William Morris (1834-96)
William Morris was born in
Walthamstow, Essex, on 24 March 1834. He enjoyed a comfortable childhood and as the son of
a wealthy businessman, he was able to attend Marlborough and Exeter College, Oxford with an
intention to enter the holy orders.
As with many young men of his time, his
life at Oxford drew him toward the radicalism of the period and towards the arts. After leaving
Oxford, Morris briefly worked under G. E. Street, the Gothic Revival architect. For a period
afterwards, he tried his hand as a painter. Morris's only surviving painting
Guenevere shows the influence of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who also influenced
Swinburne. In the 1860s, Morris decided that his future lay in the field of the decorative arts.
He formed Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co. in 1861. Morris & Co., as it was
later reorganized, was particularly well-known for its stained glass, examples of which can be
seen in churches throughout Britain. Morris produced over 150 designs which are generally
characterized by their artful foliage patterns. His greatest achievement came as a designer in
the field of textiles and wallpapers, patterns that were influenced by the medieval works held
at the South Kensington Museum.
These works may have also influenced his writing. His first volume of poetry,
The Defence of Guenevere , received mixed reviews, but his reputation grew as a poet with
the publication of The Earthly Paradise (1868-70). Among his many other works are the
classical translations of Sigurd the Volsung, The Pilgrims of Hope, and a series
of prose romances which included A Dream of John Ball, News from Nowhere, and The
Well at the World's End.
In 1876 and on through the 80s, Morris was drawn to radical organizations, the Eastern
Question Association, the National Liberal League and the Radical Union. In 1883, he joined the
socialist Democratic Federation. Disillusioned with all of the groups, he formed the Socialist
League and later the Hammersmith Socialist Society. During the period, he was probably the most
active propagandist for the socialist cause, giving hundreds of lectures and speeches throughout
In 1890, Morris founded the Kelmscott Press near his last home at Kelmscott House
in Hammersmith (now the headquarters of the William Morris Society). During the last years of
his life, sixty-six volumes were printed by the Kelmscott Press. The most impressive is
magnificent edition of Chaucer which was published in 1896 the year of his death. Morris
died at Kelmscott House on 3 October, 1896.
Stained Glass Windows in Harden Grange