William Morris was an artist, philosopher, political theorist and designer. He was at the forefront of the Arts and Crafts movement, producing the most up-to-the-minute textiles and wallpaper designs for a fashionable clientele. Important design projects include the Green Dining Room at the South Kensington Museum (Victoria and Albert museum) with Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co in 1867 and the Armoury and Tapestry Rooms at St James’ in the same year.
After studying Theology at Oxford University William Morris decided to change his career path. Being drawn towards architecture, in 1856 he takes up an apprenticeship with G.E. Street architects in Oxford and meets Phillip Webb. When the company moved to London, Morris shared accommodation with his old university friend, Edward Burne-Jones, in Red Lion Square. Whilst studying architecture, Morris begins to make furniture inspired by medieval designs.
Morris made the acquaintance of Dante Gabriel Rossetti who had founded the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and was Burne-Jones’ mentor at the time. The three men decorated the ceiling of the Oxford Union together using Arthurian style painted murals.
In 1861 Morris founded Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company, a decorative company focussing on stained glass, metalwork, embroidery and murals, opening a showroom at 8 Red Lion Square, London. Later that year, the Sussex chair was launched, the following year bringing with it awards for stained glass, decorated furniture and embroideries at the International Exhibition.
Morris began designing wallpaper and in 1864 three of his designs were printed by block printing company Jeffrey & Co who printed all Morris’ designs by hand until 1926. Following the wallpaper designs, The Firm went on to launch their first fabrics that were hand block-printed by Thomas Clarkson at Bannister Hall. However, beginning to create his own wallpaper designs such as ‘Tulip & Willow’, Morris was dissatisfied by Bannister Hall’s printing quality and stopped production.
The Managing Director of Jeffrey & Co, Metford Warner, worked closely with William Morris to actualise the wallpapers with the exact colours and shades that Morris had in mind for his designs.
In 1875, Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co folded and William Morris set up Morris & Co on his own. This saw the beginning of the most creative period in his career that lasted for the next ten years. Two years later, Morris set up a new showroom and headquarters at 449 Oxford Street, London to display his range of products also offering an interior design service. In the same year, John Henry Dearle joins Morris as his showroom assistant.
Morris created his first woven textile in 1877 and then began teaching himself the art of tapestry weaving.