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William Morris

This page is about William Morris the wallpaper designer. For the industrialist, see William Morris, 1st Viscount Nuffield.

William Morris (March 24, 1834 - October 3, 1896) was one of the principal founders of the British Arts and Crafts Movement and is best known as a designer of wallpaper and patterned fabrics, a writer of poetry and fiction, and an early founder of the socialist movement in Britain.

Morris was born in Walthamstow near London. His family was wealthy, and he went to Oxford (Exeter College), where he became influenced by John Ruskin and met his life-long friends and collaborators, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, Ford Madox Brown, and Philip Webb. He also met his wife, Jane Burden, a working-class woman whose pale skin and coppery hair were considered by Morris and his friends the epitome of beauty.

The artistic movement Morris and the others made famous was the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. They eschewed the tawdry industrial manufacture of decorative arts and architecture and favoured a return to hand-craftsmanship, raising craftsmen to the status of artists.

Morris left Oxford to join an architecture firm, but soon found himself drawn more and more to the decorative arts. He and Webb built Red House at Bexleyheath in Kent, Morris's wedding gift to Jane. It was here his design ideas began to take physical shape. The brick clocktower in Bexleyheath town centre had, in 1996, a bust of Morris added in an original niche.

In 1861, he founded the firm of Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. with Gabriel Rossetti, Burne-Jones, Madox Brown, and Philip Webb. Throughout his life, he continued to work in his own firm, although the firm changed names. Its most famous incarnation was as Morris and Company. His designs are still sold today under licences given to Sanderson and Sons and Liberty of London.

In 1877 he founded the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. His preservation work resulted indirectly in the founding of the National Trust.

Morris and his daughter May were amongst Britain's first socialists, working directly with Marx and Engels to begin the socialist movement. In 1883 he joined the Social Democratic Federation, and in 1884 he organised the Socialist League. One of his best known works, News from Nowhere, is a utopian novel describing a socialist society.

Morris and Rossetti rented a country house, Kelmscott Manor near Lechlade, Gloucestershire, as a summer retreat, but it soon became a retreat for Rossetti and Jane Morris to have a long-lasting affair. To escape the discomfort, Morris often travelled to Iceland, where he researched Icelandic legends that later became the basis of poems and novels.

In 1890 he founded the Kelmscott Press in order to improve printing and book design. He designed clear typefaces and decorative borders for them. Amongst book lovers, his edition of The Canterbury Tales is considered one of the most beautiful books ever produced.

Morris' book, The Wood Between the Worlds, is considered to have heavily influenced C. S. Lewis' Narnia series.

After the death of Tennyson in 1892, Morris was offered the Poet Laureateship, but declined.

William Morris died in 1896 and was interred in the churchyard at Kelmscott village in Oxfordshire.

Literary Works

The Morris Societies in both Britain and the US are active in preserving Morris's work and ideas.

External links