William Morris (1834 - 96)
By the middle of the nineteenth century there was design chaos. Manufacturers had come up with new ways of making objects in huge quantities and industry started to produce enormous numbers of products for the middle classes who could now afford to buy them. The problem was that industrialists did not always put much thought into how a product might appear, quite often they just picked out parts from a pattern book. For example a chair might have a French eighteenth century set of legs with a Chinese style seat!
William Morris wanted a return to products that were both beautiful and useful, and he was influenced by the design of
the medieval period. After he was married he asked his friend Philip Webb to design a house for his new family. The house was known as the Red House and absolutely everything inside and out was designed to be useful and beautiful, even the latches on the windows. Other designers heard about William Morris's ideas and they formed a group who had many thoughts about how products and houses should be made.
- They wanted to move away from using machines and return to making things by hand - it was meant to be good for the soul! This is where we get the name the Arts and Crafts Movement.
- The group also saw nature as the best place to get ideas and thought living in the countryside better than in the grimy and disease-ridden towns. Many moved to live in the Cotswolds.
- This movement were also early environmentalists, as they believed that you should use locally available materials for your products. Another good reason for living in the country.
New schools or guilds were set up to teach the old art and craft skills of making furniture, drawing, metalwork, weaving, embroidery and many more. Quite often people would go in the evening, after a hard days work, to learn new skills.
Morris founded a company to produce all these designs for stained glass, tapestry, furniture and embroidery called Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Company and as the business grew he it moved it from London to Merton Abbey in Surrey and later to Kelmscott Manor in Oxfordshire. After Morris's death in 1896 the business continued until 1940, then a large textile company bought many of Morris's designs and printing blocks for fabric and wallpaper. If you look carefully in the linen department of a large store you should be able to still find a William Morris print in production.
Morris's designs were truly inspired by nature and the titles of the designs reflect this with names like Willow Bough, Blackthorn, Strawberry Thief and Honeysuckle.
You can find out more about Morris and his group of designer friends if you visit the pattern archives.