowers ✨ The design must have been well loved by Morris himself- it was the wallpaper he used to decorate his bedroom at Kelmscott Manor, his home in Lechlade, Gloucestershire 🌿
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Thrilled with our reupholstered chair, brought back to life with our heavyweight William Morris Willow Bough Green 🌿 It’s amazing what a pop of colour and a floral will do to a room 🤍 If you fancy learning how we did this upcycle, we’ll write a blog on it ☺️ 
& if you’re in the UK and would like a sample of any of our fabrics, please let us know 📮
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The different weights of fabric 🧵 We have four weights of fabrics; cotton, heavyweight, drill and pvc, all work well for different projects. For a free sample, please feel free to message us and we’ll get them sent out to you 📮
✨ For our 100% cotton, it’s great for quilting, dress making and more, our lightest weight of cotton
✨ Our heavyweight cotton is perfect for curtains and light upholstery, a heavier fabric than our 100% cotton 
✨ Our drill cotton fabric is our heaviest weave fabric, suitable for light upholstery 
✨ Our PVC is our pvc/oilcloth coated cotton fabric, brilliant as a table covering, it’s sold by the half metre and as it won’t fray, is great to put straight on the table 🌿

The cotton, heavyweight and drill cotton are all 152cm wide and the pvc fabric is 140cm wide. All are sold by the half metre 📏
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In January when the Christmas sparkles come down, we’ve got to bring out even more Morris florals to make sure the house still feels sparkly and beautiful ✨ if you’re also looking to revamp any of the home and looking for a licensed William Morris design for a pop of colour, get in touch for any samples so you can choose which works in your home 🤍
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Our blue Strawberry Thief oven gloves are back in stock, just in time for Christmas! 🎄 will you be gifting some Morris floral magic this year? Or hope to be receiving some! 🎁 Our matching sets of kitchenware and tableware are very popular this time of year, remember if you’re sending direct to your loved one, you can select for the items to be gift wrapped at checkout on our website! 🌟
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Our Black Friday sale is now live! 🥂 On our website only, use code, BLACKFRIDAY10 all weekend for 10% off your order ☺️ Ends Sunday at midnight 🌙
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Dreaming of the sunshine 💭 This is our smallest size of tote bag, in our licensed William Morris Strawberry Thief, on this bike ride we were pretty happy that it was filled to the brim with snacks to eat on the beach ☀️ On Wintery nights we love to look back on the sunshine! ☁️
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We're so thrilled our new website is now live! 🌿Just in time for Christmas shopping, it's much easier to use, and still full of beautiful licensed William Morris designs on every page! We hope you like the change, especially where lots of you are featured on the new 'inspiration' page! 🌟 We absolutely love that it showcases everyones tablescapes and craft projects, just click on them to see the design and who posted the photo so you can see more of their content ☺️ If you're happy for us to use your photos, just send us a message, we'd love it to be a page we can keep adding to throughout the seasons 🪴
Special thank you to @adigi_agency for creating our website, we love it! 🤍
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